My fascination with nature started at a very young age. My mum used to read me Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’. I loved these stories as a child, and still do as an adult. Fortunately, being a teacher, I’ve been able to use them in my teaching, time and time again. My other favourites were Jill Tomlinson’s stories; The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, The Otter Who Wanted to Know and The Aardvark Who Wasn’t Sure. Infact, I think all my favourite stories had animals in them. I also loved adventure stories like the Famous Five and The Faraway Tree.
For my wild act today, I want to share an excerpt from my own children’s book – ‘Search For the Purple Emperor’.
Chapter 2 – My mum and the Emperor
“Many years ago, when I was younger than you, believe it or not, I had a chance meeting with the Purple Emperor. I had just come home from Baghdad after several months of being away. I was delighted to see my friends again and tell them all about the souks, spices and all the other exotic things I had seen. At weekends we often went to the woods with the dogs. Your granny was particularly fond of the woodland in Hampshire, as she’d spent time there when she was younger. She decided we should go there and tie in a visit to some old friends at the same time.
We stayed in a little cottage on the edge of some great woodland, with the dogs. I had never been anywhere apart from Cornwall or Baghdad and was clueless as to how beautiful other parts of England could be. The trees seemed taller, so tall in fact that I couldn’t see the tops of some. Sunlight dappled the ground and lit up the landscape. We spent a few days there. The weather was fantastic, sunny and warm. You have to remember, this was the sixties and there were far fewer planes, trains and cars around coughing out fumes like they do now.
It was on the first day of exploring the woods that I met the Purple Emperor. I went for a walk on my own because I wanted to listen out for birds, and dogs can get in the way a bit sometimes! I strolled around, turning over logs to look for insects and craning my neck to look for birds that I could hear high in the trees. I took a jam sandwich with me for a snack, as all good explorers should do. You never know how long you’re going to be out there for, especially if you get lost! I didn’t get lost, but I did get hungry, so I sat down on a fallen tree in the sunshine and took the sandwich out of my bag. I unwrapped the sandwich, and as I did so, something darted past me. I only caught the tiniest glimpse of it. I looked around but couldn’t see anything, so went back to my sandwich. That’s when we met. Sitting right on top of it like some ancient, royal from the far east was the most beautiful butterfly I had ever seen. He, at least I assume he was a he, was helping himself to my sugary snack. Only someone of great importance would carry on in such a way surely? He sat there, in the sunshine, enjoying my jam sandwich for almost five minutes. I was transfixed by his beauty. I wasn’t the slightest bit annoyed about my sandwich.
I remember running back to the cottage to tell your granny. She told me that it must have been The Purple Emperor. I drew a picture of him.”
As my mum finished the story she handed me a dusty old notebook and directed me to a page that was folded over in one corner. On that page was her drawing. I looked at the picture and felt as though I was sitting there on the fallen tree with The Emperor himself. I asked my mum how she knew that this butterfly was an Emperor and not just an ordinary butterfly. She laughed, and told me that there was more than one Purple Emperor. “It’s the name of the species,” she said with a smile on her face. Whether there were other Emperors or not, something was telling me that this one was special. The picture my mum had drawn was detailed enough to see its beauty. The wings were a deep velvet scattered with flecks of white. The drawing almost seemed to leap off the page. How I wish it had. I decided then and there that I would find my mum’s Purple Emperor. First, I would need a plan.
The book isn’t finished, but one day it will be.
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