The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes
The gardener loves his garden and he works hard in it, but he’s not that good at gardening. He feels often that he is too small for the job. He does manage to grow one tall red flower that gives him energy and hope. After working so hard, he knows that if something doesn’t change he will soon be out of food, out of a home, and no longer able to live in the garden he loves so much. He falls asleep, exhausted after making a wish that something will happen. Someone notices his flower in the garden and start to work. As the gardener sleeps, the people work on the garden, transforming it into flowers rather than weeds. The little gardener’s flower inspired them to make a change and in turn their work allowed him to live on as the gardener in the place he adores.
Told very simply, this picture book from the author of Wild is about a truly tiny gardener who is smaller than the weeds that he is battling. The writing is simple with a wonderful tone, very understated with the illustrations bringing the real truth to the reader. At the same time, there is a sense of wonder throughout the text that speaks to the power of wishes, the joy of being in just the right place for yourself, and the pleasure of a simple life.
Hughes’ illustrations are phenomenal. She captures the wildness of the weeds, the beauty of a single red flower rising above them, and then the bounty of a newly planted garden. She also captures the size of the little gardener, showing him to be almost fairy-like in his size, dwarfed and protected by the plants around him. That size allows Hughes to focus closely on the plants, creating a jungle out of the garden.
Beautifully illustrated and with a lovely look at a little life well lived, this picture book would be a great addition to gardening story times. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Flying Eye Books.
How to Grow a Friend by Sara Gillingham
Growing a friend is a lot like growing a flower as this picture book proves. Just like flowers, friends need a seed and good soil. You need space to bloom. You need to be patient. Sometimes your friend will bug you, but chase the bugs away together. Don’t let your friend get stuck in the weeds. Grow a whole garden of friends and know that there is always room for one more friend. Along the way, the analogy of gardening strengthens the ties of the friendship, making this a very tight and strong picture book that shows that hard work, patience and time make for a great friendship.
Gillingham writes in a very earnest and straight forward tone here. This is not a subtle analogy, but one that is presented straight to the reader. The text of the book speaks about friendship while the illustrations show mostly the gardening aspect though at times it too is all about the human connection. Young readers are shown clearly that friendship takes work and time.
Gillingham’s bright illustrations add greatly to the appeal of the book. With an organic feel thanks to the texture of the prints, the illustrations have strong shapes, bright colors, and lots of patterns yet never get too busy or fussy. They have a jaunty and frolicking feel to them that is very cheery.
Perfect for gardening and friendship story times, this picture book will have us thinking spring early this year. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.
Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen
Prairies used to cover vast swaths of the United States, but are almost entirely gone now. In this nonfiction picture book, young readers are invited to create their own small prairies at home. Root offers ideas for what native prairie plants should be planted first and then ties each plant to a type of wildlife that will arrive along with the plants. Butterfly weed invites monarchs to your yard. Asters and rough blazing star bring even more butterflies. Toads, birds, mice, bumblebees, and more may appear in your little garden. And who knows, if lots of people plant a little prairie, eventually we may have prairies back across the nation.
Root has written this book in poetry that rhymes at times and others not. There are rhymes at the ends of lines, then internal rhymes within a line, and other times it is the rhythm and flow of the words themselves that create the structure. It has a strong organic feel to it, the names of the plants flowing into those of the animals they will bring to your yard. The book ends with information on all of the plants, animals and insects mentioned in the book as well as further information on the state of prairies in the United States and where you can go to see a prairie.
The illustrations by Bowen are light and free. They focus on the plants and animals, showing them clearly. Along the way, one bird moves from page to page, planting seeds that grow into the garden and building her own nest in the new habitat. There is a sense of the garden expanding and building as the book continues, yet that light feel continues throughout.
A song of the prairie, this book will inspire young gardeners to try native plants and is a great addition to curriculums in schools doing their own garden programs. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from digital galley received from University of Minnesota Press and NetGalley.
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin
Will Allen is a farmer who can see the potential where others can’t. When he sees a vacant lot, he sees a farm with enough to feed everyone. When he was a boy, he grew up helping care for a large garden that kept their family fed. But Allen did not want to spend his life weeding and digging in the dirt, so he decided to become a basketball player, and he did. But then living in Milwaukee, he saw empty greenhouses standing vacant and realized that he could feed people who had never eaten a fresh vegetable. First though, he had to clear the land and then figure out how to improve his soil so that something could grow there. That was the first time that the neighborhood kids helped out, bringing compost items to feed the worms. Slowly and steadily, a community garden emerged and Will Allen taught others to be farmers too. His Milwaukee farm now gets 20,000 visitors a year so that others can learn to grow gardens where there had only been concrete.
