This darling book belongs on every shelf. I mean, every children’s shelf, every gardener’s shelf, and every hiker’s shelf. It belongs on the shelf of anyone who is attuned to nature, anyone who is concerned about the planet, and anyone who loves a beautiful story.
A couple of weeks ago, I stopped by Wild Rumpus to catch a talk about this beautiful book. Both the author, Phyllis Root, and the illustrator Betsy Bowen were there. A high point was them talking about their collaboration, Phyllis admitting that she was sometimes surprised by what appeared on the page. If you take a look at the lovely drawings, you will see fun little surprises. Like successive pages that feature a bird planting a seed and watching it grow (is that an evening grosbeak?), a chickadee drinking from a cup plant, a hummingbird, and butterflies galore.
Then there were the wonderful hands-on activities. Each child got to decorate a paperbag with stamps, and then they got a little compostable pot, and each child got to plant seeds in their pot. When one child was asked if he had ever planted a seed before, he answered, “No!” with almost a wail. Clearly this was something that he felt he had been missing!
Each person who bought a book also received a little packet of goodies, which included a discussion guide, a poster with the hummingbird page imploring you to ‘Imagine what you can do in your own backyard,’ a bookmark, and joy oh joy, a packet of real, true wildflower seeds. What a truly fun and inspiring event – and book.
And really, it’s not just for children. Yes, children will love looking for the animals and creatures on the pages, and may enjoy hearing about the possibility of a bison showing up in their backyard. And the illustrations are colorful and eye-catching, with tall and airy plants that give the wide-open feel of the prairie. But adults will find this and much more. In the back, there is a list of plants, what they attract, and how they grow. There is a rough map and a two-page discussion of prairie ecology. There is a page describing flowers and a page describing grasses. It’s a full-on tutorial. It even tells you where you might find existing pockets of prairie. But heck, just plant your own.
Plant a Pocket of Prairie is both a good story and illustrative of just how every one of us can help to preserve this vanishing resource. It is a lament but it is also a call to action. Children will love looking at the sweet drawings of all manner of plants and creatures, and hearing the story of how the prairie grows and how everything is related. I cannot read this book without getting a lump in my throat at the end. If this doesn’t make you want to get out and dig in the dirt and get some flowers growing, I don’t know what will!
Root and Bowen last worked together on the bestselling Big Belching Bog. Clearly, they've got something going together. They hope to have more events this summer. Root will be appearing (sans Bowen) at the Red Balloon Bookshop (891 Grand Ave, St. Paul) this Saturday at 10:30 am for a reading and book signing. Their website promises storytime, activities and refreshments.
The Pioneer Press says, "Plant a Pocket of Prairie is one of the spring season’s most beautiful and useful books." And that’s the truth. And at this reasonable price, you can buy lots for gifts.
University of MN Press, 40 pages, full color jacketed hardcover,
ISBN 978-0-8166-7980-5 10 x 10, $14.95