Under the ground, deep in the earth, among the roots of the trees, the little root-children were fast asleep all winter long. So begins the lyrical, magical story of nature that delights us as a read-aloud every spring and fall. The Story of the Root Children is a celebration of the seasons through a fairytale about Mother Earth and the enchanted flower creatures she dresses in beautiful colors for their half-year above ground. It is a more innocent Persephone and Demeter, Gaia adorned in her most festive clothes. There are snow-drops, forget-me-nots, buttercups and poppies—each meadow flower choosing a bit of cloth for a summer dress.
Beetles, ladybirds, butterflies and snails appear right on time as the trees green and the air softens. The story is gentle, poetic, many-layered and spiced with grumbling insects, industrious ants and a chill autumn wind. I discovered this tiny treasure when I was collecting a library for a very small child and we have enjoyed it ever since. The story appeals to our pagan, pantheistic sensibilities but it is a charming secular tale that doesn’t refute science or deify anything—and it can help to demystify death and loss as well as explain the life cycles of a year.
Another seasonal marker in our New York City neighborhood is the tulip festival in our community garden. Every April the wonderful garden on West 90th Street erupts in a kaleidoscope of vivid blooms that are breathtaking for an instant and then gone for another year. The garden is in its glory right now and too seductive to ignore.
Tulips are showier blooms than the field flowers of The Root Children but they provide equivalent spellbinding magic. The book and the garden are balm for the spirit after the rigors of an unforgiving winter. Sometimes it helps to be reminded of the inexorable rhythm of the days and months, measured in the fragile petals of fairies and flowers.
Story of the Root Children Sibylle von Olfers | Floris Books 1997
(originally published in Germany 1906)