I had seen the documentary, Fresh that includes Will Allen as part of the film about new thinking about food. So I was eager to see a picture book about this inspiring figure. It did not disappoint. Martin captures the natural progression of Allen’s life from child eating from the garden to farmer giving other children that same experience and spreading the word about what is possible in an urban setting. Martin’s tone throughout has a sense of celebration of Allen and his accomplishments. She captures his own inherent enthusiasm on the page.
Larkin’s illustrations are striking. Each could be a poster for farming and urban gardens on their own. Combined into a book, they become a celebration of this large man with an even larger dream. The colors are bright, the textures interesting and the image backgrounds evoke farming and nature.
This picture book biography is a visual feast that invites everyone to its community table. Librarians and teachers in Wisconsin should be particularly interested in adding this to their collection, but it will hold interest in urban and farming areas across the country. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Readers to Eaters.
Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf
Released August 6, 2013
When Sophie and her family go to the farmer’s market, Sophie helps pick out a lovely squash. However, it is not a squash that she wants to eat! Instead she names it Bernice and takes it everywhere with her. Her parents offer to cook Bernice so that she won’t rot, but Sophie is scandalized. Soon though, Bernice is starting to show her age with “freckles” on her skin. So Sophie heads back to the farmer’s market to ask how to help Bernice not rot. The farmer suggests, “Fresh air. Good, clean dirt. A little love.” Sophie heads home and plants Bernice in the garden, tucking her into that good dirt. That night, the snow starts to fall and Sophie has to be very patient. Her parents get her a fish to keep her company, but he’s not as interesting as Bernice. With spring come some surprises that will delight and satisfy.
This picture book does not read like a debut book, instead having a confident tone and a quirky premise of more veteran authors. The story is completely satisfying, offering a conclusion that brings the book full circle and along the way plenty of squash bonding time. So many children bond with objects in their childhood that this will speak to many children. Both the humor of it being a squash and the seasonal nature of the story make this a joyful pick.
Wilsdorf’s illustrations reflect the quirkiness of this title beautifully. The bond between girl and squash is perfectly rendered and while humorous, the images never laugh at Sophie and her new friend. The warm and loving family is depicted in their kitchen and home, ready to eat the squash but also ready to let Sophie decide.
Pick this one for your next autumnal storytime though it will also make a nice addition to any garden-themed unit too. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Random House.
Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell
Released on June 15, 2013.
Three children scramble out of bed at their grandpa’s house to a rainy day. But they don’t want to stay inside, so Grandpa sends them outside to find colors to add to his Rainbow Stew. They splash their way into the garden and look under the wet green leaves to find what colors are hidden beneath. They find all sorts of green vegetables like beans, spinach, and cucumbers, some rosy radishes, some purple cabbage, yellow peppers, red tomatoes and brown potatoes. Soon their basket is full and the three children are muddy and happy. They all head inside to cook the stew together, each child helping in their own way. Then there is quiet time inside as the stew cooks, until finally they can all enjoy Rainbow Stew!
Falwell merrily combines a love of gardening and a willingness to get muddy in this book. She uses quick rhymes that add a bouncy feel to the book, maintaining that sense of joy that is everywhere in this book. I am particularly pleased to see a book with a grandfather taking expert care of grandchildren in this book.
The illustrations are filled with falling rain, but also small faces turned up into it and knees plunked down into the mud. The completely African-American family is also great to see in a picture book that easily integrates into rain or gardening or color units and story times.
Ripe and ready to be picked, this is a great choice for sharing aloud in spring or fall. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Lee & Low Books via NetGalley.
Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
Alice loves it when spring arrives and they can start planting the garden. Her dad gets the soil ready for planting and then she and her brother start putting the seeds in. It seems like a long time before the seeds finally sprout. Then other seedlings are transplanted from pots and potatoes are sown. Lettuce and radishes are ready to eat first, and Alice spots a rabbit munching on them too. She also thinks a mouse might be eating the fallen corn. Hawks hunt in the garden and there are plenty of insects too. Autumn nears and harvest begins, and the food cycle of the garden is complete for another year. Throughout the book, the chickens offer commentary about the cycle itself with information about herbivores and carnivores, compost, worms and much more.
