Of Skunk Cabbages, streambanks and summer reading fun
Elmer is an appealing character for children. He's an inventive boy who in the 1st book, McGivers his way across a dangerous, crocodile infested river to rescue a baby dragon. Cleverly, he rubber bands lolly pops to each of the gators' tails. They become so interested in licking their neighbor's sucker, they form a stepping stone like crocodile bridge across the water. Elmer then walks across their backs and rescues the dragon.
More than anything, we enjoyed hearing about Elmer's friendship with Boris, the young dragon, who would allow Elmer to ride on his back when he flew. In the 2nd book, we soon found out that dragons love to eat SKUNK CABBAGES! "...Elmer threw down the [skunk] cabbages one by one, and the dragon caught each cabbage in the air, laughing and crying at the same time because he was so happy and hungry and thirsty."
Now, as a child, I thought a skunk cabbage was just a fanciful vegetable crafted in the author's imagination. It really wasn't until I moved to Brookfield and ventured into our neighborhood's Kinsey Park creek streambank area that I discovered they were indeed a real plant.
Skunk cabbages, as their name infers, have something in common with the skunk: they stink. Thankfully, the plants don't stink all the time, just don't crush or rip the leaves! (You shouldn't do that anyway; the plants are protected in some states.) Their flowers are not showy, but they are interesting. They come up in the early spring before the leaves appear. From the illustration in the Elmer book, it looks like dragons prefer the blossoms to the leaves. (Flower photo from Wikipedia)
The plants grow along streambanks. Kinsey Park used to have a much larger skunk cabbage population until the DNR's streambank restoration project bulldozed the area in 2003. Fortunately, a few survived and are making a slow comeback. I also spotted some along the Calhoun Road creek, just north of North Avenue. I would think they could be found in most Brookfield wetlands. This time of year, the 1 - 2 foot tall plants are pretty easy to identify.
I read the books with my son when he was young, and he enjoyed them as much as I did. They are each under 80 pages long with lots of illustrations and are easy to read. The Brookfield Library has all 3 in their collection. Maybe your children would enjoy reading the books with you this summer? Then you can go in search of skunk cabbages, but be on the lookout for dragons!