The Reader Teacher Review
I'm delighted to welcome Catherine Emmett to The Reader Teacher today to share her guest post about why we need books about the dark and stinky places in King of the Swamp.
King of the Swamp: Why we need books about the dark and stinky places
When I was little, I loved the quiet, dark places. I had a den in the most neglected corner of my parent’s garden, where strange (and quite scary!) mushrooms grew. I made myself a swing and a seat in a tree, so I could sit and be part of the quiet.
When I wasn’t in my den, I used to take cuttings from my gran’s plants, drown them in Baby Bio (other plant foods are available!) and watch them grow. I always found something magical about the way a cutting could set down roots and become a whole new plant. The possibilities seemed endless.
When I was older, I still liked the quiet, dark places, I spent several weeks in Belize in Central America, mapping uncharted jungle and sleeping each night in a hammock.
I have since realised that actually my Dad was right, and that this was an incredibly foolish idea - as pretty much everything in Belize can kill you - but the point was, that I loved it! I loved lying in the forest at night and feeling part of nature. It was that trip that planted a seed for this book, as some parts of the jungle were swampy and we found tiny orchids growing on the trees there.
Looking back now, perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that I wrote ‘King of the Swamp’, a book about a swamp creature who loves the quiet, dark places and grows flowers! But why do we need books like ‘King of the Swamp’?
By the time I had my kids, I had left the dark, quiet places behind and was living in London. My kids had a tiny garden, but it definitely wasn’t dark and it definitely wasn’t quiet. No quiet, dark places for them… And it wasn’t just my kids who were missing out on nature. The WWF have reported that between 1970 and 2014 more than half of the world’s wild animals died out, many of them due to destruction of their habitat. Since 1976, 76% of butterfly species in the UK have declined2, and insect populations have been decimated3. Since 1970, 20% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed4.
The destruction of the natural world has implications for us all. A report for the RSPB has shown that a connection to nature improves our health, happiness and both our physical and mental wellbeing. The same report also found that a child’s connection to nature even improved their levels of attainment in English!5. But if children can’t spend time in the quiet, dark places, then how can they ever love them and care about protecting them?
My dream is that ‘King of the Swamp’ might help all of us to appreciate those places.
McDarkly lives quietly in the swamp growing his flowers. One day the King comes riding through the ‘stinky and dark’ swamp and decides to concrete over it to make a roller-skate park. McDarkly has only 10 days to save his swamp and the flowers that he loves. The King can’t see the beauty in the swamp, but McDarkly can, and he does everything he can to protect it.
For me, McDarkly is a guardian for those quiet, dark places that I have always loved. My hope is that he might help a new generation see that, just because those places might not be as conventionally beautiful as others, they’re still important and need to be protected – they hold their own kind of magic. Maybe ‘King of the Swamp’ can inspire a new generation of ‘McDarkly’s to love those quiet, dark places and to protect them. I hope so.
 The Impact of Children’s Connection to Nature – A Report for the RSPB November 2015. https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/positions/education/the-impact-of-childrens-connection-to-nature.pdf
Many thanks to SImon & Schuster, the publisher, for sending me a review copy of this book and for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour. Extra thanks to Catherine for her guest post!