Growing a Reader: Garden Pictures Books for Spring 2022

Spring has sprung! Or I’m sure it will any time now. And with it comes the chance to get outside (finally!) and enjoy nature, feel the sunshine, and play in the garden. This spring the publishing world has supplied us with a bumper crop of titles to inspire gardeners of all ages. With picture books and board books, fiction and nonfiction, there is something to inspire all of us to grab our garden tools and start digging. Happy reading (and planting)!

BOARD BOOKS:

My Garden: My World in 100 Words
Happy Yak, illustrated by Marijke Buurlage
Quarto
Published April 12, 2022
Ages Birth to 3

This bright and bouncy vocab primer explores the seasons and fun to be had in nature with simple word to illustration connections. Broken into easy to interpret categories, each spread includes object, action, and emotion words, and with a nod to social emotional learning, color-coded dots indicate actions and emotions.

PICTURE BOOKS:

Behold Our Magical Garden: Poems Fresh from the School Garden
Allen Wolf, illustrated by Daniel Duncan
Candlewick
Published March 8, 2022
Ages 8-12

Part poetry collection, part gardening guide, and all fun. Wolf’s poetry and thoughtful end notes weave English language arts lessons, with STEM topics in verses full of curiosity, wonder, and interesting biology facts. The diverse class groups and detailed digital drawings are an engaging combination sure to inspire garden clubs to start planning.

The Fairy Garden
Georgia Buckthorn, illustrated by Isabella Mazzanti
Quarto
Published April 5, 2022
Ages 4-7

Mimi dreams of a fairy garden and works diligently to plant, prune, and tidy her garden until it’s perfect—for people, not fairies. With a little encouragement from its former inhabitants, she lets go and grows a beautiful and wild garden for the fairies to thrive. Lovely, soft-focused, colored pencil illustrations evoke a magical setting for dreaming of fairy-folk. Illustrated endnotes include rules for creating a fairy-friendly garden, adorable housing included.

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS:

Little Homesteader: A Spring Treasury of Recipes, Crafts, and Wisdom
Angela Ferraro-Fanning, illustrated by AnneliesDraws
Quarto
Published March 22, 2022
Ages 6-8

A fun and fact-filled celebration of spring’s natural wonders. Full of wholesome, hands-on ways to enjoy the foods, plants, and holidays that make spring so lovely, including crafts, recipes, and gardening tips. Vibrant colored pencil illustrations of veggies, bugs, and animals also include two rosy-cheeked children enjoying all the fun.

The Gardener of Alcatraz: A True Story
Emma Bland Smith, illustrated by Jenn Ely
Charlesbridge
Published April 5, 2022
Ages 7-10

Elliott Michener, sent to Alcatraz as a convicted counterfeiter, changed both his life and the island prison when he discovered a passion for gardening. Without white-washing Michener’s crimes or intentions, Bland Smith treats his story with empathy and his transformation from criminal to landscaper with dignity. Ely’s thoughtful use of color swings from dreary to cheerful (and back) in attentive accordance to the mood of the text. Back matter includes a dual timeline for Alcatraz Island and Michener, extensive notes on both, and a bibliography and author’s note.

Planting a Garden in Room 6: From Seeds to Salad
Caroline Arnold
Charlesbridge
Published March 15, 2022
Ages 3-7

With a little help from their teacher, the students in room 6 will learn how to plant and tend a garden. Step-by-step explanations and photos cover everything from seed sprouting to planting to harvesting and taste-testing. A tool guide, Q&A, vocabulary terms, and both digital and hard copy resources complement the extremely detailed text. Planting a Garden in Room 6 is the third book in the collaborative series between Arnold and kindergarten teacher, Jennifer Best.


Which titles would you add to this list?

Queen Quest: A Review of The Queen in the Cave

Queen in the Cave
Júlia Sardá
Candlewick Studio
May 24, 2022
Ages 5 to 9

Franca dreams of a queen in a cave. Feeling a strange need to abandon all she once enjoyed, Franca recruits her younger sisters, Carmela and Tomasina, to journey with her on her quest through the dark forest to find the queen. Although her sisters become afraid of the forest and the creatures they meet, Franca motivates them with her own blooming confidence to continue. When Franca, Carmela, and Tomasina finally reach the cave, they are given the most unexpected surprise in discovering the identity of the queen.

