Helping Children Grow

Grow: A Novel in Verse written by Juanita Havill and illustrated by Stanislawa Kodman is a delightful book that pushes the boundaries of middle reader fiction. First of all, Grow is written in appealing verse, which leaves much of the page open for whimsical illustrations and gives it a lighter, more delicate feel. Secondly, it is filled with strong, and realistic adult characters, which are often left out of children’s and young adult’s fiction.

Kate, a twelve-year-old girl, is the main character. She helps her neighbor, a large woman named Berneetha, to start a garden in an abandoned lot. At first all the neighbors seem skeptical, but soon they are drawn in by the lure of growing plants and Berneetha’s welcoming spirit. Along with the plants, a sense of community develops as well.

That is not to say this is a light-hearted story, it does have depth. Early on a vehicle hits one of Berneetha’s cats, killing it. Later the garden is threatened when the lot changes ownership. Harlan, a boy that has been working on the garden, is accused of stealing a truck. And underlying is a message about female body image and weight, as Kate struggles with both.

Grow is a book you want to share and discuss. It would be perfect for a literature circle or book club, because it doesn’t take long to read and yet it offers a wealth of material to think and talk about. Reluctant readers would find it appealing because the action is fast paced. Think about how fun it would be to start a garden, or grow some plants, as a supplementary activity. At the very least, this book should be accompanied with a bouquet of fresh flowers and a tray of garden vegetables for a snack.

Juanita Havill, a gardener herself, knows the therapeutic value of mucking around in the soil. Spend some time with this great little book and you will too.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (April 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1561454419
ISBN-13: 978-1561454419

Edit: Book Review Blog Carnival #24 is now up at Inkweaver Review.

I Heard It From Alice Zucchini: Poems About The Garden

In Celebration of Poetry Month

I Heard It From Alice Zucchini: Poems About The Garden by Juanita Havill
Illustrated by Christine Davenier

I have to admit a bias about this book right up front. The author, Juanita Havill, lives in Arizona and loves to garden. Anyone who can successfully garden in Arizona gets my respect right away.

The poems in this book make me feel like I’m a small person wandering through an actual garden, or perhaps even one of the plants, getting to know those around me in a down to earth way. Peas, beans, carrots and dill all get their turn in the spotlight, as well the garden creatures such as worms, crickets and bees.

The scientist in me does ponder the events of one poem, “Sweet Cicely and the Bee.” The bee is “an elegant gentleman bee.” Although honey bees do produce males, they spend almost their entire short lives in the hive and do not visit flowers. All the honey bees you see at flowers are technically females. To give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Havill knows a lot about bees and was thinking of the tiny male “sleeper” bees that do spend the night in flowers. Perhaps she could let us know?

This book is a wonderful companion to a gardening project because it lends another level of interest. I would recommend it as a companion for cooking activities as well, because it connects children to where their food comes from. Havill includes a poem “Vegetable Stew” that just cries out to be paired with a nice warm bowl of ratatouille. Yum!

Reading level: Ages 9-12 (other reviewers suggest k-3 and k-6)
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books (February 23, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0811839621
ISBN-13: 978-0811839624

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day.

Poetry Books by Douglas Florian

In Celebration of National Poetry Month

Douglas Florian is a prolific writer of children’s poetry, particularly with animal themes.

I have a problem with his book insectlopedia, albeit it is a good problem. I don’t know whether to put it on the poetry shelf or stash it with my insect books. With twenty-one poems, it definitely qualifies as a top-notch poetry book. The quality of the information and the freshness of the observations provided, however, suggests it should be on the shelf with some of my better entomology books for children. Maybe I just need to get another copy. Or maybe I should buy two copies, because it should be on the humor shelf as well. I have read that Douglas Florian was formerly a cartoonist, and his fun, silly side comes through in his poetry books.

The illustrations that accompany the poems are quirky. Florian painted them with watercolors on brown paper bags. It gives them an informal look that makes them appealing and kid-friendly. Some of the poems don’t even need illustrations, like the inchworm for example, because the words form a shape. These could be used in lessons on concrete poetry.

Douglas Florian’s in the swim has playful poems about numerous animals found in the sea, from blennies, to sea horses and whales. Although they are fun, once again Florian fills the poems with accurate information and even trained scientists will find them intriguing. They are guaranteed to make you smile and probably even laugh out loud.

As with insectlopedia, Florian slips in some concrete poems to add visual interest. The illustrations are done on watercolor paper this time, but still have a fanciful appeal. The watercolor adds to the feeling of being down in the water with the creatures. His imagination is wonderful, like having the sea horses wear saddles.

Florian’s newest book about dinosaurs has gotten some great reviews. Catch a peek at his blog.

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week the celebration is at Mommy’s Favorite Children’s Books.

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out by Ralph Fletcher

In Celebration of National Poetry Month

Poetry Matters is a “how to” book that is a joy to read, particularly if you like poetry. The author says, “Maybe you’ve heard before that poetry is magic, and it made you roll your eyes, but I believe it is true. Poetry matters.” He goes on to explain how important poetry is because it allows us to communicate during difficult times when no other form of expression will work. You can tell he truly feels the power of poetry.

This book is written for preteens, and Ralph Fletcher has obviously spent a lot of time working with young people. He knows what beginning poets need to learn and how to keep their attention. His recommendations are to the point and he’s included a lot of concrete, practical advice on how to get that poem onto paper and then polish it until it is the best it can be. He’s provided the inspiration needed to “light the spark,” and then sprinkled the text with examples of poetry from real kids.

When I picked this book to review I didn’t remember it, but one of the chapters is an interview with Kristine O’Connell George who wrote the wonderful Fold Me a Poem book that I reviewed in the previous post. Here she has a number of useful tips, including the suggestion to tape record yourself reading you poems and then listen carefully when you have time to concentrate. As she says, you can even hear where the commas need to go.

This book is a great resource for older children (and even beginning adults) who are interested in writing poetry. If every school used this book to teach poetry, I am positive that poetry would be everyone’s favorite subject.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (February 19, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0380797038
ISBN-13: 978-0380797035

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week the celebration is at Abby (the) Librarian blogspot.