Quote of the Month

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

Friday, March 15, 2019

Badger's Perfect Garden Blog Tour

 Although the twenty-four inches still on the ground next to four-foot piles of snow are no prelude to the official arrival of spring five days away, the appearance of garden catalogs in my mailbox are.  The colorful displays of flowers, shrubs, trees and vegetables are filled with promise. To think that every seed, bulb or root will supply vibrant splendor is nothing short of a miracle.

It’s hard not to put pen to paper and design layouts for potential plots housing an array of beauty.  In Badger’s Perfect Garden (Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2019) written by Marsha Diane Arnold with illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki Badger inspires his animal friends with his dream of a flawless presentation of his gathered seeds.  Badger and his friends discover and remind us, plans gone astray may yield glorious unexpected results.

One spring morning, Red Squirrel found Badger
Surrounded by dozens of jars.
The jars were filled with seeds.  The seeds looked
Hopeful, just like Badger.

Curious as to what Badger was doing with all those jars of seeds, Red Squirrel was told they had been collected last summer in order to plant a flawless formation of botanical beauty.  When the squirrel saw all the varieties of seeds and the amounts, he knew his friend would need help. Soon Weasel, Dormouse and Red Squirrel along with Badger were hard at work preparing the soil, laying out straight rows according to Badger’s plan, and finally, planting the seeds.

Muffins and mulberry juice were consumed in celebration of a successful session of gardening.  As necessary the next day, rain fell. On the following day heavier rain fell. By day three the showers were torrential.  Badger went outside trying to save his now less than perfect garden.

Nothing Red Squirrel, Weasel or Dormouse said could calm the defeated badger.  Days passes inside with Badger trying to occupy his time until one day in summer a knock on his door woke him up.  Three friends could hardly wait to show Badger the work of a master gardener, Mother Nature.

Author Marsha Diane Arnold fills this narrative with endearing characters, charming, descriptive phrases and delightful word play.  A little bit of information about where to find seeds is woven into the story. As the friends work, readers come to understand how gardens are groomed.  With each step we feel Badger’s desire for precision. This is why we keenly feel every emotion, all the ups and downs and ups, in this tale of four forest friends. Here is a passage.

When the earth was as smooth as the forest pond in winter,
Badger pushed big sticks into the dirt.  Red Squirrel and
Dormouse stretched string between the sticks to mark rows.

“Be sure the rows are perfectly straight,” said Badger.  

 When you open the matching dust jacket and book case several single words come to mind; serenity, companionship and community.  It’s easy to imagine a windy spring day with friends working together for a common good. It’s also easy to feel as though any one of us could step right in and join them.  The natural soft colors and delicate lines are an open invitation.

To the left, on the back, the double-page image travels over the spine to reveal Badger’s cozy home in a hollow tree trunk.  A tiny lamp hangs from a branch next to his arched doorway. Next to it is a circular window. A path of stones extends from his stone porch steps.  Early spring flowers bloom in the front.

Crisp white covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Badger, wearing a backpack and garden gloves, is holding a magnifying glass as he gathers seeds in a swirl of blooms on the title page. Each illustration, regardless of the size, contributes and enhances the pacing and emotional impact.

Artist Ramona Kaulitzki alters the perspective for further impact.  To depict Badger’s increasing worry, she brings us close to the window in his home, rain streaking diagonally across the glass as he gazes sadly outside.  Careful readers will pause to notice all the extra details. Will they notice a little worm lifting its head to look at the seed jars, the tiny boots Dormouse wears, tulip petals falling from a bouquet in Badger’s home, and Badger’s bunny rabbit stuffed toy for snuggling and napping?

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  On the left in front of his home Badger is placing sticks in the cleared garden patch.  Behind him on the stones is his rolled-up garden plan. A small bucket in front of him holds more sticks.  Seed jars and rakes are leaning against a stone fence. Red Squirrel and Dormouse are unrolling string and tangling it up around themselves, too.  A small bird is perched on a nearby house. Weasel is running through a field in the back carrying a forked stick.

Readers will learn about the rewards of helping a friend.  They will understand how to make a garden grow. Most importantly Badger’s Perfect Garden written by Marsha Diane Arnold with illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki brings to us the peace we find when letting go of a plan.  This would make a wonderful addition to your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Marsha Diane Arnold and Ramona Kaulitzki and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Marsha Diane Arnold has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Ramona Kaulitzki has accounts on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  At the publisher’s website you can view interior pages.