This imaginative picture book explores themes of overcoming one’s fears, being curious about the unknown, and being brave enough to keep going through life. Although Franca recruits her sisters in the beginning of the quest to travel with her, she learns that it’s okay to drift apart from the people and activities she once enjoyed, indicating the transition from childhood to adulthood. The illustrations and tone of the story also exhibit the shift, starting with a lighthearted tone and clean portrayal of the sisters and moving to a heavier tone and a darker color scheme focused on Franca. The fantastical illustration of the forest and the creatures fill each page with hidden objects that catch the attention of any reader and make them want to look again to see new objects that one might have missed. The fairytale-like tone of this picture book for older children, emphasizes the reality of growing up and learning to embrace your individuality, couched within a whimsical adventure. 

 

Butler Bookshelf

This week’s Butler Bookshelf features recently released and coming soon titles! In Stella Keeps the Sun Up written by Clothilde Ewing and illustrated by Lynn Gaines, Stella schemes to keep the sun up so she never has a bedtime! She learns the benefits of sleeping and why going to bed is great. Check it out along with the other titles below!

Catalina Incognito
Written by Jennifer Torres and Illustrated by Gladys Jose
Published by Aladdin
Available now!

Darryl’s Dream
Written by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Shawnee, Johnny Warfield, and Adam Padilla. Illustrated by Tristan Tait
Published by King of Rock Publishing
Available now!

Emile and the Field
Written by Kevin Young and Illustrated by Choima Ebinama
Published by Make Me a World
Available April 15th!

Finn and the Subatomic Slip-and-Slide
Written by Micheal Buckley
Published by Delacorte Press
Available now!

Lady Icarus: Balloonomania and the Brief, Bold Life of Sophie Blanchard
Written by Deborah Noyes
Published by Random House Studio
Available now!

Stella Keeps the Sun Up
Written by Clothhilde Ewing and Illustrated by Lynn Gaines
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Availible now!

Bedtime Q&A: A Review of Goodnight, Butterfly

Goodnight, Butterfly 
Ross Burach 
Scholastic Press 
March 3, 2022 
Pre-k to 3rd grade 

In the third installment of Ross Burach’s Butterfly series, the titular Butterfly is awakened in the middle of the night by Porcupine as they are eating their breakfast. Initially, Butterfly is ecstatic at the new experience of being awake at night, learning about what it means to be nocturnal through word play and asking more questions than poor Porcupine can handle. The art shows this through an abundance of brightly colored images in Burach’s signature naïve style of mixed media art. However, as Butterfly tires, the fast pace of the early pages slows down significantly. The puns and traditional wordy jokes of the front half are replaced by sight gags, like Butterfly accidentally mistaking Porcupine for a pinecone. Questions from Butterfly peter out, even if Butterfly is still trying to make night time adventures for the pair to get into, and Porcupine is able to give some advice about falling to sleep. Burach shows the switch in tone using the color of the space between illustrations from a white to the more calm colors of lavender and indigo towards the end of the book. Burach’s use of framing and pace in service of comedy is impeccable. In early jokes, he uses cluttered dialogue and page turns to build tension while releasing it through punchlines. These are given room to breathe by the switch to a single, simpler composition for a spread. While the jokes are less set up later in the story, to aid in winding down, the page turns are still used to hide silly fun, like Butterfly using a book as a bed. In the last few pages, Butterfly finally decides to stop fighting sleep and Porcupine encourages them to think about calming ideas, teaching readers that if you want to go to sleep, it’s better to focus on calm ideas instead of questions you cannot answer. A colorful and funny addition to any bedtime book collection, just be careful, it might be too much fun to fall asleep to.

We Can Do Hard Things: A Review of The Struggle Bus

The Struggle Bus
Julie Koon
Kind World Publishing
March 8, 2022
Ages 4-8

Sometimes, when life gets really hard, the Struggle Bus shows up at the door. It grumbles and rumbles and seems completely hopeless. Lost in the fog and frozen by indecision and on its way up the mountain, the Struggle Bus breaks down. It is only with the help of friends that it can be set back on its way. And even then, it’s a hard and bumpy journey, but eventually, it finds the path, and arrives at the top of the mountain.

The Struggle Bus is a gentle rhyming story acknowledging big feelings and encouraging readers to never give up. Koon’s illustrations, a mixture of simple line drawings and watercolor, are rendered in soft, soothing colors that complement the supportive message of the text. Even amidst fog and uncertainty, the struggle bus continues on, reminding readers to feel their feelings but not let those feelings stop them from moving forward. With rhythmic text and onomatopoeia sprinkled throughout, this book is ideal for young people who need a little help to understand big emotions. At the end of the book, there are reflection questions and ideas for calming behaviors to utilize when “your bus breaks down” (p. 37). A diverse cast of characters and buses of all shapes, sizes, and colors let readers know that everyone rides the Struggle Bus sometimes, and that even the tallest, foggiest mountains are not insurmountable.

