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Compost Stew Review for International Compost Awareness Week

COMPOST STEW:
AN A TO Z RECIPE FOR THE EARTH
Written by Mary McKenna Siddals
Illustrated by Ashley Wolff
(Tricycle Press/Random House Children’s Books;
$15.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3 and up)

 

Compost Stew book cover illustration

 

For International Compost Awareness Week I wanted to check out Mary McKenna Siddals’ popular picture book, Compost Stew, because it’s always recommended for Earth Day as well as when a well-crafted “green-themed” book is needed to share its important content. It turns out that while I had’t read it before, it felt so familiar because my daughter, around age five or six, used to make her own variation of compost stew although quite unintentionally! Who knew then that it would have helped our garden grow or that we were accidental environmentalists?

 

Interior artwork from Compost Stew

Interior spread from Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth written by Mary McKenna Siddals and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, Tricycle Press/Random House BYR ©2010/2014

 

Earth’s resources are not infinite so it’s important for children to learn early on to treat our planet with respect, and how. In Compost Stew readers will be treated to a recipe for outdoor fun from A to Z beginning with “apple cores” and “bananas, bruised” all the way through to “yellow pine shavings” and “Zinnia heads.” But the best part is reading about what other ingredients get added to the environmentally friend concoction. Adding to the appeal of this story are illustrator Ashley Wolff’s “collage illustrations using recycled and found materials.” Not only do they pair perfectly together with Sidall’s prose, but looking at the newspaper and other items Wolff has incorporated into the artwork may yield some surprises like the stew itself.

 

 

Interior artwork from Compost Stew

Interior spread from Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth written by Mary McKenna Siddals and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, Tricycle Press/Random House BYR ©2010/2014

 

Siddals’ story, though eight years old, feels as fresh and appropriate today as it would have when first published. And caring for our planet never goes out of style! Having reviewed several of Siddals’ other picture books (Bringing the Outside In and Shivery Shades of Halloween) I should have known there would be catchy, clever rhyme involved bringing a bonus to this already engaging and educational story.

 

Final int spread from Compost Stew

Interior spread from Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth written by Mary McKenna Siddals and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, Tricycle Press/Random House BYR ©2010/2014

 

A helpful “Chef’s Note” is included as back matter so that youngsters will know what truly constitutes compost and what does not.

Grass clippings
Hair snippping
and an Insect or two

Just add to the pot
and let it all rot
into Compost Stew.

For example, egg shells are okay but not meat or dairy. Siddals also smartly advises readers to check with authorities for local regulations. Keeping that in mind, it’s time to start looking around to see what might go into your very first compost stew. Happy cooking!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Behind-the-scenes with illustrator Ashley Wolff on the making of Compost Stew:
https://gotstorycountdown.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/earth-day/

Illustrator Ashley Wolff on the creation of Compost Stew:
https://dulemba.blogspot.ca/2015/04/ashley-wolffs-compost-stew.html

Author’s Website: www.siddals.com
Illustrator’s Website: www.ashleywolff.com
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/CompostStew
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Bringing the Outside In (Random House)
Shivery Shades of Halloween (Random House)
Compost Stew (Tricycle/Random House)
Millions of Snowflakes (Clarion/Scholastic)
Tell Me a Season (Clarion)
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http://www.facebook.com/BringingTheOutsideInBook
http://www.facebook.com/ShiveryShadesOfHalloween
http://www.facebook.com/CompostStew

Garden-Themed Books for Spring: Lola Plants a Garden & In Mary’s Garden

Lola Plants a Garden
Written by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
(Charlesbridge; $15.95, Ages 2-5)

In Mary’s Garden
By Tina and Carson Kugler
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

Spring is only a few short weeks away, and most of the country can’t wait to thaw out. In anticipation of sunshine and warmer temperatures, here are two picture books about different types of gardens.

Lola-Plants-Garden-cvr.jpgIn Lola Plants a Garden, young Lola is inspired to plant a garden after reading the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” poem. First, she conducts her research with books from the library. Next, she and Mommy make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers. Then they’re off to buy seeds and carefully follow the instructions on the seed packets. But growing a garden doesn’t happen quickly, and Lola has to wait. Not to worry, as Lola and her parents have plenty of ways to keep busy.

Lola makes her own flower book…She finds shells and some old beads. She even makes a little Mary Mary. Daddy helps Lola hang her shiny bells. Lola finds Mary Mary a special spot. It’s just perfect. And, before Lola knows it, her flowers grow and her friends visit. They share the crunchy peas and sweet strawberries…What kind of garden will Lola plant next?

Int-Lola-Garden.jpg

Interior artwork from Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn with illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014

This sweet book highlights the fun of getting back to nature and teaches the virtues of hard work and patience. Good things come to those who wait, and Lola must wait for her flowers to sprout and grow. With the help of her parents, Lola doesn’t dwell on the waiting and enjoys her time with related activities. I just adore the illustrations. They are bright with the little details that convey so much meaning. We know Lola is working hard on her flower book when we see her tongue stick out from the corner of her mouth. And pulling weeds isn’t easy as we can tell from Lola wiping her brow. I especially liked seeing how Mommy and Lola lean into each other as they make cupcakes. These touches are the illustrator’s mastery. The font is also spot on with just the right size and style (modern with clean lines) to help emerging readers identify letters and words.

 

InMarysGarden-cvr.jpgIn Marys’ Garden brings to life a true story of art and inspiration. Mary Nohl was a little girl in Wisconsin who loved to create, invent, and build things. Mary tried woodworking. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She won the first place prize in her industrial arts class for building a model airplane. This was unusual for the time, as girls were supposed to follow traditional paths. In fact, Mary was one of only two girls in the class. But Mary had an intrepid spirit and a keen eye for art. As she grew older, she traveled the world and drew inspiration from everywhere. One summer, her dogs, Sassafras and Basil, found driftwood on the lakeshore. Mary then began to hunt for more items—old keys, shiny rocks, feathers, cogs, combs, and on. She began to create. It took a long time to put together all the odds and ends and bits and bobs, but finally Mary was done. The creature was magnificent. She continued to create art piece after art piece in her garden and then in her home. After her death, Mary’s art is being preserved.

My daughters and I greatly enjoy this story. It shows a woman who follows her own path and mind. Despite society’s conventions, Mary Nohl kept true to herself and her muse. These are lofty concepts, but even young children can understand the idea that a person can do what she loves. Older children will hopefully take away the lesson that gender shouldn’t stop someone from achieving milestones and following a dream. The book ends with factual information and photographs of Mary and her garden.

The book’s art is traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers. Postcards, patterns, and writing are used as backgrounds for the main illustrations and offer a look at Mary’s creativity. The “creatures” (statues and creations) are unconventional but fun to study. They demonstrate Mary’s incredible imagination. There’s a lot to take away from In Mary’s Garden—creativity, inspiration, challenging society’s norms, being true to yourself—and it’s well worth the read.

NOTE: If you live in L.A., you can see Tina and Carson Kugler at Once Upon a Time Bookstore at 11a.m. on March 28th.

Here’s a book trailer to enjoy, too.

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