Oscar’s Tower of Flowers by Lauren Tobia

Cover image for Oscar’s Tower of Flowers.

Oscar’s Tower of Flowers by Lauren Tobia (9781536217773)

This wordless picture book tells the story of Oscar and his love of plants and flowers. Oscar’s mother has left him with a relative and his favorite picture of him and his mother is full of flowers. At first, they grow just one little plant in a pot but soon after a visit to a garden store, Oscar has much more. He selects seeds to plant, potting soil and tools. Back in the apartment, they fill all sorts of containers with soil and seeds, placing them on the sunny windowsill. Then they all sprout! The apartment fills with plants, including the bathroom. It all gets a little too crowded, so Oscar gives the plants away to their neighbors. With his mother back, she and the reader can see the way that Oscar transformed not only one apartment but the entire neighborhood.

Tobia creates a warm and lovely story here filled with an adult empowering a child to follow his interest. Oscar communicates through his drawings of plants, showing his desire to grow something. The woman taking care of him, who may be an aunt or a rather young grandmother, dives in with him, getting him the tools and items he needs to truly grow plants. The solution of sharing his success with everyone is transformational for the entire apartment complex. The diverse urban setting changes from stark to vibrantly green and growing in the course of a few months, thanks to one little boy.

A wordless picture book about sharing, community and the impact a child can have. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

The Very Hungry Plant by Renato Moriconi

Cover image for The Very Hungry Plant.

The Very Hungry Plant by Renato Moriconi (9780802855763)

A little plant sprouted on one beautiful morning. The little plant was hungry! The sun couldn’t satisfy how hungry it was, because it was a carnivorous plant. It ate a caterpillar passing by. It ate a butterfly. The plant got bigger and hungrier. It ate a spider, a gecko, and a rabbit. It grew bigger and hungrier with each one. Then it ate a gymnast, an acrobat bear, and a parachuting cow. It even ate an entire airplane of parachuting cows. But it only got hungrier as it grew. It ate a flying mammoth, a bunch of witches, a UFO and a dragon. Finally, it ate an angel choir. Now it was finally satisfied, and stopped to rest. But the story doesn’t quite end there!

With a repeating structure and ever-increasing surreal silliness, this picture book is great fun. Readers will notice the nod to Eric Carle and his Very Hungry Caterpillar in the first part of the book, something that is marvelous to see incorporated so nicely. The carnivorous and voracious plant eats so many marvelous things, small and then so huge! The absurdity of it all is delightful as is the simplicity of the story and the twist at the end.

The illustrations are very simple as well, accompanied by hand-painted text that adds to the zany nature of the book. The plant stays an open, yawning mouth of green with red teeth-like cilia until it is finally satiated towards the end of the book. When it closes, the maw of hunger becomes almost docile, just in time for the ending.

Funny and immensely satisfying. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

Cover image for This Poison Heart.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron (9781547603909)

Briseis has a magical gift that she works hard not to reveal. Plants respond to her touch and presence, growing more lush and leaning in towards her, sometimes with destructive force. When Briseis inherits an estate in rural New York, she and her mothers jump at the new opportunity. The home is dirty and needs attention, and it also holds a lot of secrets for Briseis to figure out. There is the apothecary shop that seemed to deal in more normal herbs, but also ones that are extremely poisonous and rare. Then there is a trail of clues that lead Briseis to a neglected garden on the property that has regular herbal plants but also hidden poison gardens that only Briseis can reach thanks to her newly discovered immunity to poisonous plants. As strangers arrive on the property to seek services from Briseis, she finds herself part of another mystery. What is behind the locked door in the garden, and could it have been why so many women in her family have died or disappeared?

There is just so much to love with this novel. It’s a mesmerizingly lovely look at contemporary Black life that is imbued with magic and mystery. Briseis’ talent with plants moves from being problematic to being celebrated, something that really shines at the center of the book as she gains confidence in her own powers. Against the green wonder of her magic is the danger of poison that darkens the entire story very effectively, and is steadily revealed as more characters appear in the story.

Bayron paces the mystery out very cleverly, allowing readers to both enjoy and doubt several characters who are close to Briseis. The inclusion of queer characters is done naturally and woven into the story. Briseis has lesbian mothers and is queer herself. Briseis herself is a great protagonist, richly drawn in both her self doubt, her initial friendlessness, and how that transforms into a dangerous dance of trust and betrayal.

