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Most people living in large towns and cities probably give little thought to soil. Why should they? At a first glance, much of the ground in towns and cities is sealed with concrete, asphalt and bricks, and most city-dwellers have little reason to have contact with soil. To most, soil in cities is simply dirt. But soil is actually in abundance in cities: it lays beneath the many small gardens, flower beds, road and railway verges, parks, sports grounds, school playing fields, and allotments of the city, where it plays many under appreciated roles.
“Once upon a time, Old MacDonald didn’t have a farm. He just had a yard—a yard he didn’t want to mow. But then, under the direction of the wise (and ecologically sensitive) Little Red Hen, Mac learns to look at the environment in a very different way, and whole new worlds start to bloom.”
“Old MacDonald had a house, E-I-E-I-O!”
Old MacDonald had a house with a big backyard he didn’t like to mow. In fact, he waited so long to mow it that Old MacDonald would sweat after just a short push of his power mower. There had to be a better way. So Old MacDonald got a goat. E-I-E-I-O! There were problems with the goat. MacDonald knew there had to be a better way, so he searched the Internet for help. He got that help from the Little Red Hen, the smartest hen in the world. But could she help Old MacDonald with his backyard lawn mowing aversion?
A fun story that will have kids and adults laughing from the beginning, E-I-E-I-O puts Old MacDonald in the middle of suburbia. He has a house with a large backyard and Old MacDonald doesn’t like to mow. He gets a goat but the goat eats the hedges, putting a window between MacDonald and his neighbor. But MacDonald’s real trouble—and fame—doesn’t begin until he hires the Little Red Hen. I love bringing in a character from another story. It adds more flavor to the story and most kids will instantly recognize the Little Red Hen. Plus, this wise hen has an agricultural diploma—perfect for Old MacDonald.
First, Little Red Hen gets rid of the grass. At first, I didn’t get what she was doing—nor will most kids—but soon it became clear. Until that could happen, the neighbors join and form a protest, insisting, as one sign put it, “A LAWN in every YARD.” I love the signs. One says the neighbors formed a mud watch group. But the sign stating, “Change is BAD” pretty much sums up the problem: no one like change. Though there is one little guy who may like change. His sign says, “No More Mud,” but he put a line through one of those words. Not until Old MacDonald has a workable farm, producing organic veggies, does the neighborhood change their feelings toward the smell of Old MacDonald’s backyard farm.
The illustrations are fantastic. They tell the story as well as the text tells it. The details are terrific and sometimes surprising, but you must look carefully to appreciate all the effort that went into these spreads. Colorful, informative, and humorous are but three words that immediately come to mind when looking at E-I-E-I-O. I love the part when Little Red Hen has Old MacDonald throw his trash onto his backyard, well, actually, his back-mud. Old MacDonald looks like he has given up when he tosses his corncob out the window onto his back-mud.
Kids inherently think the word “poop” is funny. Well, Little Red Hen cannot make her compost without it, or worms, so kids will love these spreads. Of course, Little Red Hen stays out of the muck, calling directions out from atop her hen house. Yes, she is one wise hen. Eventually, Old MacDonald gains the neighbors’ favor and a new career in one of the most entertaining, yet informative, picture books this year.
The Saturday after arrival, we visited my husband's "doctor brother", Parthasarathi, who lives with his wife, Vasantha, son, Hari, and Hari's family in a section of Chennai called Panaiyur. As I mentioned in my last post, Chennai is so spread out whole sections warrant a name of their own. Travel time has to be calculated. Twenty miles can be an hour's journey in non-rush-hour traffic. During commuter hours it's longer.
Panaiyur is a rural area, on the way to Mahabalipuram (a city famous for its temples), and is a few blocks from the ocean. A lovely breeze cools the air. Houses are on large lots that are verdant with trees and bushes. The family's home is new to them, but the previous owner designed the house along lines that are compatible with the Indian version of Feng Shui. It's spacious, with balconies and arches. In the center hall—what we would call the living room—a swing suspends from the ceiling, which I loved sitting on. (Here we are below, chatting and swinging, chatting and swinging.)
