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Good Reading Roundup for 2013 – Part One

This is my first Reading Roundup. Over the year I have ‘reviewed’ a number of books, any of which would make an excellent holiday gift. Good reading is one of my favorites gifts to give, and to receive.  Over the next couple of days I’ll be giving a note about each of them again, with a link to the original post. All but one of the books were sent to me by the publisher and you may note a very positive note in all of them. This is because I only ‘review’ books that I think are useful and engaging, and in most cases beautiful. I have neither the time, nor space, nor inclination to spend time writing about books that I cannot recommend. Not every book is for everyone, but each of these worthy books will have a substantial audience. Click on the link for each to get the full review.

Taste, Memory

I did buy Taste, Memory: Lost Foods, Forgotten Flavors and Why They Matter by David Buchanan after I heard him speak at the Conway School of Landscape Design. David is a graduate of the CSLD, and his book about his growing passion for  heritage apples is a joy. “This book, with its tales of exciting searches for heritage apples, Buchanan’s own inventiveness, and cooperation between various groups of people and organizations, presents a wonderful vision of how our food system can shift. It is possible for us to eat better, for biodiversity to be protected, and for farmers and market gardeners to make a reasonable living.” This idea is also behind the Slow Food movement and The Ark of Taste which catalogs endangered foods

Taste, Memory also introduced me to John Bunker, David’s apple mentor and a great Maine character who has his own book, Not Far From the Tree about the old apples of Maine. You will never look at an apple in quite the same way again

No Mow Yards

Beautiful No Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives byEvelyn Hadden. Evelyn Hadden is a founder of Lawn Reform Coalition which aims to teach people about sustainable, healthier lawns. In Beautiful No-Mow Yards she proposes 50 alternatives to mowed grass lawns, offering solutions to cutting down on grass cutting in ways that are likely to appeal to every kind of gardener: new gardeners who are more interested in flowers or vegetables, experienced gardeners who are looking for new ways to garden, and environmentally concerned gardeners who want to cut down on the use of fossil fuels, herbicides and their own energy.



 Lawn Gone: Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yardby Pam Penick (Ten Speed Press)

Some of Penick’s chapter titles will tempt you to imagine a new yard of your own. For example: Ponds, pavilions, playspaces and other fun features and Designing and installing your hardscape, immediately set my mind buzzing. Other chapters indicate the sticky issues that gardeners may have to deal with like working with skeptical neighbors or homeowner’s association regulations or city codes.She also explains ways to eradicate lawn, and gives you the names of grass substitutes in the sedge and carex families.


Bringing Nature Home

Bringing Nature Home by Dr. Douglas Tallamy is a book I write about regularly. His argument for the use of native plants in our domestic landscape is ever more important and we think about land development. “Lately I have been talking about the benefits of reducing the size of our lawns. Tallamy said that 92% of landscape-able land is lawn, lawn which is a monoculture that does not support wildlife. He suggested that if we reduced the amount of lawn in theUnited Statesby half we would have 20 million acres that could be put to native trees and other native plants. This would certainly increase the carrying capacity of our neighborhoods and our nation.”


Latin for Gardeners

Latin for Gardeners: Over 3000 Plant Names Explained and Explored  by Lorraine Harrison is a beautifully illustrated book that is great fun to read even if you never took Latin in high school  and never got beyond Shakespeare’s “Et tu, Brute?” in English class. Beyond explaining the Latin words that make up proper botanical names, there are special sections of Plant Profiles, information about Plant Hunters like Sir Joseph Banks and Jane Colden and Marianne North, and Plant Themes like The Qualities of Plants. The book is also generously illustrated with colored botanical drawings of plants and their parts. This is definitely a book for browsing.

I’ll continue the roundup tomorrow. These books make great gifts for any holiday – or birthday.


Christmas Gifts = Christmas Books

Christmas books

As my granddaughter Caitlin always says, “We always know WHAT Granny will give us for Christmas, we just don’t know WHICH.”