Beautifully written, full of strong Black women and filled with magic, this teen novel is spellbinding. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

The Seedling That Didn’t Want to Grow by Britta Teckentrup

The Seedling That Didn’t Want to Grow by Britta Teckentrup

The Seedling That Didn’t Want to Grow by Britta Teckentrup (9783791374291)

There once was a seed that took a long time to sprout, long after the other plants had grown up around it. Then it took some time to grow from a seedling into a plant. The creatures in the meadow noticed this special plant and monitored it. Ant and Ladybird sat next to it waiting for it to sprout. Circket guarded her roots and Mouse searched for clear paths. Finally, the plant reached the sunshine and left the meadow undergrowth behind. She grew up and up, wide and broad. She transformed with buds and then hundreds of flowers. All kinds of animals lived in her branches. When autumn came, she turned brown and withered along with the other plants, until one day all of her seeds took flight on the wind. Then winter came and spring arrived later, and that’s when everyone could see the transformation of the meadow.

Teckentrup’s picture book about a unique and different plant celebrates those who may be considered late bloomers and looks at how one individual can transform where they live. The seasonal aspect of the book is done beautifully, as the spring brings the sprouting of the seed, the summer with its amazing growth, and the quiet solemnity of autumn. All of this is captured in her illustrations which are rich and textured. The colors are far from simple, taking on the aspect of each season but also bringing in deep maroons in spring, gold light, and the oranges of autumn. 

A quiet and lovely look at seasons, plants and transformation. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Prestel.

Review: The Little Green Girl by Lisa Anchin

The Little Green Girl by Lisa Anchin

The Little Green Girl by Lisa Anchin (9780735230736)

Mr. Aster likes his normal routine. He cares for his garden, keeping it neat and clean. Then a new seed blows in on the wind. He plants the seed in his greenhouse and takes good care of the plant that emerges. Eventually, he moves the plant out into the garden. The plant looks like a little girl, and at first she is content to be at the center of the garden, always watching Mr. Aster as he works. But then the birds arrive and tell her stories of the wide world. Little Green Girl tries to move herself using vines and lifting her roots, but each day Mr. Aster tucks her back into her bed in the garden and repairs any damage she has done. Finally, Little Green Girl has an idea and makes sure that Mr. Aster allows her to travel. It may just be what Mr. Aster needs too.

Anchin has written a lovely, magical book that takes the idea of a plant and gives her plenty of personality. The book looks at both the pleasures of home and also the delights of experiencing something new. It also speaks to the power of a new friend and spreading your branches to include new experiences.

The artwork is completely charming. In particular, Little Green Girl, is a masterpiece of greenery. She is firmly rooted to the ground but manages to have plenty of emotional expression through body language despite that. Her readiness to travel could not be more clear when she manages to re-pot herself into a traveling form, sunglasses and all.

A book that will expand your horizons and get you thinking of taking a trip. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Nobody Hugs a Cactus by Carter Goodrich

Nobody Hugs a Cactus by Carter Goodrich

Nobody Hugs a Cactus by Carter Goodrich (9781534400900)

Hank is a very prickly cactus sitting in a window and overlooking the emptiness of the desert. Occasionally others intrude on his blissful quiet, and he doesn’t respond in a very friendly way. When Rosie the tumbleweed rolls past, Hank ignores her entirely. Hank yells at a tortoise so loudly that the tortoise hides in his shell. Other animals and people pass too, each greeted rudely by Hank. Someone suggests that he needs a hug, but no one wants to hug a prickly cactus. The next morning though, Hank is less angry and more lonely. But what is a grumpy cactus to do? Hank may have a new and friendly idea.

Goodrich has created quite the character in Hank. Hank moves beyond just being rather ferocious and cranky into something more closely approaching sadness and isolation. That shift is the key to this book, one that allows readers to truly start to feel for Hank and his predicament. The use of being “prickly” meaning both personality and having sharp needles is clever handled and not overplayed in the text. The book is engaging and funny with a brisk pace despite being centered on a plant.