As a showcase of this blog tour, Marsha Diane Arnold is visiting Librarian’s Quest again to chat with me about this new title. I am grateful for this opportunity.

I have an idea from reading this book that gardening is important to you, Marsha.  Did you come from a family of gardeners?  Is this connection to the earth something you have instilled in your family and you wish to pass on to your readers?

You would be right, Margie. I love gardens and gardening, but even more I love Mother Nature, which you noted so beautifully in your review – “Three friends could hardly wait to show Badger the work of a master gardener, Mother Nature.”

And yes, behind me, I have a whole history of farming, gardening, and deep connection to the soil.

Once upon a time there was a people, long known for their superior farming abilities – my ancestors, Swiss-German Amish/Mennonites. Due to religious persecution, they eventually migrated to Volhynia, Russia, invited, largely due to their farming skills, by Catherine the Great. In 1874, they migrated again, this time to America. My great-grandfather Peter made his home in Pretty Prairie, Kansas, and was known as a “man of the soil.” My aunt tells me he was also a “story teller”.J

Peter’s daughter, my grandmother Emma, had a huge garden to feed her family of 8 children. But she also loved her flower gardens, which surrounded the farm house. Beauty amidst the dust. These were not small flower gardens, but long sweeps of flowers – iris, lilacs, petunias, and many more. One of my fondest memories is of my grandmother sitting in her rocking chair looking through the seed catalogs, planning her next garden.

My father was a wheat and dairy farmer, but like his mother before him, he loved flower gardens too and always planted flowers around our home. He also drew them.

I like to think I’ve instilled a love of nature and gardening in my son, daughter, and grandchildren. My daughter enjoys planting whenever she has an opportunity. My son, though he works in NYC, has a 150-year-old farm house in Connecticut so his family can get away to the country. And my granddaughter, as you see, is quite enamored by milkweed.

 Is there any one reason or incident which planted the seed which grew into this book?

I have a suspicion that I wrote this story because my husband and I were starting to prepare for a move from our home of 35 years in Sebastopol, California to Florida. I was very sad to be leaving my half-acre flower and fruit garden that had taken me….35 years to create! I’d also be leaving my woodland friends – fox, raccoon, deer, quail. Though none of these animals made it into Badger’s Perfect Garden, I think they inspired my writing about beautiful forest creatures.

I really enjoyed the blend of narrative and dialogue in this title.  Is there anything you changed considerably from your original draft?

This is one of those stories that felt like a walk in the garden. J  The text changed very little from first draft to last. I really enjoy using dialogue in my stories.

I loved Ramona’s illustrations when I first saw them. However, I did need to change a few phrases of my original text. For example, I imagined Red Squirrel and Badger being in the same room on the first spread, so I had written, “What are you doing with all these seeds?” When I saw Ramona’s lovely illustration of Red Squirrel in the tree, I changed that phrase to “those seeds.” It was much easier to change the text than the art and besides, Ramona was absolutely right to have Red Squirrel high in a tree looking down on all those jars full of seeds. It’s a wonderful perspective.

I believe these illustrations match the story . . .well . . . perfectly.  What did you think when you first saw them?

I credit Sleeping Bear Press with finding wonderful matches for my SBP books, both May I Come In? and Badger’s Perfect Garden. When I first saw Ramona’s illustrations, I adored them. I was raised a long time ago and grew up in the country. To me, Badger’s story and the lovely art Ramona created for it are what children’s books should be. Delicate, fun, filled with kindness, celebratory!

Thank you Marsha for your perfect answers and this most excellent book for spring, gardening and the wonder of friendship.

Marsha Diane Arnold's award-winning picture books have sold over one million copies and been called, "whimsical" and "uplifting." Described as a "born storyteller" by the media, her books have garnered such honors as Best First Book by a New Author, Smithsonian Notable, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and state Children's Choice awards. Recent books include Galapagos Girl, a bilingual book about a young girl growing up on the Galapagos Islands and Lost. Found., a Junior Library Guild book illustrated by Caldecott winner Matthew Cordell.
Marsha was born and raised in Kansas, lived most of her life in Sonoma County, California, and now lives with her husband, near her family, in Alva, Florida. She still loves nature and nothing makes her happier than standing in her backyard in the midst of dragonflies or purple martins swooping for insects.

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