Garden books for children to grow on


April 02, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Ah, springtime. The sun broke through the clouds the other day, the daffodils nodded their heads and the vegetable garden beckoned.

But not for long. The saturated plot is still a field of streams, not dreams.

Our daughter is 3 1/2 , and she's been looking forward to helping in the garden this year. Last year she would spend five to 10 minutes at a time among the vegetables digging up worms and && then placing them back in the hole with the order, "Eat dirt, worm!"

This year I plan to put her in charge of the radishes and beans because their quick germination fits a preschooler's attention span. But the wet weather has put everything on hold.

It's April, and seed catalogs have lost their allure. Kids and grown-ups need some new inspiration; here are a few books bursting with fertile ideas.

* David Wiesner's imagination is a national treasure, and the Caldecott voters have done us all a favor by recognizing his genius. It means his wacky perspectives and sophisticated humor are legitimized. The stodgiest of librarians will steer kids toward a Caldecott winner, even if he or she thinks it's a tad subversive.

Mr. Wiesner's "Free Fall" was a Caldecott honor book in 1989. "Tuesday" took the Caldecott Medal in 1991 as "the most distinguished picture book" published that year.

His latest work, "June 29, 1999" (Clarion Books, all ages, $15.95) is fantastic. It opens on May 11, 1999, in the Hohokus, N.J., home of Holly Evans. As a science project, young Holly has attached trays full of vegetable seedlings to helium-filled weather balloons. She expects them to stay aloft for several weeks, and when they return to earth, she hopes to retrieve them to study the effects of extraterrestrial conditions on the vegetables' growth and development.

Sure enough, on June 29, 1999, it looks like the results are coming in. Turnips the size of two-story houses descend upon Billings, Mont. Cucumbers circle Kalamazoo like a fleet of sleek Goodyear blimps.

"Lima beans loom over Levittown. Artichokes advance on Anchorage. Parsnips pass by Providence."

Back home in Hohokus, Holly watches 24-hour television coverage of the giant vegetables' descent. She places pins in a map to chart their destinations. And Mr. Wiesner's wonderfully surreal watercolors show gourds turned into a housing development in Zebulon, N.C. -- one huge squash has a satellite dish wired to its stem -- and a work crew (wearing Guacamole Iz Us shirts) sawing slices off a 2-ton avocado.

But something is amiss. Arugula covers Ashtabula, one news report says. Holly didn't plant arugula.

So where did the bionic veggies come from? And what happened to Holly's seedlings? The ending doesn't disappoint. Check it out -- the library is sure to have a copy.

* Colossal carrots and titanic tomatoes also can be found in "Grandpa's Too-Good Garden," by James Stevenson (ages 5 and up, $12.95). Published in 1989, this is one of a fun series that Mr. Stevenson has created starring a brother and sister, Mary Ann and Louie, their Grandpa and his brother, Wainey.

Grandpa tells the story of how he started a vegetable garden in his backyard when he was a young boy, only to be interrupted and distracted at every turn by Wainey, a toddler at the time. Wainey chops the hose in half with the hoe, clunks his brother on the head with the rake, tosses all the seeds into the air and undoes all the work his brother has done.

Mr. Stevenson's cartoonlike panels are hilarious (baby Wainey sports a mustache), and he tells a rollicking good story about what happens to the garden after a bottle of Miracle Hair-Grow accidentally spills on the soil.

* "Bear and Bunny Grow Tomatoes," by Bruce Koscielniak (ages 3-7, $8.99) is published by Alfred A. Knopf as one of its new Umbrella Books -- a series of hardcover picture books, unjacketed with glossy covers -- at affordable prices.

"Bear and Bunny" is a takeoff on Aesop's "The Ant and the Grasshopper." Bear is the hard-working, industrious gardener, taking time to dig and rake and water and cultivate his tomato patch. Bunny tosses a few seeds among the weeds and relaxes. But as anyone who has success with tomatoes knows, Bear needs someone to share his plentiful yield. And Bunny is happy to oblige.

Next week: Some gardening how-to books worth sharing.

* Two award-winning author/illustrators will appear April 16 at the Children's Bookstore, 737 Deepdene Road in Roland Park. James Ransome, whose latest work includes "Red Dancing Shoes" and "Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt," will be there from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., signing autographs and presenting a slide show on his illustrating techniques.

Jon Scieszka, who teamed up with illustrator Lane Smith on "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" and "The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales," will sign autographs from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. A troupe will perform scenes from his books.

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