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Isabella's Garden

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Cover art for Isabella's Garden, a children's picture book
Candlewick Press

Overview

Rebecca Cool's bright mixed media illustrations and Glenda Millard's entertaining cumulative tale in rhyme celebrate the seasons in young Isabella's Garden. Unlike picture books about gardens and gardening that focus only on spring and summer, this festive book tells the story of what happens in the garden year-round. The exuberant illustrations are filled with color, detail, with an emphasis on children in the garden. This picture book is an excellent read aloud for children ages 3-6.

The book's rhythm, rhyme and cumulative format are reminiscent of "This is the House That Jack Built." The lyrical language and the illustrations will both appeal to young children as the story of the seeds and what happens to them through the seasons, with the help of all the children working and playing in the garden, unfolds. The books starts with the soil "all dark and deep" and moves on to the soil and seeds to the soil, seeds and the rain and continues through the year. In addition to the illustrator's pictures, the author creates wonderful word pictures with her word choices, such as "these are the flowers that waltz with the wind / that ruffles the buds, all velvety skinned."

The Illustrations

The cover and the endpapers set the high-spirited mood of the book. The endpapers feature a mixed media double-page spread of 15 barefooted boys and girls, in colorful clothes, playing in the garden, swinging on a swing, climbing a tree, playing jump rope, gathering flowers and caring for the garden. All around them is bright green grass overlaid with flowers and vines. One of my favorite illustrations is the double-page spread showing a whole row of brightly dressed children waving colorful umbrellas while splashing in the rain in their brightly colored boots. To get a further idea of the power of the mixed media folk art illustrations, take a look at this double-page spread from Isabella's Garden. The bright colors, happy and busy children and interesting patterns make the illustrations "pop" with life and exuberance.

The Author and Illustrator

Australian author Glenda Millard has written a variety of types of children's books. These include: The Kingdom of Silk series (novels for younger readers) and several novels for older readers, including Bringing Reuben Home and A Small Free Kiss in the Dark. Her picture books include: Unplugged!, Angel Breath, Mrs Wiggins’ Wartymelons, Heart of the Tiger and Kaito’s Cloth.

Isabella's Garden is artist Rebecca Cool's first children's book. The Australian artist's mixed media illustrations are done in a naive folk art style. Cool incorporates fabrics from the 1950s and lots of color in her artwork, which utilizes acrylics and fabric collage. Cool has been creating art since she was 10. She attended Claremont School of Fine Art.

(Sources: Candlewick Press, Web site of Rebecca Cool, Scholastic Authors and Illustrators: Glenda Millard)

My Recommendation

Both the words and the pictures in Isabella's Garden are filled with the joy of gardening, from planting the seeds to watering them, to taking care of the plants to enjoying the beautiful flowers and on through the seasons, with the cycle completed at the end of the book, with the planting of more seeds. The illustrations, with their many colorful details and the infectious rhythm and rhyme of this cumulative tale will engage young children's interest through numerous readings. While it can be enjoyed on its own, Isabella's Garden also provides a wonderful introduction to gardening, and I'd encourage you to share the book with your children before they plant seeds for the first time. (Candlewick Press, 2009. ISBN:9780763660161)

More Picture Books and Poetry Books About Gardens, Nature and the Seasons

Pieces: A Year in Poems and Quilts is a book of poems by Anna Grossnickle Hines about nature and the seasons. Each poem is illustrated with a miniature quilt. Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night is an award-winning book by Joyce Sidman, with dramatic relief prints by Rick Allen. The book combines poetry, art and science and, like Pieces is a good book for adults and children to share as a read aloud.

Good picture books about the seasons include: And Then It's Spring, Peepers (fall) and Owl Moon (winter). The Carrot Seed is a classic by by Ruth Krauss. Crockett Johnson illustrated this picture book, a favorite with young children. For an overview of about a dozen recommended books, see my Top Children's Picture Books About Gardens and Gardening.

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