This is an outstanding example an information book for children. The chickens give the book a lighter tone, even though they are the ones offering the hard science. The story celebrates gardening, the food cycle, and having a place connects one with nature. Zoehfeld’s writing is breezy and cheerful, setting just the right tone of exploration, wonder and science.
Lamont’s illustrations add to the delight. They have a similar feel to Michael Rosen’s with the friendly characters. The colors tend towards the subtler side, inviting close inspection and learning.
This is a choice book for units on the food cycle or for children looking for information that they will enjoy learning. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.
And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
This enchanting book starts with the brown of late winter. It’s the brown that you have to plant seeds into in the hopes of green coming soon. But then you have to wait for rain, hope that the birds didn’t eat the seeds, realize that the bears may have stomped too close to the seeds because they can’t read signs, and then you have to wait some more. It stays brown, but even the brown starts to change and seem more hopeful and humming. Then you wait some more, and then one day, if you are patient and keep caring for your newly planted seeds, you wake up to green!
Oh how I love this book! In her poetic prose, Fogliano captures the patience of gardening, the drudgery of late winter, and the hope that must be invested in order to see seeds spring to life. I had expected the birds eating the seeds, but the stomping bears led me to realize that this was more playful a book than I had originally expected, something I love to have happen in the middle of a picture book!
Add to this the illustrations of Caldecott winner Stead and you have such a winning book. Her art has a delicacy that is perfect for the whispers of early spring. The boy in the story is thin, wear glasses, and by the time spring finally comes has created quite a garden with birdfeeders, signs, and plenty of lumps of dirt. By far my favorite part comes at the end, where the garden does not burst into flowers but remains weedy and lumpy, but green. Perfection.
Doing a spring story time soon? Get your hands on this book! Ideal for classes planting a garden or all of us longing for the green to return. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
Released August 30, 2011.
Grandpa Green was born long ago. He grew up on a farm, got chicken pox in fourth grade, and kissed a girl in middle school. Though he wanted to be a horticulturist, he ended up going to war. There he met his future wife, whom he married when the war ended. Now Grandpa Green is getting old and starting to forget things. But he doesn’t forget the most important things, because the garden keeps his memories for him.
Smith has created an amazing world in the pages of this book. It is a place where a man brings his memories to life through topiary, each one more inventive and beautiful than the next. Smith has kept his words simple. Just enough to move the story forward.
It is the pictures that tell the story here. Smith has lightened the characters down to line drawings and subtle color. The topiaries are a vivid green, bursting with life against the white of the page. Grandpa’s memories are more solid than the real world, which works beautifully with the story. The topiaries are whimsical and gorgeous, shown as the little boy moves through the garden and interacts with them. There is one amazing page with the boy hanging from a branch of a giant tree where the leaves turn from green to autumn to bare branches as the eye moves across the tree. It is a visual of aging that works beautifully.
This is a creative and entrancing picture book that brings memories to green life, celebrates a great-grandfather, and shows the relationship between him and his great-grandson. It is a triumph of a picture book! One of my favorites of the year, and one that should be under consideration for a Caldecott. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Also reviewed by Shelf Awareness.
Check out the trailer that almost catches the charm of the book:
Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
This lovely book moves from the steady and deliberate planting of seeds by farmers to the ways that seeds are planted in nature. The seeds sweep along the in the wind. They are dropped by birds eating from the seed heads. They pop and snap to new places. They are carried on the coats of animals. They are planted by squirrels hiding them for winter. Told in a poetic voice with images that evoke nature in all of its beauty, this book is one to be treasured.
Galbraith’s writing is leisurely and lovely, lingering on each of the moments that spread seeds across nature. She explains each instance in detail, offering noises, specific plant names, and building moments that readers themselves can feel and be in for a bit. She also skillfully blends in animals in each setting, bringing it further to life.
Halperin’s style works very well with this subject matter. She plays with light and dark, draws the animals and plants described in the text. Through her fine-lined and gently colored images, nature comes to life. One of her most successful pages is early in the book, capturing the movement of the wind in colors and lines.
A natural, lovely look at seeds and planting in the wild, this book is a gorgeous tribute to wilderness. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.
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