The art is done in a desert color palette with sand, rich blue skies at night, and changing clouds and weather. Hank himself is full of personality, grumpy as can be at times while being rather morose at others. Goodrich uses plenty of humor in the illustrations too, particularly with Hank himself.

A great pick for grumpy days when you might be feeling a bit prickly yourself. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

 

What Will Grow? by Jennifer Ward

what-will-grow-by-jennifer-ward

What Will Grow? by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Susie Ghahremani (9781681190303)

The author and illustrator pair who brought us What Will Hatch? return with another winning picture book. Here children get to guess what plant will emerge from the seeds being planted. Told in rhyme, the book invites guessing and participation. Some pages offer the answer immediately while others ask readers to fold out a page to see the answer. The book shows that seeds can turn into all kinds of different plants from carrots to sunflowers to pine trees. It also demonstrates the various shapes and colors that seeds come in.

The text has an welcoming tone that immediately asks children to participate in guessing. The rollicking rhyme and rhythm of the book adds to the pace and the fun. The text is basic enough for young toddlers to enjoy while the guessing will make the book fun for preschoolers. The book ends with information on each of the seeds, including when to plant them, how to plant them and when it will grow.

The illustrations have a wonderful natural feel to them. Seeds pepper the pages that are also filled with the greens of plant life. Animals appear as well: a fox snatches a tomato from the vine, a squirrel holds an acorn, a monarch sits atop milkweed. There’s a sense of a complete ecosystem on each page with each plant shown in its habitat. The gatefold pages add a lot of appeal, folding down to show long carrots underground and folding up for tall sunflowers and trees.

A wonderful warm new picture book to celebrate the arrival of spring and gardening. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.

 

Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson

plant-the-tiny-seed-by-christie-matheson

Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson

The author of Tap the Magic Tree and Touch the Brightest Star returns with another interactive picture book that is a companion to the first two. The child first plants the seeds by pressing them into the ground. They wiggle their fingers to water them. Then comes sunshine and rain. A hungry snail has to be hurried on its way. And all the while the plants are growing and growing. Then come the flowers, bright zinnias of purple, orange and red. The flowers fade and soon there are new seeds to be scattered.

This book shows the cycle from seed to plant to flower to seed in a simple and very approachable way. While it won’t work well for large groups, smaller groups of children or single children will love the interactive component and the feeling that they are gardening along with the book. The book incorporates plenty of other nature as well with snails, bees, birds and butterflies on the page. There is also lots for parents and children to talk about, making the book even more interactive.

Matheson’s illustrations are bright and simple. She keeps the plants in the same spot on each page, so the weather and creatures provide movement and changes. Deep brown soil richly frames the bottom of the pages and most of them have a clear white as a background that lets the simple illustrations pop.

A great way to explore the life cycle of plants, this picture book is simple and friendly enough for toddlers to enjoy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

 

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

du-iz-tak-by-carson-ellis

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis (InfoSoup)

This inventive picture book takes a close-up look at a garden filled with insects. There is the caterpillar who enters his chrysalis, beetles and a ladybug who notice a sprout growing. They go to Icky, who lives in a log nearby and who has a ladder they can use. The sprout continues to grow and grow. At night other insects and bugs come out. Soon a fort is built in the growing plant but then, disaster! A spider comes and webs the entire plant. As nature continues to take its course, more insects arrive to see the plant flower. Slowly the plant tips over and the fort falls. Seeds drift to the ground. Fall arrives and the butterfly emerges from her cocoon. In spring, new sprouts appear.

The summary above does not capture what is truly amazing about this book. It is the language play, the word choices and the way that at first it seems like a foreign language but by the end of the book you are “speaking” and understanding bug. The language has phrases that are recognizable, allows for decoding of the language and then repeats in a way that allows readers to better understand. It’s very cleverly done and a book unlike any other I’ve experienced.

Ellis’ illustrations add to the otherworldly appeal of this book. Many of the insects are recognizable and still they are strange and wild. The illustrations beautifully focus on the same log and plant throughout, with seasons changing, the plant growing, and the insects coming and going. It is rather like an organic theatrical set and stage.

I have a deep affection for this zany picture book. Children who enjoy word play will love this and may find themselves speaking the bug language for awhile. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.