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Book Reviews

How Does Your Garden Grow? With Books!


Counting in the Garden

Join a little boy in bibbed overalls for an exuberant, educational romp. With each page turn, he introduces tots to the plants and animals in his garden and counts them, from one large purple onion to 12 yellow tulips in a row.  Emily Hruby’s minimal text manages to be both playful and accurate, and its minimalism is a perfect contrast to the bold, stylized shapes and vivid colors of Patrick Hruby’s artwork. There’s also a seek-and-find component; the illustrations are cumulative, and youngsters can look for and count all the things previously named, which reinforces the counting concept.  Thankfully, the sturdy board format will be able to withstand the many fingerings this engaging book is sure to receive.

ages 3 – 7

Quiet Bunny

Maryland author/illustrator Lisa McCue encourages children to attend to the natural world in her vibrantly illustrated tale of a young rabbit in search of his own sound.  Quiet Bunny wishes he could join in the night song of his fellow creatures but no matter how hard he tries, he can’t make the noise of the hissing snake, hooting owl or whining mosquito.  Preschoolers will love following this long-eared lapin through McCue’s detailed meadow and woods and finding—and chiming in with—all the crickets, woodpeckers and frogs hidden therein.  And they will have a great time imitating Quiet Bunny’s foot-tapping thump-thump when he finally discovers just the right sound for him.

And Then It’s Spring

A bespectacled lad in a red scarf and mittens surveys the brown of an early spring landscape, plants a few seeds and waits.  With every page turn, as the season advances, the boy’s attire changes from rain slicker to blue jacket to striped T-shirt, and the earth evolves from a “hopeful” brown to a “greenish hum” to a rich, lively green.  The text by first-time author Julie Fogliano is spare and soft as a breath, with the story drama being carried largely by Erin Stead’s illustrations.  As she did so beautifully in A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Caldecott Medal 2011), Stead conveys changes in mood and time through her color palette, and the result is well paced and visually arresting.

Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer

Cornstalks may be mighty tall and puppies satin-shiny but earthworms have their own squirmy charm for Winnie Finn.  Because there is no ribbon for best worm at the county fair, she decides to use her worms’ fertilizer-making services to help three others win the prize in their categories.  Many eco-tales for kids are rather dull and message-heavy but this book avoids that fate, thanks to its lively heroine and the humorous, honed prose of first-time author Carol Brendler.  Illustrations by Ard Hoyt capture Winnie’s spunky can-do spirit and the many moods of her expressive cat as they traverse the neighborhood.  Instructions in the back for making a worm farm may inspire your own kids to raise a few wiggly friends for your garden.

ages 8 – 12

The Survivor Tree

Local author Cheryl Somers Aubin and Washington artist Sheila Harrington team up to share the uplifting story of the 20-year-old pear tree that survived the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.  For one month, it lay buried under the “smoking rubble” of the collapsed World Trade Center.  Scarred, broken and burnt, it was rescued by site workers and taken to a nursery to be nurtured back to health.  As it slowly heals, the tree recalls its previous life in New York City, the splash of a nearby fountain and some of the people the tree had sheltered.  Finally, in December 2010, the tree, now known as the Survivor Tree, was replanted on the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, where its presence is a testimony to hope and resilience.  Aubin’s sensitive text and Harrington’s gentle watercolors make this both a lovely memorial and a memorable book.

Parks for the People: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted

Through this dynamic biography, Maryland author and environmental advocate Julie Dunlap acquaints young people with the restless life and amazing accomplishments of Frederick Law Olmsted, founder of landscape architecture.  Today, Olmsted is probably best known for his work with Manhattan’s Central Park, but his legacy is wide and vital, including Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Boston’s Franklin Park, the U.S. Capitol grounds and his untold influence on the generations of park developers who followed him.  Through period photos and careful research, Dunlap plunges the reader into the 19th-century world of this man who was farmer, sailor and journalist before winning a contest to help design Central Park on a bleak patch of land.  An “environmentalist before the word was coined,” Olmsted, says Dunlap, “believed that nature’s beauty heals the body and lifts the human spirit.”  His parks are his green gift to us.

Mary Quattlebaum is the author, most recently, of the picture books Pirate vs. Pirate (Disney Hyperion) and The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans (Random House).  You can contact Mary at, which has information about her 18 award-winning children’s books, school presentations and writing workshops.