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Picture Book Look

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

on March 17, 2016

By Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal, published by Chronicle Books.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt you may have guessed, is a book of contrasts. Things are going on up in the garden, but alas, so too are they happening down in the dirt! This book immediately captivated my attention. The illustrations speak of simplicity, and I was reminded of Dianna Hutts Aston’s A Seed is Sleepy, which I found to be a beautiful book as well.

The book begins, as any good gardener knows, in the dead of winter. We gardeners can’t go long without our gardens and so, when the last bit of the New Year’s holiday has passed, we turn our attention to graph paper and seed catalogs, dreaming of things to come. And so it is with Up in the Garden. The story begins with a child and her Nana standing in the snow, looking out at the forlorn vestiges of last year’s work.

The book continues through the sogginess of spring. The ground warms, and earthworms and insects down in the dirt begin stirring up the soil. Soon, it’s time to plant and water. And wait. We see carrots beginning to grow down in the dirt, along with earthworms, busily going about their day. Honeybees flit from blossom to blossom up in the garden, and the days grow longer. . .and hotter. The girl and her Nana rest in the shade of a tree, pausing for a much needed drink.

The contrasts continue. Cucumber vines twist and turn, this way and that-up in the garden. Down in the dirt, however, water soaks in deeply and thirsty roots retrieve their own drink. Time continues and soon cooler winds are blowing. Pumpkins grow fat and orange up in the garden while an orb weaver spins a silky web down in the dirt.

“Hurry, hurry and harvest!” the colored leaves of fall seem to shout. The cold of winter is coming. Down in the dirt ants work feverishly gathering food to tide them over during the cold days to come.

And so, we have come full circle in the garden. Now snow quietly blankets the ground and we wait, with graph paper and seed catalogs, dreaming of this year’s gardent to come.

The author ends the book by tucking in an Author’s Note, Further Reading section and a section titled, “About the Animals,” which describes the insects and animals we met in the story.

This is a beautiful book, which shows the cycle of life through the use of a garden. It begins with dreams and hope and ends where it started, with dreams and hope.

Kate Messner has written over a dozen books for young readers including Over and Under the Snow, which I am looking forward to reading. Christopher Silas Neal is a regular contributor to the New York Times, and has illustrated multiple books.

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