Last impressions are always better than firsts: A Review of Invasion of the Unicorns

Invasion of the Unicorns
David Biedrzycki
Charlesbridge
October 19, 2021
Ages 4-8

Just past midnight, in a video arcade, there’s a burst of bright and colorful light. From it emerges Secret Agent Bubble07! Although he looks like a stuffed unicorn toy, he is actually an alien and a spy. His mission: collect data and decide if the alien unicorn army should invade Earth and make humans their servants. To do this, Agent Bubble07 allows himself to be captured by an Earthling family by posing as a stuffed animal in the claw machine. After three long days, a father outwits the machine and scoops up Agent Bubble07 for his daughter. Now, with a family to study, Agent Bubble07 will observe their every move. Will he tell headquarters that Earth should be invaded or will he discover that our planet is worth saving?

Invasion of the Unicorns is a fun and humorous picture book that shows that all people and ways of life are equal. It illustrates the importance of taking the time to learn about something or someone, rather than making judgements based on first impressions. If Agent Bubble07 attacked Earth based on how he felt on his 20th day here when the school kids were being rough with him, he wouldn’t have gotten to experience snow day on his 50th day. Each illustration has a grainy texture. There are also a few panels and full bleed pictures, adding variety and something unique to look at on each page. Biedrzycki starts the book with pictures in grayscale, only using limited color to represent Agent Bubble07’s presence. However, after the unicorn discovers the amazing things Earth offers, the pictures are filled with color. An excellent way to show how good things make life happy and vibrant. Biedrzycki’s unique story is a timeless reminder that, although we may have different cultures and traditions, they are all valuable.

Add a pinch of belly button lint: A Review of Boo Stew

Boo Stew
Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
Peachtree
Available September 1, 2021
Ages 3-7

Curly Locks, the most disgustingly imaginative cook in Toadsuck Swamp, just hasn’t found the right audience for her culinary creations. When a group of spooky Scares (one larger than the last) make their way out of the swamp and into the mayor’s kitchen, the townsfolk are scared silly. Only Curly Locks knows what to do—cook for them! She whips up the best batch of Boo Stew east of the Mississippi and lures the Scares right back to the swamp with promises of feasts to come and satisfaction at finally finding those that appreciate her cooking.

In this twist on the Goldilocks tale, Washington’s background as a traditional storyteller shines through in the structure, repetition, and the Southern vernacular that bring the inhabitants of Toadsuck Swamp to vivid life. Her heroine breaks the mold of the most Goldilocks’, with a bolder personality, grand self-confidence, and belief in her ability to make a difference. The text is based on an oral telling from her 2006 recording Angels’ Laughter. Jeffrey Ebbeler has created a diverse cast of hilariously terrified townsfolk that help to highlight Curly Locks’ gumption and bravery, further setting her apart from the often insipid traditional Goldilocks. His sepia toned illustrations and shadowy, bear-like Scares lend a suitably spooky setting and some Southern gothic flare to this fine addition to both folktale and Halloween collections. 

How Do You Feel?: SEL Picture Books for All Ages

Managing emotions can be hard, whether you’re 4 or 44, but successful social emotional learning can help all of us learn how to identify and express our feelings, and support others in handling theirs. Fortunately, 2021 picture book authors are here to help with this roundup of titles just waiting for their chance to shine in an SEL themed story time or a lesson for older kids.

A Cat with No Name: A Story About Sadness
What a Feeling Series
Kochka, Illustrated by Marie Leghima
Parent notes by clinical psychologist Louison Neilman
Quarto/words & pictures
Ages 3-6

Olive cares for a lost kitten that she quickly comes to love. When he doesn’t return one day, a neighborhood search proves he’s been reunited with his owners. Olive’s dad helps her realize that it’s ok to be sad about missing him and how to find peace in remembering. Originally published in France, the line drawings limited color palette have a European sensibility. End notes from a psychologist provide information and tips on recognizing and supporting a child handling sadness.

Big Feelings
Alexandra Penrose, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
Penguin Random House/Alfred A. Knopf
Ages 4-8

A diverse group of children have big plans for the day, but when things don’t go as planned, frustration, anger, and fights get in the way. As they work through their differences and work together on a new plan, respect, kindness, and excitement bring them together as a team. Bright mixed media illustrations and expressive little faces show a range of emotions and illustrate some great ways to express them in healthy and productive ways.

