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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A Garden for Pig by Kathryn K. Thurman, illustrated by Lindsay Ward
Pig lives on an apple farm where they grow lots and lots of apples. And what does Pig get to eat? Apples, apples, and more apples. Mrs. Pippins owns the farm and she makes all sorts of apple dishes for pig to eat, but he is sick of apples all the time. What he really wants to eat are vegetables! So Pig breaks into the vegetable patch and begins gulping down squash, seeds and all. When Mrs. Pippin finds him in the garden, she is not happy. She ties Pig up. When she catches him trying to break the rope, she shuts him in his pen. Though Pig tries to escape, he can’t. But he is determined not to eat any more apples! Pig notices the next day that his pen looks a lot like a garden. And after digesting the squash, he has the seeds he needs to make one.
Thurman’s words are simple and have a jaunty rhythm to them. There are wonderful sounds woven into the book that children will enjoy mimicking. Pig’s determination and tenacity as well as his creative solution to the problem add to the appeal.
Ward’s collage and cut paper illustrations have a warmth to them. This is accentuated by the use of fabrics that offer a texture to the images. In the apple orchard, there are words on the paper that make up the leaves: apple recipes. The illustrations are large enough to read to a group. And goodness knows, the poop event at the end will be a hit!
A friendly and warm introduction to gardening in an organic way, this book is a happy addition to gardening story times. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Kane Miller.
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Nibbles: A Green Tale by Charlotte Middleton
The guinea pigs of Dandeville loved eating dandelion leaves. Nibbles loved eating them even more than he loved playing soccer. He ate them for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. But then dandelion leaves started to run low. Cabbage began replacing it on restaurant menus and dandelion leaves became a hot commodity on the Internet. Eventually, there were no more dandelion leaves because they had all been eaten. All but one dandelion that was growing outside of Nibbles’ window. Even though Nibbles wanted badly to eat the leaves, he didn’t. Instead he started to do research on dandelion and began to take very good care of his dandelion. He waited patiently until it grew seeds and then headed to a tall hill where he blew the seeds into the air. Soon the fields were filled with dandelions again, and Nibbles had found something besides eating dandelions that he loved. Growing them!
This is a very appealing book that takes the lesson of renewable resources to a level that even small children can understand. Middleton’s brilliant choice was to use dandelion greens as the scarce resource, because we all have dandelions taking over our lawns and gardens. In this way she made something that we see as a nuisance into a commodity. Middleton’s mixed media art is friendly, filled with round-bellied guinea pigs and plenty of green. The hair tufts and whiskers done in real fuzz and string make the illustrations engaging and interesting.
A great choice when talking with preschoolers about going green or gardening, this book will be a welcome addition to units and story times. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Marshall Cavendish.
The Good Garden by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault
The author of One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference continues to explore the impact of education and funding on poor communities. Here, she has written a book about a farming family in Honduras who learn techniques that allow them to grow enough food to feed themselves and earn enough money to secure a positive future for the family. Maria Luz and her family have run out of food so her father must head out of town to find enough work to pay for the seed to plant next year because they will have to consume what they would have saved. He leaves Maria Luz in charge of the garden while he is gone. At school, she learns about compost, terrace gardening, and other ways to keep the soil fertile. When her father returns, he is surprised by her success. He and Maria Luz work with her teacher to avoid selling their produce to the local coyote and instead sell it themselves at a market and purchase seeds themselves. Through one man’s efforts to educate, an entire village is transformed.
The author here has taken her subject very seriously, as is appropriate. The text is lengthy for a picture book, but helps explain the impact of food insecurity around the world. While this is not a picture book to add to a story time, it will be of value for elementary children who are learning about the world, gardening and food. It is a book that teaches and informs. Smith Milway’s text does not shy away from the control of the coyote, the fear of starvation, or the loss of families who leave to live elsewhere. Her words convey it all with a seriousness and gentleness that is lovely to read.
Daigneault’s illustrations seem to glow with an inner sun. Her use of colors is dynamic at times and subtle at others. In all of her pictures, there are flowing lines that help depict the beauty of the Honduran landscape. The illustrations help bring the text to life, making the book even more appealing.
An important book for children to better understand the world they live in, this book is informative and radiant. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.
You can visit The Good Garden website at: http://www.thegoodgarden.org/ where you can learn, play or help make a difference.
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Yucky Worms by Vivian French, illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg
A young boy was in his grandmother’s garden when she found a worm. He is disgusted by it, but his grandmother insists that he should be friends with worms. She then returned the worm to the ground to demonstrate which end of the worm was which. The book goes on to discuss in the grandmother’s voice different aspects of worms, what they eat, how they survive the winter, what worm castings are, and how they help the plants in the garden. The illustrations are light-hearted but can quickly become scientific when called for. This is a great blend of picture book and nonfiction facts presented in a winning way.
French’s use of a grandmother narrator works well here, framing the nonfiction in a story that makes it very approachable. It also allows the narrator to explain misconceptions that the young boy has about worms, like the widely held belief that worms can be cut in two and still survive. Not true! Ahlberg’s illustrations offer asides by the worms themselves, a mole carrying a grocery list, and wonderful views of below the ground.
A great book to share with children who want to know more about these wiggly creatures in the garden, this book reads like a picture book and offers facts for children who are looking for them. Readers of the book will quickly learn that worms are far from yucky. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
How Does a Seed Grow? by Sue Kim, photographs by Tilde
A visually interesting book all about seeds, sprouts and the harvest. Each page is dedicated to one kind of seed complete with photographs of the seeds. That then unfolds to show a large photograph of the seedling in a cutaway format that shows below the ground to the roots and up above the ground for the leaves. Readers then unfold the page one more time to see a photograph of a child holding the fruit or vegetable. The text is very simple and rhyming. The illustrations are the heart of this book. It is a book guaranteed to fascinate children not only with the unfolding pages but with the details of the seeds and seedlings.
The book covers tomatoes, blueberries, bell peppers, peas and oranges. The brief rhymes do give a sense of the needs of plants from loose dirt to warmth to water and sunshine. Readers will enjoy looking at the differences in the shapes and sizes of the seeds and the different ways that the seeds grow. The children pictured with the fruits and vegetables are multicultural. One quibble is that some of the pictures are a little blurred, which is noticeable when compared with the crispness of the other images.
This book will work well in a classroom setting or in a story time focused on spring and plants. The foldout pages will not survive circulation at a library for long unless they are reinforced with tape. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.