Me, Soundara, Vasantha
Parthasarathy has always loved plants, so he spends a lot of time gardening, when he isn't perusing medical journals. (He is retired, but like everyone in the family, he loves continuing to learn and do research. Whenever we go to India, my husband consults him with any medical questions, as he can be trusted to know the latest medical wisdom.)
Parthasarathy, Rajan's 3rd brother, who specialized in Tuberculosis, but stays current on developments in other medical concerns as well.
Go on a fantasic voyage to discover all kinds of unbelievable, almost magical dramas playing out in--yep--your very own backyard! A gardening family and a pair of chickens bring you on an interesting and fun journey in this informative book. Click here to read my full review.
Shhhhhh, don't awaken her. It's Springtime in the garden and this fairy has been busy watering and tending the garden, spreading fairy dust, and chasing away pests so that butterflies and ladybugs may live peacefully in her gardens. She allows a bunny or two in her garden because she enjoys watching them, (although they did nibble on the coreopsis) This garden is, after all, natures buffet. ...or so it seems my garden is these days.
It is evening ~ time for a little nap before the night sky sets in and the full moon rises.
One week ago Saturday, I stepped into a Story Garden. Immediately, like magic, roots grew down into the ground, connecting me to a rich substrata of writers, editors, agents, all with amazing stories to tell. As I wandered the Story Garden (known to some as the SCBWI Western Washington Writing and Illustrating for Children Conference) flowers of every sort shot up out of the ground at my very feet. I watched with amazement as one particularly bright colored blossom (Genus Lainius taylorus, fuschia petals, quite lovely) began to speak. Wondrous tales of a circus troupe within her very being, struggling to emerge, wove a spell around all of us in the Story Garden, prompting great excitement at the possibilities for each of us, ready to bring forth our own fruit.
As the day wore on, and we were watered, fertilized and shone upon by Master Gardeners Jay Asher, Peter Brown, Edward Necalsulmer IV, Jordan Brown, Lisa Graff, Paul Rodeen, Michael Bourret, Sara Crowe, and so many others--voila! We bore fruit. Many of us scurried to secret corners, to quickly capture those first buds of a new story, the tentative tendrils of a plot twist.
No garden is quite complete without a Garden Gnome, and by early afternoon, our very own gnome appeared (see above), cheering us on, giving bits of writing advice to each of us who captured him before he disappeared back into his own hidden garden, once again to write.
And now each of us have returned to our own secret gardens, treasuring all we brought back from that magical weekend, seeding our own stories to bloom in due time.
My Friends the Flowers by William Lach, illustrated by Doug Kennedy. Abrams, 2010.
This splendid picture book channels Ub Iwerks and Max Fleischer while imparting real facts and information about roses, hollyhocks, snapdragons, morning glories and more.
Lach's writing bounces with rhyme and highlights a quality of each featured bloom.
Marigold SCARES all the bugs He likes to make them run. Sunflower's big happy face basks in the morning sun.
Doug Kennedy must have draw some inspiration from Disney's Silly Symphonies. His flowers preen and smile. Bugs add comedy to the scenes. The book ends with a glossary of featured flowers, complete with photographs, facts and the scientific names. Directions for growing a bug scaring garden (marigolds,) a sun loving garden (sunflowers,) and a fast growing garden (morning glories) are also included.
A Garden of Opposites by Nancy Davis. Schwartz & Wade, 2009
Books that introduce the concept of "opposites" are a tradition in the picture book landscape for very young children.
Nancy Davis offers familiar images from the world of gardening translated into bright colors and simple, mostly symmetrical shapes.
Worms, spades, garden shears, bugs and butterflies are used to present opposite concepts like, inside and outside (the inside of an apple and the outside,) open and closed (an
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On our third day in New Orleans, we took a taxi from our hotel to the Garden District and embarked on a walking tour.