How to Apologize
David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Candlewick
Ages 3+

It’s not always easy to say “I’m sorry,” but this sweet instruction manual is a specific and silly how-to guide. Whether you’ve made a mistake, been mean to a friend, or had an accident, this step-by-step guide shows the do’s and don’ts of apologies. Hilarious illustrated oops-moments help soften the instructions on how, when, and why we should all learn to apologize.

It Could Be Worse
Einat Tsarfati, translated by Annette Appe
Candlewick
Ages 4-8

Albertini and George have been shipwrecked. Albertini is upset, but George keeps looking on the bright side and after each new misadventure (storms, flying fish, ghost pirates, and a hungry whale) declares “It could always be worse!” Vibrant digital illustrations and outrageous situations provide levity in this silly series of catastrophes, proving that attitude is everything and even a bad day can feel better when you face it with a friend.

The Power of Yet
Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Abrams/Appleseed
Ages 3-6

A small piglet knows the frustration that comes with being a kid. You’re not big enough, strong enough, experienced enough—yet. But trying and growing and practicing leads to learning and success. Pen and ink drawings with pastel watercolors gently follow piglet’s persistence and celebration as yet turns to now.

The Smile Shop
Satoshi Kitamura
Peachtree
Ages 3-6

The market is an exciting place when there is pocket money just waiting to be spent. When a sudden collision sends a small boy’s change down the drain, his hopes of a treat are dashed. But in the Smile Shop, the kindness of a shopkeeper proves that money can’t buy happiness, but human connection sure can. Soft-focus line and watercolor illustrations shift palettes as the boy goes from excited to despondent to hopeful and finally cheerful as he discovers all the smiling faces that surround him.

Destination India: A Review of Word Travelers: The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure

Word Travelers: The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure
Raj Haldar
Illustrated by Neha Rawat
Sourcebook Kids
October 5, 2021
Ages 7-12

When best friends Eddie and MJ’s Super Saturday Sleepover goes from blanket forts and movies to magic books and teleportation, they are totally up for the adventure. At mom’s suggestion, they open Eddie’s etymologist grandfather’s Awesome Enchanted Book (AEB). Whisked away to India by the AEB, they help Dev, grandson of the maharaja of Jaipur, find a hidden treasure and rebuild the local school. Using creativity, curiosity, and the AEB, they race a comically sinister mustache-twisting villain to solve the maharaja’s clues and find the treasure before the school is replaced with a department store.

This fast-paced and adventure-packed early chapter book (first in a series) is equal parts Magic Treehouse and National Treasure. Raj Haldar (No Reading Allowed: The Worst Read Aloud Book Ever) brings his signature wordplay with a twist—exploring the derivation of some common (and not so common) words. The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure focuses on Indian origins (Hindi, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Marathi), while future installments will explore other places and languages. Some holes in the plot and inconsistencies between the text and art are minor enough not to detract from the fun. Neha Rawat’s delightful and architecturally detailed illustrations, coupled with a map and full glossary of highlighted words, make for a well-rounded adventure, sure to appeal to word nerds and world travelers alike.

Review based on Advanced Reader’s Copy.

Finding Kinship: A Review of I Am a Bird

I Am a Bird
Hope Lim
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Candlewick Press
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 3-7

A young girl joyfully embraces her morning commute, imagining herself a bird flying to school on the back of her father’s bicycle. She waves to friends and neighbors, and sings to her fellow birds as they soar by. A stern older woman is the only thing to dim her smile, when curiosity fights with anxiety about the unknown person and her unfriendly behavior. Her stranger-danger only increases until the day they discover the woman feeding and singing to the girl’s beloved birds. Maybe they’re not so different after all. Hope Lim’s gentle tale of discovering kinship in the most unlikely place is perfect for our current moment of division. The juxtaposition of the little girl’s joy and the woman’s dejected countenance help build enough tension that the revelation of their commonality feels like a celebration. Hyewon Yum’s vibrant colored pencil and gouache illustrations blend an almost architectural precision with softer, freehand coloring and embellishments (and sweet birds). Her emotive faces amplify the story’s sentiment—the girl’s joy and anxiety, the friendliness of their South Korean community, and the woman’s transformation. A sweet reminder that we can all be happier when we focus more on our similarities than our differences.