Books for Kids: Titles by David Suzuki and others are in bloom for spring

Winter is technically over and we can look forward to planting gardens soon and spending time outdoors without bulky coats. Here are some picture books to help children get in the mood.

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Spring has sprung (officially, this year, on March 19), but at this writing the trees on my street remain bare, and nary a blade of grass has riz (to misquote a popular rhyme). Still, winter is technically over and we can look forward to planting gardens soon and spending time outdoors without bulky coats and mittens. Below, some picture books to help get in the mood.

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A Garden Called Home, by Jessica J. Lee, illustrated by Elaine Chen.

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A Garden Called Home
By Jessica J. Lee
Illustrated by Elaine Chen
Tundra Books
Ages 3 to 7

Canadian-born author Jessica Lee draws on personal experiences in this story about a young girl whose immigrant mother doesn’t like winter and spends the season “wrapped up in big quilted jackets” and “never wants to go outside.” But one winter Mama tells her daughter they’re going on a trip to her homeland, to visit her family, and our little narrator learns why her mother is so averse to the cold. Lee doesn’t name Mama’s homeland in the text, but her own mother was born in Taiwan and she clearly draws on family history in telling this story.

An illustration depicts a mother and daughter working in their garden. The daughter is watering plants and the mother is waving at a neighbour who is holding a shovel.
An illustration from A Garden Called Home. Now that Mama has learned to deal with winter, she and her daughter are planting a garden in the spring — and are befriending their neighbours in the process. Image: Tundra Books

At her brother’s farm, Mama shows her daughter the vegetables she used to eat as a child and our narrator repeats their names in Mandarin. Back home, Mama reverts to her warm quilted jackets, holing up indoors, but her daughter — having seen how animated her mother was during their trip — decides to learn about the outdoors in winter, and talks her mother into coming on a nature walk through the snow. Mama is won over, and in the spring the two plant seeds and grow a garden “that feels like home.”

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Bompa's Insect Expedition, by David Suzuki, with Tanya Lloyd Kyi, illustrated by Qin Leng.

Bompa’s Insect Expedition
By David Suzuki, with Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Greystone Kids
Ages 4 to 8

OK, the title focuses on insects rather than gardens, but this book tells the story of a grandfather who takes two of his grandchildren on a nature expedition right in their own backyard, searching for insects among the trees, grasses and flowers — and learning how those insects help pollinate plants and how they feed birds, bats and frogs.

An illustration shows an array of insects on flowers.
An illustration from Bompa’s Insect Expedition. Bompa tells his grandchildren that plants “can’t move around like we do” so they need insects to carry pollen from one flower to the next. Without insects, the plants “couldn’t make seeds or fruit.” Image: Greystone Kids

The text is lively and informative, which is not surprising given David Suzuki’s knowledge as a scientist and environmentalist and his ability to communicate that knowledge, which he has done for many years as an author and broadcaster. But this book also owes much of its appeal to the colourful, detailed art of Toronto’s Qin Leng, who makes Bompa instantly recognizable and does a great job of depicting the liveliness of his two grandchildren, Nakina and her twin brother Kaoru (named for two of Suzuki’s 10 grandchildren in real life).

All That Grows, written and illustrated by Jack Wong.

All That Grows
Written and illustrated by Jack Wong
Groundwood Books
Ages 3 to 7

The narrator in this book is a young boy whose sister takes him on nature walks in their neighbourhood and shares information about flowers (“magnolias smell like lemon cake,” she says), trees and weeds (“you can eat the wild greens of dandelion with spaghetti,” but the leaves get bitter after flowering, so you have “to harvest them early”). The boy, amazed at his sister’s knowledge, helps her weed her garden and when she gives up on a particularly persistent patch, he keeps watering it to see what will grow. The more knowledge his sister imparts, the more questions the boy has — but when delicate white flowers eventually open from little buds in the weedy patch, she is at a loss to name them. “Maybe we can look them up in one of my books,” she says, unwittingly providing an answer to one of his questions (“How does my sister know?”). Beautifully illustrated by the author in pastels, one particularly stunning page looks entirely black at first sight but on closer examination shows the young narrator in bed, covers pulled up to his chin, still pondering the questions swirling around in his head.

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Walking Trees, written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay.

Walking Trees
Written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
Groundwood Books
Age 3 and older

Montreal-based author/illustrator Marie-Louise Gay — inspired by a news story about a project in Leeuwarden, a city in northern Netherlands — tells us about Lily, who loves trees and asks for one of her own as a birthday gift. “I’ll put it on the balcony and water it every day,” she promises her father, who lives with her in a tiny apartment on the fifth floor of a building on a busy street. She wakes on her birthday to the sight of a potted tree on the balcony, and decides to name it George. But Lily soon decides she wants George to see that the world is wider than just the balcony, so she lifts the tree onto her wagon and takes it down to street level, where she introduces George to the colourful sights and scenarios in her neighbourhood.

An illustration depicts a girl and elderly woman sitting on a bench. A tree in a wagon is beside the woman, and the girl is eating an orange. There are birds and a dog roaming the ground in front of them.
An illustration from Walking Trees. The first neighbour Lily encounters outside is Mrs. Lee, fanning herself in the heat, so Lily pulls George next to her. Mrs. Lee, grateful for the shade George offers, gives Lily a refreshing orange as thanks. Image: Groundwood Books

In no time, other kids acquire trees of their own and wheel them around, sharing the shade they provide on hot, sunny days and the smiles they prompt from older neighbours. Gay’s distinctive, detailed art culminates in a four-page foldout spread that illustrates how the walking trees help bring a community together to enjoy the outdoors.

Kaiah's Garden, by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Karlene Harvey.

Kaiah’s Garden
By Melanie Florence
Illustrated by Karlene Harvey
North Winds Press / Scholastic Canada
Ages 3 to 7

A story with a focus on Indigenous beadwork, this picture book tells a universal tale about the difficulties of moving to a new home in a new town and adjusting to the inevitable changes. Kaiah misses her grandmother terribly, now that she and her brother and mother have moved away. But thinking of Grandma’s garden reminds her of the treasure box filled with colourful mementos she made after Grandma taught her how to bead — things like a bright-red beaded apple, buttery yellow sun, pink rose and shiny green turtle that remind her of Grandma’s garden. It prompts her to start beading a garden of her own, for her new home.

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