It’s the time of year that gardens beckon to us. Not just to behold their glory but to get down in the dirt and co-create with them. Bees, birds, humans of all ages, and animals, too – we all have some gardener in us. We’re born to cultivate and tend. We’re no different than the bugs in that way. To be a gardener requires care, patience, and trust in tomorrow. Farms are the foundation of culture, someone, maybe Jefferson, said.
But there’s more. To be a gardener gives us leave to participate in the wild. It doesn’t matter what kind of garden it is – community, rooftop, backyard, or window box. “A garden suggests a place where we can meet nature halfway,” says food journalist/author Michael Pollan.
Most anyone can participate in the mystery and the magic. “The best place to find God is in a garden,” George Bernard Shaw declared. “You can dig for him there.”
For painters and illustrators, a garden presents a challenge: How to evoke its overwhelming experience on a sheet of watercolor paper. How to simplify the riot of details and the profusion of sensation in every direction – the sway of butterflies, the kiss of the breeze that tussles the leaves and heads of flowers. The colors of plants in dappled shade and sun. The fragrance of flowers, rain, and earth. All senses engaged, including our hearts.
Darling, infectious rhymes step us through the lure pollinating flowers hold for a legion of insects, worms, hummingbirds, bats, and wonderstruck children in Flowers are Calling, which Publisher’s Weekly described as “a sophisticated blend of scientific information and artistry.” The picture book by Rita Gray is sumptuously illustrated by prolific illustrator and former Dreamworks and Disney animation artist Kenard Pak. Scroll down to the bottom of Pak’s Amazon book page to see his steps from thumbnails to finished digital images.
In Sidewalk Flowers, a wordless graphic novel-style picture book by poet Jon Arno Lawson and award-winning Canadian illustrator Sydney Smith, a little girl gathers flowering weeds from unlikely places on her way home from the grocery store. While her father focuses on a mobile phone conversation, the child distributes tiny bouquets to mostly unaware recipients such as a dead bird, a vagabond asleep on a bench, a dog on a leash, her mother, a baby brother, and finally, herself. This brilliantly illustrated story is “a reminder that what looks like play can sometimes be a sacrament,” says the starred PW review.
Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw adds another library inspired adventure in the beloved Lola Reads series for preschoolers originally published in the UK.
Bemused by the Mary Mary, How Does Your Garden Grow? nursery rhyme, Lola creates her own garden, beside her parents’ backyard vegetable patch. It takes a little planning help from Mommy and Daddy, and some work (weeding is tough!) but the rewards are great. Shoots appear. Eventually, sunflowers reach the sky. The planting leads to spinoff endeavors – craft/scrapbooking projects, cupcake baking, and her first garden party with friends. Scroll down the Amazon book page to find charming Beardshaw’s images and an easy how-to on planting your own paper cup garden, courtesy of Lola Reads Activity Guides. (All you need is sunshine!)
Discover the dark world underground that brings our plants, flowers, and vegetables to life in the sunlight and fresh air above in Up in the Garden Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner. The picture book showcases delicious solid-color pattern art by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle Books).
“The harmonious relationships above and below ground, and those between the two, emphasize the complexities of the garden ecosystem, as well as the joys of sustained engagement with the land.” —The Horn Book Magazine
The mystery and the mystical suffuse the pages of author-illustrator Corina Luyken’s The Tree in Me. Nature lives inside as well as outside us and so we’re connected to every living thing and how magical is that? It’s the question asked and celebrated in the distinct picture book format with ‘page turn’ pacing and opulent flowing art rendered in gouache, pencil and ink.
Virginia Children’s Book Festival Director Juanita Giles in her review of the book for NPR makes much of the neon pink, yellow, oranges, and white that dominate the spreads. These are colors of sacred celebration in many places around the world. “Because there is a tree and a sky and a sun in me, I can see that there is also a tree …in you.”
“Luminous and joyous, a fruit pie feast for the eyes as well as the soul.” —New York Times Book Review
“Garden hardly makes a sound
growing slowly underground”
Words and notions dance, collide and explode into the most meaningful new ideas in the picture book poems of Liz Garton Scanlon.
In Thank You, Garden, she and illustrator Simone Shin show us the ageless connection between people, their plants, and each other in raising a community garden. Illustrations are rendered in acrylic, watercolor, and Photoshop. Words are rendered in pure, charming impact.