Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What Will You Grow?

For many years every spring the classrooms would be filled with bouquets of daffodils.  A retired teacher, a life-long resident of the community, had huge expanses of her property planted in daffodils.  Passersby often believed they were looking at a vast yellow carpet moving in the mild breezes.  She willingly shared with others.

This kind of floral display is not accomplished overnight.  It's done one year at a time, one bulb or a cluster of bulbs at a time.  More than ten years ago, I decided to adopt her strategy.  A few bulbs are planted each fall.  Potted daffodils, tulips and hyacinths garnered from grocery shopping over the winter are planted in the spring.

This morning there they were, the first green shoots, evidence of spring, poking through dried leaves, along the back of the house warmed by the early morning sun.  The thrill of seeing new life coming from what has been planted never grows old.  If You Plant a Seed (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, March 3, 2015) written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson speaks to a timeless adage giving it a distinct perspective, bringing to mind the fables of Aesop.

If you plant a tomato seed, 
a carrot seed,
and a cabbage seed, ...

Hopefully you will get a tomato plant, a carrot plant and a cabbage plant, if you water, weed and watch those seeds.  The companions, rabbit and mouse, can hardly wait to enjoy the fruits of their endeavors.  In time a carrot is being consumed.  A tomato is next.

Apparently the twosome is not the only ones ready to devour the garden delicacies.  Five birds, a sparrow, a cardinal, a blue jay, a mourning dove and a crow, are starring pointedly at them mid bite.  The obvious longing of the uninvited, feathered guests is met with a negative vocal response.  It is returned with an equally adverse avian chorus.

Well, this exchange of opinions does not have good results.  In short order the animals, every single one, are looking a tad bit worse for wear; as are the vegetables.  Mouse gazes at what his paws hold, thinks and makes a move, planting another seed.

This single act is met with abundant approval.  A group gathers to take care of what has been sown.  Flapping wings and dancing paws herald the joyous outcome.

In this narrative Kadir Nelson has used only three sentences.  These three sentences propose possible consequences for actions taken.  By beginning with the more easily understood concept of planting vegetable seeds, readers can take the next more abstract step.  Each sentence acts as an introduction to the illustrations which add dimension and interpretation to the story.

The luminosity in the paintings rendered by Kadir Nelson for this book is visible as soon as you look at the matching dust jacket and book case.  The souls seen in the eyes of his animals and the way they hold their bodies is truly breathtaking.  On the back, to the left, rabbit and mouse have dug a hole and are tossing in a seed as the sun rises behind them.  This is set in a circle surrounded by a deep grassy green. Heavy, textured beige opening and closing endpapers maintain the theme of sowing and reaping.  On the title page a single baby stalk is coming from a tiny mound of dirt.

A full color, vibrant palette fills the single page, double page and split page pictures.  In lighter shades in the background, Nelson provides glimpses of a pastoral setting, rolling hills, a barn and windmill.  For most of the images the perspective is close to the animals.  At times they are looking right at the reader. One stunning double page spread is nearly all sky blue, showing only a portion of the rabbit and mouse, a bedraggled tomato plant and the feet and tail feathers of several of the birds near the top of the page.

One of my favorite two pages is four illustrations of rabbit and mouse tending their planted seeds over time.  They are seen during the day patting and gazing over a small mound with a stick marker, sitting next to small plants under a starry sky reading their books, enduring a rain shower (mouse is laughing as rabbit's ear acts as an umbrella) and sleeping on their backs during a sunny day among grown plants.  Expressing the passage of time and the commitment of the two could not have been done more eloquently.

Gracefully told If You Plant a Seed, words and paintings by Kadir Nelson, is meant to be shared, read aloud one-on-one or with a group.  It will surely prompt questions and answers and discussion.  This is a book for the narrative and illustrations which should be on every book shelf.  It's gorgeous.

To learn more about Kadir Nelson and his work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Enjoy the sample.

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