Nature All Around: Trees
Pamela Hickman, illustrated by Carolyn Gavin
Kids Can Press
Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden
Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Anne Villeneuve
Kids Can Press
I live in a very urban neighbourhood: plenty of concrete and brick, with very little greenery. In fact, the 10 trees on my block are a spindly bunch, set in small patches of dirt within the sidewalks. A couple of weeks ago I finally noticed that other trees in the area have sprouted green leaves again.
Recent rains no doubt helped. I know, after reading Pamela Hickman’s non-fiction book Trees, that the extra moisture was sucked up by the roots and sent via trunk and branches to the existing but largely unseen buds, “causing them to swell and eventually burst open.” I also learned why the resulting leaves look green: It’s thanks to a chemical called chlorophyll in the leaves. When sunlight hits a leaf, chlorophyll absorbs the red and blue light “but reflects the green part of the spectrum. You see the reflected light, making the leaf appear green” in spring. The leaves contain other colours as well, but they don’t show until fall, when leaves stop making chlorophyll.
This latest addition to Hickman’s Nature All Around series invites kids to arm themselves with notebook and pencil and head out in their neighbourhoods to do some tree-watching. Watercolour and gouache paintings by Carolyn Gavin, a native of South Africa now living in Toronto, can guide the children’s eyes. For ages 6 to 9.
Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden, by Toronto’s Andrew Larsen, takes a non-fiction approach to the outdoors, focusing on the urban landscape. It’s the story of Vincent, a young boy who is sent to spend summer months with his Aunt Mimi while his mother recovers from surgery. The opening two-page spread, illustrated by Montreal’s Anne Villeneuve, shows the densely residential neighbourhood in which Mimi lives, with walk-up apartment buildings surrounding a neglected fenced-in empty lot. The only bits of cheerful colour in the illustration come from a striped umbrella on Aunt Mimi’s balcony and a tasty-looking cone painted on the ice cream truck parked outside the apartment complex.
Vincent makes himself at home with his aunt, but it isn’t until he meets another boy, Toma, near the empty lot that readers get caught up in the action. Aunt Mimi’s balcony contains a box full of “dirt balls” that she received from a secret admirer. “I was hoping they’d be chocolates,” she tells her nephew when he asks about them, adding that she doesn’t know what to do with them.
But Vincent knows. He brings an armload to the boy bouncing a ball against the wall at the empty lot, and suggests they fling them over the fence. Toma agrees, and the two start tossing the dirt balls — incurring the wrath of a man on a nearby balcony, someone they call Mr. Grumpypants. His balcony is covered in plants, and it doesn’t take the reader long to figure out that he is likely Aunt Mimi’s secret admirer – especially when a few rainy days show that the dirt balls had more than just dirt in them and a colourful inner city garden starts sprouting in the empty lot.
A charming story, wonderfully illustrated, will show urban kids that even the most neglected piece of land can be turned into an eye-catching neighbourhood garden. For ages 4 to 8.