The shopping is just about done but I haven’t done much wrapping yet. No one knows who will get the cookbooks, scifi books, business books, garden books, poetry, books about Christmas, novels OR magazine subscriptions. Ladybug!

Do you have a gift specialty? Does your family know WHAT if not WHICH?

Festival of the Hills – A Crop of Authors

The Authors Tent

The Conway Festival of the Hills is a grand autumnal event in our region. This year I got to share tent space with other authors like Marie Betts Bartlett (left in blue) who brought her book The (true) Story of The Little Yellow Trolley Car and Heidi Stemple (right oogling the baby. Heidi is the daughter of and co-author with Jane Yolen of many books, true, mysterious and delicious.  In the center is Jessica, owner of The World Eye Bookstore who was running the cash register.

David Costello, author and illustrator

David Costello was at the table too, with his new book Little Pig, and his ink and brush. Because of the constant rain we did have a few quieter moments which gave David time to make special drawings, in consultation with some younger readers. This area is so rich in fine authors and illustrators that a whole new roster took the afternoon signing session: Holly Hobbie, John Crowley, Peter Jeswald, and editor of Morning Song, Susan Todd.

Holly Hobbie is well known for her Toot and Puddle series of books, but I love her new books about Fanny. John and Peter write for adults. Crowley takes us to worlds fantastic and real in his novels, while Jeswald is a good man to have a round the house and garden with non-fiction books from Taunton Press and Storey Publishing.

Susan Todd, along with Carol Purington, edited the poetry anthology Morning Song: Poems for New Parents that I wrote about here.

The Little Yellow Trolley Car

I’ve even given a copy of this to my great-granddaughter Bella so she’ll know a little piece of our local history. The book is a delight.

I Can Help

I bought this for my younger great granddaughter, Lola, because even at two she must be learning that there are ways she can help.

Barefoot Book of Dance Stories

I got this signed for Bella but I might wait a year or two before giving it to her. She is always twirling and dancing, but the stories of other cultures and their dances might be even more entrancing for a slightly older girl.

Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep

This is a charming bedtime book with whimsical illustrations of all kinds of animals that hibernate in winter.

I was thrilled that so many people came to have books signed for their children, making sure we knew that they were already reading to them, every day, even if they were only three months old. That is the perfect time to begin, and contemplate years of happy Reading Aloud.

Crops of writers help us grow crops of readers. Very important.

Tynan’s Typical Day

Ty and Misty

We enjoyed our 13 year old granson’s company all last week – a very busy week. There was canoeing, dinner parties, cake baking, mowing lawns, feeding chickens and all manner of End of the Road activities.  One day we returned to Birch Glen Stables which is practically around the corner for his second riding lesson. The first was last year, but he had not forgotten how to groom and put on the saddle.

This year the lesson was held in the outdoor ring where, after a quick review,  he soon progressed from walking, to trotting and even did a ‘lope’ for a minute or two.

He was so comfortable and assured that he even took Misty out of the ring and out of sight (briefly) of the instructor.

After lunch and a an hour long reading and digesting session we were off to The Art Garden where Ty could make a sculpture to enter in the Heath Fair.

I cannot be in The Art Garden without doing some art myself. The other artists occasionally came over to watch and encourage me. There is a wonderful atmosphere in the open studio presided over by Jane Wegscheider.  You may recall that the common weed, dandelion, is my ‘logo.’

But the day was not over and my neighbor’s goats were waiting for their supper.

The kids get their mothers’ milk, but it has to come from a bottle.

Ty thought Cinnamon looked sleepy after eating and thought he would rock her to sleep.

We didn’t rock Ty to sleep,  but after he fininished reading Crispin, Cross of Lead by Avi, his assigned summer reading which he found riveting (he is trying to broaden his vocabulary by not using awesome all the time) he listened to the Major (grandpa) read another chapter of Monkey King, and took the book with him to read in bed. Another day done.


