Today it’s my stop on the blog tour for The Federation of Children’s Book Group’s (FCBG) celebration of National Non-Fiction November, which this year focuses on Food and Festivals Around the World. I’m thrilled to be sharing with you the ‘2019 Nature Month-by-Month: Children’s Almanac,’ written by Anna Wilson and illustrated by Elly Jahnz. This glorious book takes us on a journey through the seasons, on a month-by-month exploration of nature, featuring indoor and outdoor craft and activity ideas, seasonal recipes and celebrations of religious festivals and special days happening through the year. If you’re looking for a book to inspire children to enjoy the outdoors and learn about new cultures and experiences then this is the book for you. It’s the kind of book that encourages you to dip in and out of, giving you plenty of inspiration to entertain and inform children. With diverse activities from cloud spotting, to learning how to make your own bird food, there is enough to occupy the most activity hungry child and it will certainly satisfy the appetite of the most inquisitive mind. Beautiful colourful and diverse illustrations from Elly Jahnz make this real treasure trove of a book truly irresistible.
I am delighted to welcome Anna Wilson to the blog with a special guest post about the creation of this lovely book.
Anna Wilson – Nature Month-by-Month
Nature Month-by-Month is my first non-fiction book. When I was approached by Nosy Crow to write it, I wasn’t sure, which seems ridiculous now. I had been writing fiction for nearly twenty years and wasn’t convinced that I could write about facts – I was too used to making up stories. However, once I started researching the sorts of things that go into traditional almanacs, I realised that I was already interested in all of them, so why not write about them? As time went on, I began to wonder why I had not thought of writing a book like this years ago!
As soon as I started telling people that I was going to write an almanac they asked me, “What is an almanac exactly?” So that was my starting point. I thought it would be fun to begin the book by answering this question, plus I have always been fascinated by social history and the meanings and roots of words.
I started researching and discovered that the idea of an almanac is certainly not a new idea in publishing – in fact, the first almanacs were created about 3000 years ago! They were written by the Ancient Egyptians who wrote on paper made from reeds known as papyrus. The writers noted down all the dates that were thought to be lucky or unlucky and they made predictions about the weather. Farmers used these almanacs to help them know when to plant seeds and when to harvest crops. I then found out that the first “modern” almanac was published in 1792 in North America. It was called The Old Farmer’s Almanac and is still published every year. It is very much like the original Egyptian almanac, as it helps farmers predict the weather and decide when to plant and harvest.
Nowadays almanacs tend to include fun facts about each month – things to do indoors and outdoors, animals to spot, festivals to celebrate and seasonal food to grow, cook and eat. They also contain the traditional information about the weather, the tides, the night sky and clouds. I knew I needed to make my almanac a bit different from the traditional ones, which were mostly written for adult readers. But I also knew it was important to include the sorts of things almanacs always have, otherwise I would simply be writing an activity book. So I had great fun finding out about what vegetables and flowers to plant at different times of the year, how the moon effects planting, when is the best time to spot certain wildlife and how to recognise constellations in the night sky. All of these facts can be found in many almanacs for adults, but in my book I hope I have made the information accessible and appropriate for today’s children, some of whom may not have had much contact with Nature, due to the way we live our lives today.
I have always passionately believed in the power of Nature to heal and keep us sane. It has been instinctive for me to go for a walk, run or swim every day, not only to keep physically fit, but also to keep mentally healthy. If I am having a bad time, I pull on a pair of wellies and go outdoors and within minutes I am feeling happier – especially if I see three deer hiding in the long grass as I did this morning, or a kingfisher zipping along the surface of the river as I did the other day.
I have brought my children up to appreciate Nature too – they are young adults now, but when they were small we were out of the house every day by 10 o’clock in the morning, no matter what the weather was. It helped that we had a bouncy dog who needed walking too! Now my kids are older they know to get outside to clear their heads if they have been working too hard or if they are feeling low. I think that reconnecting with the seasons helps us to realise that we are part of something bigger than us – something awesome which we will never completely understand.
When it came to writing about how to get children connected with the Great Outdoors, I didn’t need to look far to find ideas, as I spent a great deal of my own childhood outside.
Once I started remembering all the things I loved to do in my own childhood I couldn’t stop writing. I lived in a small market town in Kent and all my close friends were within walking or cycling distance. In the holidays we would meet up on our bikes and come home only for meals. I also have lovely memories of time at my grandparents’ house where my grandmother taught me to cook and sew and how to make things. So it was not hard at all to come up with activities for outdoors, recipes and seasonal things to do on a rainy day.
Another thing that became important to me while researching the almanac was to write about the festivals in an inclusive way. This became particularly important once I discovered how many of the world’s big religious festivals have strong links with the seasons and the phases of the moon. It gave me a great feeling of hope that if the new generation can see how closely linked different cultures are through our links to Nature, we might have a chance of understanding one another better. So, for example, in the chapter on January 2019 I have written about New Year’s resolutions, Epiphany, Twelfth Night, Wassail, Lohri and Tu B’Shevat which are all festivals that celebrate looking forward to the year ahead and give thanks for good harvests and time with friends and family. I got a bit carried away in the first draft of this section as I was so excited to see the links that Nature provides between the different cultures and traditions. My editor had to politely suggest that I cut a couple of pages to allow Elly Jahnz, the illustrator, to have room for her gorgeous illustrations!
Writing Nature Month-by-Month was a complete joy. I learnt so much and in researching it became more convinced than ever that Nature holds all the answers to how to live a healthy and fulfilling life. If I had not had to keep it to 192 pages I would have crammed in so much more! Luckily I am now writing an almanac for 2020 so I have been able to include some information and recipes to do with festivals that I had to omit in the 2019 edition. I hope my readers enjoy reading the almanac as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Thank you to Anna for this really insightful guest post.
A huge thank you to Chris Routh and FCBG for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and to Nosy Crow for sending me a copy. ‘2019 Nature Month-by-Month: Children’s Almanac,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.