Review: Ojiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki

Ojiichan's Gift by Chieri Uegaki

Ojiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Genevieve Simms (9781771389631)

When Mayumi was born, her grandfather who lived in Japan built her a garden. It was a garden without tulips or flowers. Instead it was a garden of stones of all sizes. Around the edge, the garden had bushes and trees as well as a space for Mayumi to have a meal with her grandfather. As Mayumi grew up, she learned more and more about taking care of her garden alongside her grandfather. But then one summer, her grandfather could not care for his home or the garden anymore. When they arrived, the house was dusty and the garden was overgrown. Her grandfather had to use a wheelchair now. Mayumi is very angry and takes her anger out on the rocks of the garden, trying to topple the largest over. When she is unable to tip it over, she kicks the smaller rocks around. As her anger subsides, she rakes the garden back into order again and has an inspiration of what she can do to help both herself and her grandfather with this transition.

Uegaki was inspired to write this book by her own father who was a traditional Japanese landscaper and gardener. She captures with nicely chosen details the essence of a Japanese rock garden with its order, natural elements and upkeep. She also shows how a garden can create connections between in a long-distance relationship with a grandparent. She manages to have a strong point of view without being didactic at all, instead allowing the reader and Mayumi to experience the results of the garden without extra commentary.

The illustrations by Simms add to the understanding of the Japanese garden. Done in beautiful details, they offer images of the rocks, the moss, the gravel, and all of the elements. Using different perspectives for her images, she shows views from alongside the garden as well as from above. The same is true of the grandfather’s house as views change from outside looking in to the reverse.

A charming look at the connections between grandfather and granddaughter built through a garden. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.

Review: The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies (9780062671271)

Evan, a fox, and his dog did everything together from taking rides in the truck to sharing ice cream. What they loved to do most of all was work in Evan’s large garden together. Evan was known for growing large vegetables, competing for the largest pumpkin. But when his dog died, Evan saw his garden as a bitter place. One day, he went out and smashed it into emptiness. But things grow in empty spots, weeds and brambles rose up. They matched Evan’s mood, so he cared for them. Soon his garden was prickly and grim, just like him. When a pumpkin vine came into the garden, Evan cared for it too because it had prickles. Just as the pumpkin turned orange and huge, Evan realized it was time for the fair. Evan found himself enjoying the fair, meeting old friends and eating treats. And the grand prize was just right to set his life and his garden on a new course.

This book is so poignant. Lies captures grief and loss vividly on the page, the bitterness of loss, the emptiness it leaves, and prickliness of emotions left behind. Evan the fox though is a gardener through and through, so he cared for those prickly things, those weeds, and allowed them to flourish. It is a perfect allegory for the process of grief, moving from anger to despair to sadness and finally to acceptance and looking to the future. The arc is beautifully shown.

The illustrations are exceptional. Done with marvelous small details, even Evan’s grief garden is depicted with care from small signs warning of poison to the fences of the garden made of pitchforks. The use of light and dark is done so well, as Evan looks out from the darkness of his home into the light of the garden and gets violently angry.

One of the top picture books of the year, this is a dead dog picture book worth reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

3 New Summery Picture Books

Grains of Sand by Sibylle Delacroix

Grains of Sand by Sibylle Delacroix (9781771472050)

Two small children return home from a beach vacation. The little girl notices that her shoes are still filled with sand. When her brother asks her what she will do with them, she decides to plant them in the garden like seeds. Perhaps they will grow into yellow beach umbrellas, or huge pinwheels, or lemon ice cream. They could form a huge sandcastle, big enough to live in. Or best of all, maybe a beach will form at home. Before they can think of more ideas though, it’s time for bed and their father promises another trip to the beach next year. This picture book has a lovely mix of boisterous imaginings and also a steady quietness. The two children dream of what would grow from the grains of sand, thinking together about the possibilities even as they settle in at home. The illustrations are beautifully done in pencil with bursts of blue and yellow, the yellow setting the page aglow. This is a winner of a summer read, just right for bedtime. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Sandcastle That Lola Built by Megan Maynor

The Sandcastle That Lola Built by Megan Maynor, illustrated by Kate Berube (9781524716165)

This summery picture book offers a riff on The House That Jack Built. Lola is busily building a sandcastle on the beach. She makes a tall tower and tops it with a piece of sea glass that will signal the mermaids. But then a kid playing frisbee accidentally knocks her castle down. He stays to help rebuild this time with a wall around the castle to protect it. A little boy pushes a bulldozer into the wall and he stays to help dig a moat around the wall. A girl trips and spills her shells. She stays to build too. But then a wave wipes all of their building away. Lola is ready to quit until the others inspire her to keep on building.

