Your place for news, reviews and dialog about books for children and teens.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
A Garden for Pig and Up We Grow
I blush to confess I was of voting age before I realized that pickles come from cucumbers. My excuse is that I didn't care for either one, so I never gave them much thought. But it's safe to say the farm-to-plate life cycle of our daily fare was seldom emphasized in a post-war era that touted convenient packaging and quick preparation.
Something was lost amid all that processed convenience, and there's a growing sense we need to help our children rediscover their roots. Two new picture books tackle the subject from different angles.
In A Garden for Pig, by Kathryn K. Thurman and Lindsay Ward (Kane Miller, $15.99), a frolicsome pink pig grows tired of apples from Mrs. Pippins' farm and longs for vegetable scraps as a change of pace.
Apple? "Boring. Same. Over it!" Carrots? "Fun, orange." Lettuce? "Mmm...crunchy."
One day Pig's explorations land him in the forbidden vegetable garden, where he noshes on plump yellow squash. Mrs. Pippins quickly reins him in and resumes Pig's monotonous apple diet. Meanwhile, nature takes its course as the squash seeds Pig ingested work through his system and sprout in the damp dirt of his sty. Soon "the big leaves unfold, yellow flowers bloom. Squash is growing."
Pig is happy with his harvest, and presumably young readers will follow his example and learn to love their veggies. (Amusingly, Thurman writes, in 2003 her family's pet pig really did plant his own organic squash garden.)
Of course, children often see through the optimistic sheen applied by well-meaning adults; I still recall the betrayal I felt after my mother lured me into trying a vegetable that looked "just like little doll heads." A Brussels sprout, by any other name, would smell as rank. But A Garden for Pig gives it a good try, and if kids don't learn to love their veggies, they'll still enjoy the story. An afterword, "Pig's Tips for Growing Your Own Organic Garden," offers further inspiration.
Author Deborah Hodge and photographer Brian Harris of Vancouver, B.C., take a more direct approach in Up We Grow: A Year in the Life of a Small, LocalFarm (Kids Can Press, $16.95).
Lively photos and a straightforward but charming text lead young readers through the seasons on a small farm, where children and adults work cooperatively to plant, compost, wash and box the produce for sale at a farmer's market in a nearby city. One photo shows a farmer using a tractor to bring in the last of the harvest, but for the most part, this is hands-on farming with the happy, communal air of a street fair. Chickens scratch, goats are milked, honeybees swarm on a tray and children feast.
"When farmers work and celebrate together," says a text box titled "Caring for Each Other," they can help each other and share in the joy of caring for the land. Older farmers teach the younger ones, and everyone, including the children, takes part in the important work of growing food."
As idealized as it sounds, the book was inspired by the real-life farmers of Glen Valley Organic Farm Cooperative in Abbotsford, B.C. It's a delightful introduction to the rhythms of the year, the life cycle of food and the satisfaction of working and celebrating with neighbors.
Cecelia Goodnow has been writing about children's books for two decades, initially as a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Her newspaper career has led her to many topics, including education, politics, lifestyle trends, health and pop culture, but some of her most rewarding stories have been about the world of children's books, whose talented creators too often go unsung.