The area was originally developed between 1832 to 1900. It may be one of the best preserved collection of historic southern mansions in the United States. The 19th century origins of the Garden District illustrate wealthy newcomers building opulent structures based upon the prosperity of New Orleans in that era. (National Trust, 2006) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_District,_New_Orleans
The homes and yards were beautiful, and as a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll let them speak for themselves.
After our walking tour of the Garden District, we stopped in at the local bookstore located in "The Rink" and purchased some books, which I'll list in a future post. Throughout the neighborhood are beautiful large oak trees and a wide variety of other plants and flowers. Many of the homes have ornate fences and metalwork on the balconies as well as beautiful columns and architectural details. I also loved looking at the paint colors; some houses had subtle variations of colors and others were very bold in their use of color. And everywhere, beautiful trees!
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There used to be a beautiful garden on the corner of our road. Not the sort of cottagey, lush, chaotic garden I’d rather like myself but a traditional, rather formal combination of greensward and floribunda roses with a few tastefully placed specimen shrubs. There was also a gleaming penny farthing as a feature, incongruous but appealing, always delicately outlined with tiny fairy lights at Christmas. The creator moved away last year and yesterday the new occupants committed an act of dire destruction. Diggers arrived and the entire garden had gone by 11am. Perhaps the owners are going to create something wonderful themselves. Judging by the number of huge white delivery sacks sagging in the wreckage, however, I suspect that they want something low maintenance – a parking lot, for example. Far be it from me to decry progress or personal freedom of choice. The new owners clearly need something other than a formal garden and fair enough; it is their property. Nonetheless, I wept over the glorious rose bushes which I hope have at least reached the municipal composter and I find myself asking questions about our responsibility to the community in our public acts. That garden gave me great joy and I used to tell the creator so when he was out there tending it. He still lives locally so he will have the pain of seeing that his work has been destroyed. How much should we reign in our personal desires out of consideration for others? A big question. How much value should we put on that which already exists when it stands in the way of something new? It’s a question which town planners and developers constantly battle with and which Capability Brown and his sponsors didn’t seem to consider at all! What has all this to do with children’s books?! The other day I did one of my occasional reccies in Waterstones. What’s being promoted, what’s new, what haven’t I read that I should have etc etc. To be honest, I was appalled. There was nothing like the wide selection carried by my local independent. That’s normal but this time the range was even narrower than usual and the blocks of books by the usual suspects were vast. More shocking, in my opinion, was the increased shelf-space given over to the Snot and Bogey brigade. The desperation to publish books that boys will read is getting alarming. Humour revolves around poo and flatulence (we now have the adventures of a farting dog, for goodness sake!) and history is degenerating into pisstory. I’ve recently had a short fictionalised biography of Elizabeth 1st published. ('Elizabeth 1st - The Story of the Last Tudor Queen') Imagine my delight at my most recent school visit when I was approached by a child who wanted to ask a question about it. And the question? Was it true that Elizabeth 1st had used the first toilet ever? Elizabeth 1st must be one of the most formidable personalities our national history offers – and a child’s interest has somehow been reduced to where she went to the loo! It seems to me that what happened to my neighbour’s garden is happening to children’s literature. In pursuing current agendas (getting boys to read at any cost, for example) we’re trashing a great tradition. I think of the heritage that lies behind the early readers that are being churned out now and I’m asking questions. I’m a left-wing, liberal, armchair revolutionary but I’m also a Christian (albeit a heretical one!) and I’m thinking about what it says in Philippians 4: 8 ...’whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excelle
Water Weed Waitby Edith Hope Fine and Angela Demos Halpin, illustraed by Colleen Madden. Tricycle, 2010 (review copy provided by the publisher)
School gardens are often started but tend to languish despite the best of intentions of teachers, students and parents. This book might encourage a community to try again. The children at the Pepper Lane Elementary are inspired by a visit from Miss Marigold, the garden lady to start a garden at their school. They work together with help from adults. Even Mr. Barkley, the school's cranky neighbor, lends his gardening expertise. Building a garden is hard work. Ground must be cleared and prepared then seeds are planted and watered. It takes patience to wait for vegetables to grow and flowers to bloom but their efforts are rewarded and celebrated at the end. Suggestions for starting a school garden are shared.