Using the format of The House That Jack Built as a place to build from, this book does not stick solely to that structure. Instead it adds walls, moats, and friendship to the tale, creating a looser storyline. The illustrations are friendly and bright with a diverse cast of children who play together and others who fill the beach in the background. A great book to enjoy with your feet in the sand. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)

Summer Supper by Rubin Pfeffer

Summer Supper by Rubin Pfeffer, illustrated by Mike Austin (9781524714642)

Told entirely in words that start with the letter S, this picture book is a celebration of summer, seeds and sunshine. In their garden, a family grows spinach, squash, spuds, strawberries and sunflowers. The story begins with the sowing of the seeds, watering them and the sprouts growing. It moves quickly on to harvest where the vegetables are made into salad and succotash. The night ends with music, cleaning up and bed. And maybe one final snack.

Told in very simple words, the story is accented by “s” words shared right in the illustrations. The book is fast moving which will be welcomed by small children who are eager to see the results of the hard work of gardening. The celebratory nature of the book revolves around the harvest and the family. The illustrations are bright and merry, showing the color of the garden. A yummy book to share throughout the spring, summer and fall. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Random House.)

The Forever Garden by Laurel Snyder

The Forever Garden by Laurel Snyder.jpg

The Forever Garden by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Samantha Cotterill (9780553512731, Amazon)

Laurel lives next door to Honey. Honey has a large garden and she is always out working it it, rain or shine. Honey weeds the garden, shares carrots and tomatoes in the morning, offers up eggs to neighbors from her chickens, and on nice evenings has cookies after dinner that she shares with Laurel as the fireflies come out. But one day, a for sale sign is up at Honey’s house and she is moving away. Laurel is very sad and wonders at Honey continuing to plant things that she won’t be around to enjoy. The two plant an apple tree together and Laurel puts up a sign. Soon another family moves into Honey’s house and Laurel shows the children how to take care of Honey’s garden using all the skills that Honey showed her day after day.

Snyder has created a very rich picture book here that will work for even very young children. She explores the wonder of both gardening and friendships in this picture book with muddy knees bringing people together. Snyder never loses sight of her young audience here, keeping the language simple and the story tightly written. It’s a picture book that has a full, robust story that will lead to discussions and perhaps some singing to kale.

Cotterill’s illustrations are wonderful, fully embracing the joy of gardening in all weather and the wonder of the outdoors. Done in pen and ink, they were colored digitally in a style that evokes watercolors. They are filled with small details that show the garden and the care and time Honey puts into it.

A warm book about neighborhoods, caring adults and the connections forged over gardens, this picture book is a great addition to springtime stories. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780763674991, Amazon)

All you need to create a farm anywhere is soil, sunshine, water, and a seed. Which means you can make a farm just about anywhere! The book shows children and adults working together to make a garden in an empty lot. They find things in the garbage to use as pots and places for soil. The book also shows the kind of insects and animals that you might find in an urban garden, including neighbors who are excited by the green changes.

Root writes with a lovely warm tone, inviting readers along on this gardening adventure. The use of an urban setting is great to see in a picture book, especially showing children the creation of the space from the empty lot into a green center of activity. Root uses repetition and rhymes, creating a picture book that is a joy to share aloud. There is a wonderful playful nature about the book, the garden and the bounty.

Karas always creates a delightful feel in the picture books he illustrates. The children he shows are of various races and backgrounds. He shows a vibrant urban setting, filled with activity and energy. It’s just the sort of place that feels like something could happen, and here we get to see it from the ground up, literally.

A strong addition to gardening picture books, this is a perfect read aloud for spring. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers (InfoSoup)

William wakes up one morning to discover that the tree outside his window has been changed into an owl topiary. Day by day, more topiary appear along Grimloch Lane. There is a cat, a rabbit, a parakeet, and an elephant. Then one day, there is a dragon, that inspires the community to hang lanterns in its branches and along the road. It is that night that William notices a stranger with a ladder walking along. He follows the man to the local park where the man turns and invites William to help him. It is the night gardener and William helps him until he falls asleep. The next morning William awakens to see the park transformed by his work. As seasons change, the topiary disappear but the community spirit doesn’t.

This is one beautiful book. The text is simple, allowing the detailed illustrations to shine. Still, the text has gorgeous moments such as William watching the first topiary until it was too dark to see it anymore. This book is slow and steady, magical but also homely. It is filled with community spirit that readers can watch build steadily as the night gardener gives his gifts.

The community spirit is shown as homes with boarded-up windows turn into a dynamic community right before their eyes. The illustrations are beautiful, filled with touches that show the where the gardener gets his inspiration. The illustrations tell much of the story, showing that William lives in an orphanage and vividly demonstrating the inspiration a community can get from art.

A gorgeous and vibrant read, this book can be paired nicely with Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green for a topiary triumph. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Review: The Little Gardner by Emily Hughes

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

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.

Review: How to Grow a Friend by Sara Gillingham

how to grow a friend

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.

Review: Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root

plant a pocket of prairie

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.