Let’s Talk

Me with Lori Pirkot

Last Friday night was the premier broadcast of Let’s Talk – with Pat Leuchtman on our local cable TV station.  I was talking with Lori Pirkot,  the owner of Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls. We had a great time talking about the wonderful books for children that are available this season, many of them by local (ish) authors and illustrators.

I think there is no better present for a child than a good book. My grandchildren will tell you with a laugh that they always know what they will get as a gift from Granny and the Major, they just won’t know which.  As we enter the  gift buying and giving season I hope your shopping tours will include a bookstore. You cannot go wrong buying books by  our local  literati: Jane Yolen, Jeannine Atkins, Jan Brett, Holly Hobbie, and Norton Juster. A book may not hold a child’s attention on Christmas Day, or any holiday, when there are so many other gifts, treats and distractions, but a book will be engaging and important for a long time after.

None of these books have anything to do with gardens, but on our next Let’s Talk show on December 3, I’ll be talking with Lisa Newman about a whole range of garden books.  Let’s Talk, and other shows presented by Falls Cable usually go out live and then are repeated several times until new shows are produced in two weeks.  Copies of the shows also go out to Greenfield, Montague and Deerfield, so I hope some of you will get to tune in to Let’s Talk – as I talk about books, gardens, art, and anything else that takes my fancy with some of the fascinating people who live in our area.

Ohhhh – Look at that!

Ohhhhhh – Look at that! I cannot tell you how many times I uttered those words, and Le Flaneur listened patiently, turned and followed my pointing fingers at heucheras, sailboats, meat packing establishments, roof top restaurants and etc., etc., etc.

Battery Park NYC

We took the train into the city and set off to explore an array of Parks.  We began at Battery Park, South Ferry, where people can get ferries to Staten Island, or Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty. This area has all been refurbished since we left New York in 1979.  The plantings were big and varied, with spring bloomers, foliage in every shade of green and red, ferns, grasses, and shrubs. The weather was mild, although rain threatened all day, and people were enjoying the promenades along the Hudson River.

Where to go? Castle Clinton? or off to the Islands?

Guide books are available with information about plantings. For the website click here.

Wagner Park

School children were enjoying Wagner Park, the first of the Parks for Battery Park City. Plantings for this Park were designed by Lynden B. Miller who I heard speak about her book, Parks, Plants and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape. She was the inspiration for this tour. We saw our first roses in bloom here.

The Hudson as Water Feature

These gardens between the Hudson River and the building of Battery Park City look right down at the  tidal river. With its tides and moods the river becomes an amazing water feature.

A luncheon view

We had lunch at the South West Restaurant. We watched the boats on the river, the joggers, bicyclists, moms with strollers, and workers taking their lunch hour picnics.

The Wintergarden

I expected a lavish conservatory to be inside the Wintergarden, but the large skylit lobby had only eight very tall palm trees – and a wonderful photography exhibit of the faces of our Elders, Clint Eastwood, Bishop Tutu, Vanessa Redgrave, Madeline Albright and many others.


We set off  to find The Highline and saw that parks aren’t the only place to see magnificent plants. These wisteria are amazing.

The High Line

We walked uptown and over to 14th Street and ascended to the new High Line Gardens built on the old elevated freight train tracks.  We walked along up to West 23rd Street. The High Line is still being built and planted and will continue up to 34th Street.

Bryant Park

The beauty of the Battery Park City Gardens was an unexpected pleasure. They were so beautiful and were being enjoyed by so many people, even on this less than lovely day. But Bryant Park, the park behind the 42nd St. Public Library, was the highlight of the day. The park was restored and renovated in 1986 and it is a treasure. Seating, drinks, and so much more.

Children's Wing of the Bryant Park Reading Room

A section of the park was designated as The Reading Room with a number of bookshelves filled with books and audio books, to be read and returned right there. If you aren’t reading those books you can’t sit in this area of the park.

Book Club Meeting!

