Tuesday, April 18, 2023

For the Elders . . .,

At the beginning of this year in an effort to highlight as many wonderful books as possible in posts before the ALA Youth Media Awards, I included seven titles under the word Elder in the second of three posts for fiction picture books These books focus on relationships between the generations, mainly between grandparents and their grandchildren. They revolve around a generational tradition, the passing of seasons and those with whom we share them, customs and food in different countries, how finding the perfect gift reveals more about the giver than the recipient, activities shared with all kinds of grandparents, the wisdom of grandparents and how it seems magical, and returning joy to a grandparent who needs to remember.

In March and April of this year, two more outstanding books showcasing grandmothers and their grandchildren speak to our collective minds and hearts.  Despite the recent return of winter in the upper Midwest, daffodils, tulips, delphiniums, and peonies are poking through the soil, eager to add color to our landscape.  Parsley, dill, thyme, sage, and chives are thriving in the vegetable and herb gardens.  Author Jordan Scott and artist Sydney Smith have collaborated again to bring us My Baba's Garden (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, March 7, 2023).  Memories of Jordan Scott's grandmother grace the pages of this book, lovingly lifted in tribute by the luminescent images by Sydney Smith.

My Baba lives in a chicken coop beside a highway.

Her home is near a sulfur mill, a pile of yellow as a testament.  Every morning his father drives the child to Baba's home.  She does not greet him, but each morning there she is in her kitchen.  She cooks, moving with her own rhythm within the small space.

Every place around the kitchen table is filled with preserved food from her garden.  When Baba brings him breakfast, it is the same each morning.  She does not eat, but if the child should happen to drop any food, she picks it up, kisses it and puts it back in his bowl.  They speak through gestures, a few words, and a shared affection.  

If it's raining when Baba walks with her grandson to school, she moves slowly watching for worms.  She picks them all up and places them in a jar with dirt.  They will find a new home in her garden.  After school, her grandson watches her place them in the dirt of her garden, explaining their purpose to him.

This goes on for years until Baba leaves her chicken coop to live with her grandson and his parents.  A building replaces the chicken coop, but the garden remains, now overgrown without Baba's care.  Before school, her grandson feeds Baba the same thing each morning.  He has planted some seeds in a pot on her windowsill.  One day when it's raining, she clasps his hand and draws a familiar line on his palm.  Remembering other rainy days, he runs outside.

Lovely similes are woven into vivid descriptive text by Jordan Scott taking readers into his warm remembrances.  Each place the child is with his grandmother, her kitchen, walking with her to and from school, sometimes in the rain, her garden, and in his home, are replete with intimate details. We become that child, experiencing their love built on those shared activities.  Here are several sentences from different portions of the narrative.

My Baba hums like
a night full of bugs
when she cooks.

We don't talk very much. She points and I nod;
she squeezes my cheeks and I laugh.

Using watercolor and gouache, artist Sydney Smith brings us deeply into this story.  On the front of the open dust jacket Baba and her grandson are shown walking into Baba's garden.  Do you notice how the characters and the larger flowers are outlined in white?  It's as if we are walking with them.  This image crosses the spine, extending to the left edge of the back flap. (The front also extends to the edge of the right flap.)  Two birds are flying over the garden.  The sulfur hill juts up in the far left, upper corner.  Text on the back showcases praise for I Talk Like A River

On the book case, on either side of the spine are two framed portraits.  On the left, seated at his Baba's kitchen table is the boy.  Hands resting in his lap he looks at us.  An apple from his grandmother's garden sits on the table.  Garlic bulbs woven together hang from the ceiling over a basket of fruit.  The play of sun and shadow is stunning.  On the right side is Baba.  She, too, is seated in her home.  To her right are shelves of dishes.  To her left is a table holding a jug with flowers. Bright sunlight glows all around her.  She sits straight in the chair, her hands resting in her lap.  Her face reflects her survival of World War II and living a simple, hard life in Canada where she and her husband emigrated from Poland.

The opening and closing endpapers are a golden, orange yellow.  Sydney Smith begins his pictorial story on the title page, displaying the grandson and his father getting into the car in the dark hours of morning before the sun rises.  He then, with a double-page picture, continues as they drive along the sea on a highway.  This provides a place for the publication information and the author's note titled, My Baba.

The next two-page picture is a drawing the grandson has made of him and his Baba in front of her house.  Two-page images, full-page visuals, edge to edge and some with wide white borders bring readers into the shared days of Baba and her grandson.  Sometimes to show the passage of time and to enhance the pacing, smaller illustrations will be grouped on a single page.  These represent cherished personal moments.  Sometimes, they only show eyes, hands or a portion of a body.

There are seven wordless pictures of varying sizes on four pages near the end of the book.  They represent the grandson taking and sharing breakfast with Baba.  They are tender and extremely touching.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page image.  It is a wide-angle view of Baba's kitchen as sunlight streams in the window over her sink.  She stands on the right side working at the counter, dishes displayed in open cupboards above her.  Kettles steam on the stove to her right.  On the left, we see her refrigerator, more cupboards, and shelves filled with preserved food.  Warmth radiates from this scene.

