With the warmer weather finally here, summer is the ideal time to head outside and find some of nature’s treasures. Our latest book, Look What I Found at the Seaside, shows children the delights of discovering a seashell or picking the perfect pebble in an environmentally conscious way.
It follows on from Look What I Found in the Woods, the first book in this new series full of natural facts and finds, all brought to life by artist Jesús Verona. In this blog, author Moira Butterfield tells us about the inspiration behind these delightful books for young treasure seekers.
How did you come up with the idea for the Look What I Found series?
I guess you could say I collected the idea. It began to grow in my mind when I attended a wedding in Ireland in 2017. The venue was next to a wide pebbly beach. The day after the wedding, I went down to the shore. There I found the bride and groom walking by the sea (a good way to start a new chapter in life, I thought), along with the little bridesmaid and her family. She was busy collecting, her hands darting down to grab a special pebble or shell that caught her eye.
I knew exactly how she felt about them. They were treasures. I still feel the same about the extraordinary things I find in the outside world now. In the pockets of my dressing gown, I have three smooth pebbles and a shiny curly shell from places I love. I still have the rocks I collected as a child on Cornish holidays, with their glittery patches of fool’s gold or their magical-looking quartz crystals. They’re not precious, except to me, but I’m glad I still have them stored in their small red suitcase, a lovely relic of my childhood.
So, I set about helping my young beachcombing friend collect just the right items. Not the stinky crab remains (though yes, they were interesting), and not the shells that still had animals living inside them (I was able to show her how to check). Instead, we found a few of the most tempting treasures offered by the beach. Who, after all, could resist a shell shaped like a tiny fan, or a pebble with a mysterious glowing stripe, or one with a hole made as if for a mermaid’s necklace?
After our quest on the beach, I went away with a strong reminder of how much children love to collect – and the idea for the books was born.
How did you set about creating the books?
Each Look What I Found book follows three busy and curious children on an outdoor adventure. I've tried to make each one into a treasury of things children might notice on a typical outing. As I wrote, I had in mind an adult and child reading the books together and walking together. I've used words and ideas that will be a pleasure to share over and over again. There’s also, hopefully, just the right amount of information to answer the questions a child on a walk might ask, such as “What’s this I have picked up?” or “What’s that I see?”.
I’ve included some interesting facts about their possible finds. In the case of a beach trip, that might be learning the name of a shell, rock or crab, and identifying fish egg cases, different-shaped seagull feathers or even fossils. In a woodland there are tree shapes and types of bark to look out for, along with different leaves, nut cases, cones and mini-creatures.
A woodland walk is another wonderful opportunity for children to pick up treasures, as I've found on many a local outing with my own sons, nieces and nephews. What child does not love to find a tiny acorn cup, a glistening chestnut, or a stick that’s just the right length to wave as a magic wand? I still do these things as an adult.
What other advice would you give about collecting things on a walk?
The books celebrate finding and sometimes collecting natural treasures without doing harm. In each book I’ve included the important lesson that we should do no damage as we enjoy the world around us. That’s something we can and should teach children early on.
When natural treasure hunting, we must be mindful of wildlife and animal habitats, particularly nesting birds. It’s best to collect fallen leaves or loose pebbles, for example, and only take one or two with you for your own collection, leaving enough for others to enjoy too. It’s always a good idea to check with the local area rules to see if you’re allowed to keep what you find. If you’re unsure then photographs can be a great way to record your finds!
What do you hope children and families will get from the books?
I hope the books will make good companions for the many children who spend their day looking out for treasures, whether these are things to hold in the hand and perhaps take home or things simply to note and remember – such as the song of a bird or the sight of a butterfly. Jesús Verona’s illustrations, with their glowing colours and detailing, bring all of these things to life so that the pages are fascinating to explore.
I hope the books provide pleasure for families, too. I’m old enough to be a great-auntie now, but I still can’t think of anything more wonderful than sharing the experience of discovering the world with a child. Sharing their wonder is such a gift. I hope these books will add to the joy.
About the author and illustrator
Moira Butterfield is a National Trust member and children’s book author who lives in Somerset. She believes there are no limits to the imagination or wonder of our planet and so has written about many different subjects, from ancient treasures to future worlds. You can find out more about her work at www.moirabutterfield.co.uk.
The illustrator Jesús Verona was born in Madrid but now lives and work in Stockholm with his family. His main interests are nature, art, typography, architecture and design.