Monday, January 11, 2016

Nonfiction Monday: Up in the garden and down in the dirt by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

This is the spring/summer companion to Messner's Over and Under the Snow which I frequently use in my winter outreach storytimes.

The story begins with the bare garden at the end of winter, as a child and their grandmother think about the coming spring. There are bugs and worms underground, already preparing the soil. As they prepare the garden, cleaning out dead plants, making compost, and planting seeds, the creatures below ground prepare as well. The story progresses through the spring and summer, showing the creatures below ground and the creatures above and the plants growing in between. Finally, it's harvest time and the humans and animals gather food for the winter. The little creatures burrow down and the leaves and snow cover the ground, waiting for the next spring.

An author's note talks about all the different creatures that work together to build a garden and the important part each one plays. There is a list of further reading on gardens, compost, and garden creatures followed by several pages of detailed descriptions of the creatures in the book from spiders to birds to worms.

Neal's art is the perfect accompaniment to Messner's poetic text. The endpapers are covered with delicate charcoal sketches of plants and animals while the interior illustrations have blocky swatches of dirt punctuated with small delicate flowers and insects. The illustrations include tiny details, like the worms tunnelling through the dirt and butterflies in the background as the child takes a drink of water and imagines being in the cool dirt.

The grandmother is refreshingly non-stereotypical. She has long gray hair but is active and interacts lovingly with the child, who appears to live with the grandparents.

Verdict: This is a lovely introduction to the spring and summer season of growing and the importance of all those little creatures above and below ground. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781452119366; Published 2015 by Chronicle; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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