This is a book for all ages.  With each reading, My Baba's Garden written by Jordan Scott with illustrations by Sydney Smith will be more endeared to each reader.  It will help us to recall our own memories of our grandmothers or if we have none, how wonderful to be able to share those found in this book.  You will want to have at least one copy of this title on your professional bookshelves and one in your personal collection.

To learn more about Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Sydney Smith has artwork from this title on his website.  Jordan Scott has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Sydney Smith has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is an educator's guide.  At Penguin Random House, you can view the title and verso pages.  At Mel Schuit's Let's Talk Picture Books, she has a short video of the book case reveal. 

Have you ever searched for buried treasure?  Did you ever find something unexpected and wonderful when you were turning over dirt for a vegetable or flower garden or planting a tree?  Have you ever buried something, hoping to dig it up years later?  If you did bury something, what did you or would you put inside the container?  In The Red Tin Box (Chronicle Books, April 4, 2023) written by Matthew Burgess with artwork by Evan Turk, a young girl buries a red tin box early one morning just before sunrise.  This is a secret she will hold in her heart for decades.

On her eighth birthday, when the sun
was peeking over the treetops

    and everyone in the house
    was still asleep,

Maude stepped outside
and across the wet grass
to the edge of the woods.

There was a special spot at the base of the tree where she buried that red tin box.  No one else but Maude knew what was inside the box.  No one else heard Maude speak a promise to herself.

Maude grew up.  Soon she had a daughter of her own.  Maude always remembered the red tin box, even if her memories of the items inside faded.

Now a grandmother, Maude felt something stir inside her one autumn afternoon.  She picked her granddaughter up from school the next day.  In Maude's red pickup truck, they traveled several towns away.  Maude told her Eve about the red tin box and the promise she made as a little girl.  When they arrived at Maude's old home, the dogwood tree was still there.

Would they find the red tin box?  Both were eager to discover it and see what was inside.  Maude walked until she was sure she was standing on the special spot.  The duo dug and dug and dug until they heard a 


For each of the seven items inside, there were stories.  Eve listened and questioned as Maude talked all the way home. Do you know what Maude did when they arrived home?  Eve knew what to do and she did it under the starry sky.

Each word written by Matthew Burgess fashions an eloquent atmosphere of a special place and time.  There is a bit of mystery and magic in finding the spot for burying the red tin box and the whispered words by Maude.  It returns when Maude is a grandmother, and she knows she needs to take Eve to the red tin box's site.  This shared event is beautifully represented with reminiscent phrases as the pair travel to the dogwood tree.  Matthew Burgess uses repetition to elevate the feeling of an unbreakable bond between grandmother and granddaughter.  Here is a passage.

One November afternoon,
Maude was seized with a feeling---

a feeling like a bright spring sunrise.

Rendered in gouache, these breathtaking visuals by Evan Turk are first shown to readers with a single illustration on the dust jacket spanning from left to right, across the spine.  There we see how night is turning into day, as the sun pushes back the darkness with pinks and oranges and reds.  Little eight-year-old Maude has dug the hole near the dogwood tree and is gently placing the red tin box inside.  I don't know about you, but the mystery and magic in this illustration envelope me.  

On the book case, Evan Turk takes us into the branches of the dogwood tree.  Their blossoms and boughs are highlighted by the blushing sunrise sky behind them.  The opening and closing endpapers are a deep red with darker hints . . . like a red tin box.  On the initial title page, the light text is placed in a starry sky with clouds.  On the formal title page, it is still dark outside.  The blossoms on the dogwood tree are depicted in hues of purple, blue, pink, and red.

The color palette by Evan Turk emanates warmth with every page turn.  His use of light and shadow is marvelous in each of the lush settings.  He shifts his perspectives to intensify the text.  Sometimes we are shown a dramatic panoramic view, other times it is as if we are in the hole looking up at whoever is there, and sometimes we are given a bird's eye view.

Most of the illustrations span two pages.  When Maude and Eve are riding in the truck, walking on the property near the dogwood tree, digging, and speaking we are close to them.  We can see their eyes.  Their facial expressions invite us into this story.  There are two wordless images near the end which are superb.

One of my many favorite illustrations accompanies the above-noted passage.  Maude, on the left, her gray hair ringing her face like a halo is lifting her head up as if listening.  She is dressed in warmer clothing in shades of green and red as she works in her garden.  The garden foliage and surrounding trees are in rich autumn browns and golds and cream.  The sky is golden with a much lighter color of turquoise.  Over Maude's left shoulder is an outline of her home.  She is wearing her signature red glasses.

Whether you read this book, The Red Tin Box written by Matthew Burgess with illustrations by Evan Turk, to yourself, one on one with a single listener or as a group read aloud, you might want to have a supply of red tin boxes handy.  This supremely gentle generational story on time and memory is certain to promote discussions as readers are wrapped in the love exuding from the pages.  You will want to have multiple copies of this title in your professional collection and one in your personal collection.

To discover more about Matthew Burgess and Evan Turk and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Both Matthew and Evan have interior images from this title displayed on their websites.  Matthew Burgess has an account on Instagram.  Evan Turk has accounts on Instagram and Twitter

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