Actually, I guess you were allowed to sit here, if you had read the books. A lively book club meeting was being held here.  Nearby were people playing chess and one gentleman was offering chess lessons.  This park is named for one of our great American poets, William Cullen Bryant. A statue of this poet who was born in Cummington, Mass, not far from us, watches over the gatherings in the park. I am sure he will be happy to know that tomorrow we will be celebrating Emily Dickinson at the New York Botanical Garden.

Real and Imaginary

My Garden by Kevin Henkes

I celebrated the arrival of my friend Kathryn Galbraith‘s new book Arbor Day Square and then I saw My Garden by Kevin Henkes on the New Book shelf at the Heath Library.

As a former librarian I know it used to be difficult to find books for young children about gardening, whether real gardens with real information, or about imaginary gardens, but happily that seems to be changing. Kevin Henkes is one of my favorites authors and illustrators because he has so much understanding of a child’s ecstatic emotions, happy or sad. In My Garden a little girl is bursting with joyful imagination.

She  helps her mother in a real garden, watering, weeding and chasing away the rabbits. She also imagines her own brilliant garden where the rabbits are chocolate, where there are no weeds, where tomatoes are “as big as beach balls, and the carrots would be invisible because I don’t like carrots.”

Even when we have children helping us with real garden chores on a summer day we should always remember that there may be a lot more going on in their minds than where to dump the weeds or put away the watering can.

Arbor Day Celebration

Arbor Day Square

I got the most wonderful present in the mail today – Arbor Day Square – written by my good friend Kathryn Galbraith. We met more than 30 years ago when we both lived in NYC and were taking a writing class at the New School of Social Research.  Kathryn and I both left the city at about the same time, but she left for the State of Washington where she went on to write beautiful books for children.

Obviously I was thrilled to see her new book, Arbor Day Square, because it is about how important trees are to a community as well as love of family and a family history. Katie and Papa are among the new settlers in a prairie town that we see grow until the townspeople recognize they have no trees:

“There are no trees on the prairie.

No trees for climbing.

Or for shade.

No trees for fruit or warm winter fires.

No trees for birds. Or for beauty.”

That recognition is the first step to the first Arbor Day Tree Planting in that community, a celebration that continues every year. Papa turns into a grandpa, and Katie a mama with a child of her own.

Kathryn’s books always tell gentle stories with charm and humor. I love Boo, Bunny!  (illustrated by Jeff Mack) that I sent to my two Great-granddaughters last Halloween, and Traveling Babies (illustrated by Jane Dippold) which I bought for the Buckland Library as well as for gifts for family children.

Here in Heath trees are important for sugaring, and for firewood, as well as for birds, and shade. And for beauty.  Thank you Kathryn for this beautiful story, and your timing is perfect. Here in Massachusetts Arbor Day is celebrated the last Friday in April, so I have enough time to get a tree to plant on that day. I think it will be a witch hazel named Diane – for family love, spring bloom, and beauty at every season

While Watching the Snow Fall . . .

Tarankanische (The Terrible Cockroach)

I’ve been browsing through the online Creepy Crawlies exhibit of children’s books from the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University. These books date as far back as the 1744 edition of Tom Thumb’s Pretty Song Book.

The Terrible Cockroach by the Russian Kornei Chukovski and illustrated by Sergeii Chekhonin, published in Leningrad 1925, tells the nonsense tale of a threatening cockroach who is so fierce that he terrifies all the animals who are out to enjoy a picnic. Even the elephants are helpless in his presence. Until, that is, until a sparrow comes and gobbles him up.

Other stores include snails, bedbugs, dung beetles, and a caterpillar garden in a variety of styles from the cartoonish to the scientific.

Creepy crawlies remain a topic for children’s book writers and illustrators. Jim Aylesworth’s Old Black Fly published in 1992 is a case in point.

Old Black Fly by Jim Aylsworth

I have Garden History Girl to thank for this wonderful link which includes other virtual exhibitions.  She know a lot about gardens and all the things you will find in gardens.

Looking at these illustrations is more fun that looking at the sastrugi in the Sunken Garden.

Sunken Garden 2-26

Can you imagine how long it will take the 6 foot drift to melt in the spring?