Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Work With Nature

Driving through any neighborhood will easily disclose those homeowners employing the use of herbicides, pesticides and insecticides on their lawns and in their gardens.  Their grass is usually lush, thick, green and free of weeds.  Their fruits, vegetables, perennials and annuals are large and healthy.  What these homeowners might not realize is the potential for water contamination and harm to humans, pets and local wildlife lasts longer than the directions for use might indicate.

The same can be said for those gardeners and farmers growing plant and animal products for consumption.  Every year the sections for organic food is larger in grocery stores as the population becomes more educated.  Markets containing only whole foods are increasing.

Born in 1912 in Yunnan in the People's Republic of China, Pu Zhelong would become one of the foremost entomologists in his country. Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming (Tilbury House Publishers, February 6, 2018) written by Sigrid Schmalzer with illustrations by Melanie Linden Chan gives readers insights into the remarkable work of this man.  They will gain knowledge about the historical perspective in this country (and in other parts of the world) with respect to agriculture and concerns for our environment.

The first time I saw a scientist in my village was also the first time I saw a wasp hatch from a moth's egg.  In that moment I could not have said which was the more unexpected---or the more miraculous.

Through the visit of Pu Zhelong to his village, this boy relates to readers the valued accomplishments of this scientist.  When the boy was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in the province of Guangdong it was a farming community with rice as its principal crop along with lychee orchards.  The fate of the village was a series of highs and lows, years of good crops or bad crops, abundance with extra sent to the cities or very little to eat.  This fate was determined by the presence of stem borers, leafroller caterpillars and stinkbugs.

After being sent to the school in town to study science, this boy returned home with an idea of placing

wooden dishes of water with kerosene lights

out at night to lure the insects to their deaths.  After that chemical pesticides were the main practice used but it made the villagers sick.  Each year the amount and type of pesticide needed to be increased to be effective.  More people were sick.  Then Pu Zhelong arrived.

Pu Zhelong started to educate the villagers about the harm the pesticide were doing to the entire environment.  They were killing everything that would eat the bugs naturally like birds, frogs, wasps and spiders.  At first the farmers were not convinced and they complained further when he asked to have a laboratory built.  The children were more eager to help and they did.

Step-by-step a meticulous process was followed using moths and wasps.  The results were unlike anything seen previously by the villagers.  The leader of these people explained the belief of

"bringing together soil and ocean"

and Pu Zhelong's connection.  So inspired by Professor Pu, the narrator of his story was supported by his villagers years later to pursue a similar course of study.  One exemplary man continued to make a difference.

By telling us of the life and work of Pu Zhelong through the point of view of a village boy, author Sigrid Schmalzer provides added interest for the intended audience.  The sentences in each passage are written in an informal style; as if the boy is chatting with us about significant events in his past.  They are all connected in a flawless flow.  Within the narrative are actual quotes from Pu Zhelong increasing the authenticity of the boy's story.  Here are two passages.

Stinkbugs look like beetles and smell like farts.  I don't know what they taste like, because I never wanted to eat one.  A lychee that's been bitten by a stinkbug looks like a shriveled monkey head and smells bitter, and no one wants to eat those either.

With his big glasses and store-bought trousers, Professor Pu Zhelong looked very different from the farmers in our village, but he had a friendly face and a kind voice.  He said, "You are not alone."

Upon opening the dust jacket readers are treated to the illustrative styles of Melanie Linden Chan.  To the left, on the back, a slightly smaller version of an interior image is placed in the center of a pale green canvas.  It is a photographic representation of Professor Pu showing villagers of the wasp growing within a pest insect's egg.  This is placed on a panoramic view of farmers working in their fields with mountains in the background.  Above this are the first sentences in the book and a blurb by an expert in the field of history, Zuoyue Wang, a professor at California State Polytechnic University.

On the front another image of a field with the troublesome moth and wasp is framed with Chinese paper cutting.  The Chinese writing characters in each corner have separate meanings.  Can you make a guess as to what words they reference?  The use of the color red has significance also.  The book case is a deep green textured paper (like cloth) with the title embossed in gold foil on the front and spine.

The opening and closing endpapers are a shade of golden yellow.  A gorgeous initial title page reveals the meaning of the Chinese writing characters seen on the dust jacket.  The formal title page is framed in a darker green Chinese paper cutting border.  Careful readers will see moths, wasps, soil and ocean in this beautiful artwork.  On fourteen more pages Melanie Linden Chan has placed panels of Chinese paper cutting.  Some of them are only portions of a panel and others are full panels to the left or right of other illustrations and text.  Each depiction contains elements relative to the text.

Melanie Linden Chan alternates between two-page pictures, a trio of illustrations on a single page, and single page visuals.  The style of each shifts from realistic depictions of the boy (now an adult), watercolor paintings, photographic illustrations and pages torn from a notebook highlighting the science used by Professor Pu.  In the final picture, this book sits on a table as the narrator sips tea.  A series of painted panels hanging on his wall portray the changes to the valley of his youth.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the boy returns from studying science in the big school in town.  Nearly covering the left side, crossing the gutter and filling the right side is a picture of the

lights of ten thousand families.

Shades of purple for the sky, mountains and valley contrast with the golden yellow of all the glowing wooden dishes.  The boy is looking over this vast scene from the lower right-hand corner.  A panel of Chinese paper cutting is placed on the far left.  Above a Chinese writing character you can see moths and a lighted lamp.

This book, Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming written by Sigrid Schmalzer with illustrations by Melanie Linden Chan, is a fascinating picture book biography.  It has many uses with science, agriculture and history themes.  It serves to inspire those with similar passions, knowing their work, the work of a single person, has value beyond their lifetime.  At the close of the book is a Chinese Writing key, an extensive The History Behind the Story and further print resources.  I recommend this for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Sigrid Schmalzer and Melanie Linden Chan and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Melanie maintains a blog here.  Both Sigrid and Melanie speak about this book in individual articles here and here, respectively.  This book is discussed at author Beth Anderson's site with links to another discussion.  There are supporting activities at her site and at author Vivian Kirkfield's site.  I found this video on Chinese paper cutting which you might like to incorporate in a lesson.

Please be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this title. I love it when bloggers share obscure books because I doubt I would have heard about it any other way.