gardens full of surprises

if you plant a seed kadir nelson cover imageIf You Plant a Seed, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2015 by Balzer + Bray

Bunny and Mouse are gardening buddies. Into the rich earth they tuck some tiny seeds and after an arduous wait — voila! A magnificent crop!

But just as they’re enjoying their first juicy tomatoes and crunchy carrots, down swoops a line-up of birds. They stand and stare hopefully. Their gleaming eyes feast on the lush vegetables. They. Want. Them! Rabbit and Mouse aren’t about to give up their goods. Soon, a shouting match is underway and even an all-out brawl!

Clearly — if you plant a seed of selfishness it grows into a heap of trouble. 

But what happens if you plant a seed of kindness?

Kadir Nelson uses few words to convey the benefits of generosity. if you plant a seed illustration kadir nelsonInstead he relies on his stunning oil paintings. We’ve been used to his brilliance in his noble portraiture in histories and biographies, but lately he’s taken us on a new ride. These luminous scenes are bathed in the light of high noon — blazing bright color, zoomed in to the action. The figures look real enough to reach out and touch. His perspectives, compositions and characterization are just crazy good. Wow.

And he does not wallop us over the head with a moral lesson. He woos us with sweetness. An absolute gem for ages Under-Two and up.

up in the garden and down in the dirt cover imageUp in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, by Kate Messner, with art by Christopher Silas Neal
published in 2015 by Chronicle Books

Nana and her granddaughter stand in the garden. The snow is retreating and the promise of spring fills their heads with dreams of a new planting season.

It’s not quite time yet to plant. Too wet. But deep in the earth, there are a host of critters already at work, helping them in their gardening efforts. Earthworms break up clods. Pill bugs break down last year’s leaf litter. A few enemies lurk there as well, like the tomato hornworm whose larvae can wreak havoc on the leaves of the tomato plants. (Booo!)

Walk through the gardening year with these two, and learn all about the bustling activity under the ground and amongst the leaves of the garden, until winter descends again, and the garden and its residents settle to sleep.

Kate Messner gave us a lovely glimpse of what happens Over and Under Snow, and now she’s back with this loving look at gardening, just right to share with little mud-grubbers ages 2 and up. She beckons us to observe, appreciate, and enjoy the seasons, produce, and camaraderie of gardening, and learn of the “smaller gardeners” working in the dirt alongside us.

up in the garden and down in the dirt messner and neal

Neal’s mixed media illustrations are handsome, tremendously appealing, ingenuously letting us see multiple levels at the same time. They communicate a refreshing love of the outdoors as well as homey friendliness. An illustrated guide to each of the animals in the book is in the end pages, with more information about them.