A Garden for Pig written by Kathryn K. Thursman, illustrated by Lindsay Ward, Kane Miller, 2010
Pig lives on an apple farm. His owner feeds him every kind of apple delicacy but Pig is tired of apples and longs for the vegetables growing in a nearby garden. When Pig manages to get into the garden he is in heaven. He discovers a passion for squash. When Mrs. Pippins discovers him in the garden, she secures him in his muddy pig pen and he cannot escape. He prepares the ground in his pen for planting and "passes" the seeds from the squash he ate. He patiently waits and before long has his own squash garden. Thursman follows the story with two pages of organic gardening tips. Illustrator, Ward's apple trees are filled with apples and text from apple recipes. Pig's method for planting his seeds is ve
Monday was my rebirthday. It was also my 61st birthday. I'd decided in advance to designate it my rebirthday—it seemed like a good idea since I'm still returning from a flirtation with death. I'd establish a milestone add structure to my recovery. I didn't restrain myself from telling friends and family who came by yesterday that it was my rebirthday. At the same time, I tried not to have preconceptions of what a rebirthday might be like, just to stay open to possibilities.
The day came and went and it was wonderful.
Yet while reflecting on how what I might present it here the following day, I almost missed the point, the wonder of it all. I didn't feel as good as I would have liked. I guess I imagined that after my rebirthday, my regular energy, or better yet, some wonderful new energy, would return - and it didn't. In fact, I was tired all day - which, of course, colored my perception of the previous day.
My plan for this reflection was immersed in stories of what didn't happen on my rebirthday: if only the dinner guests at dinner had gathered in the garden first, if only this or that, I can't even remember what now, had happened, the day would have perfect. I even spent some time trying to figure out how I could share some very personal details in an impersonal way.
Fortunately, by the time I sat down to write, I realized what I'd lost sight of.
Here's what my rebirthday was really like.
I woke up early and went to see how the compass garden the boys made and planted the previous afternoon was doing.
It was flourishing!
Liam came out with me and picked the first ripe tomato. (Well, it wasn't quite that magical. The tomato plants had already been in the garden for a month or so.) The tomato joined some others as part of the huevos rancheros Tom made for breakfast.
Roo is a crafty kind of girl. When she doesn't want to be found, she heads beneath her father's trailer where she can look at her treasures and put her ear to the ground and listen to the earth. It is here where readers are introduced to Roo, as her neighbor Mrs. Quick is talking to the police about what happened above her. The officer tells Mrs. Quick that Roo has an uncle (a rich one) who is willing to take her in. This is news to Roo, as she has never been told about any family...it's always been Roo, her father and a various string of girlfriends.
After a short stint in foster care, Roo is gathered up by her Uncle's assistant Ms. Valentine. They travel to the island of Cough Rock on the St. Lawrence where he uncle lives in the old St. Theresa's Children's Hospital. Roo is not so happy with the boat ride as she has never learned to swim. Once she arrives, she realizes that the water is the least of her worries. Her uncle wants nothing to do with her, she is forbidden from entering the East Wing of the building, there are the unexplainable sounds, and before long she is under the eagle eye of her tutor Mrs. Wixton who loves to gossip about Roo's family.
But Roo is a wily one, and rules have never really applied to her, and she soon learns to evade Mrs. Wixton and uncover some of the secrets of Cough Rock.
Inspired by The Secret Garden, The Humming Room is a ghost story of sorts coupled with Roo's coming of age. Ellen Potter has written a creepy story that ultimately has hope at its heart.