Author Susan Lendroth says her daughter’s childhood love of the color purple inspired her latest picture book,Piper and Purpa Forever!, with illustrations by Olivia Feng. I’m glad to know of another person as passionate about purple as I am. In fact, the cover’s design and colors alone would convince me to pick up this book. The bonus is that this is a well-crafted story on a topic that will resonate with young readers
The story revolves around Piper who adores a particular hand-me-down purple sweater. Unable to pronounce the word purple, the little girl says “Purpa” so from then on, that’s the name used for the sweater. Though it’s way too big at the beginning that doesn’t matter to Piper. Much like a beloved doll, stuffed animal, or blanket, Purpa comes everywhere. Eventually, Piper grows into her sweater which is great … for a while.
But when Piper’s sweater barely covers her belly button, there is no avoiding the reality that with every new day she is outgrowing Purpa. One of my favorite illustrations is when Piper is on her bed trying desperately to pull the sweater down. Her parents and relatives peek through her bedroom door knowing the inevitable has happened. The worry on their faces shows as they wonder what will happen next. Feng’s artwork, done digitally, has a childlike charm and looks like a blend of crayons and pastels. The colors are soft like Purpa and full of movement and emotion.
Everyone suggests what can be done with the now too-small Purpa. Piper’s dad thinks donating it to the school rummage sale is a good option but that’s met with resistance. Unraveling it and knitting a hat instead is her aunt’s idea. Nope! That doesn’t cut it. But her grandfather’s suggestion of using Purpa to polish his car, sends her running from the room in a rage.
Determined to keep Purpa as her special piece of clothing, Piper pushes her luck and puts it on, though not easily. To remove the sweater later in the day she must go through a series of uncomfortable maneuvers. The frustration is palpable in her expressions as the thought of parting with Purpa is becoming a sad reality. So when Dad brings home a plush koala, it doesn’t take long for Piper to come up with a clever way to keep Purpa close at hand.
Many parents will relate to Lendroth’s sweet story of how children often get attached to a special item and cannot accept letting it go. Piper and Purpa Forever! also allows them to use the book to broach the subject of growing up and how when using a little imagination and sometimes repurposing, those objects of childhood affection can find new ways to bring joy into their lives. When I asked author Lendroth what she felt the takeaway was, she said, “I think the most important takeaway is that growing up doesn’t always mean leaving things behind, that you can adapt and still move forward. Or maybe the important thing is it’s ok to be really really really attached to something!”
Young paleontologists and dinosaur enthusiasts are invited on a fossil dig, set to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush.” Hike the trail, scan the ground, and make a find – then discover how to build a T. Rex from its bones. Includes hand-play motions for sing-alongs and bite-size science sidebars.
GoodReadsWithRonna: There are a lot of dinosaur picture books on the market; how did you try to make your new book Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones stand out from the rest?
Susan Lendroth: Obviously, one of the main differences is that you sing it! The primary verse is set to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush,” but there are also additional bite-sized facts in smaller text on each page, making it a “twice-through” book. Sing it once for the primary verse, and then page through it a second time for the additional text.
The focus on paleontology is also less common, describing the science of excavating fossils, studying them and reconstructing what dinosaurs were like for a very young audience.
GRWR: Besides the additional facts on each page, I noticed the book had extensive back matter. Can you tell me a little about that?
SL: This is my third book for Charlesbridge, and I love that my editor likes to load in more science to the back of the book. I was given room in Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones for such additional tidbits as the theory that many dinosaurs may have had feathers. Plus, the book’s wonderful illustrator, Bob Kolar, included a page identifying all the modern day birds and animals that he scattered through his fossil dig illustrations. You could page through the book a third time just to hunt for and name each of those critters.
GRWR: You included one more thing in back matter, didn’t you? e
SL: Early literacy practices emphasize five elements for reading stories with children: reading, singing, writing (looking at words together), talking and playing. By illustrating interactive arm movements children can make to mime the actions in the book, play was added to the other four practices that the book already encourages.
GRWR: In our current situation where many communities may still be on lockdown with libraries and book stores closed or offering curbside pickup, are you doing anything different to market your book? e
SL: Funny you should ask! My book was released just a couple of weeks before the area where I live was put on lockdown. I was fortunate enough to do readings at two book stores before that happened, but by the time a box of plastic dinosaurs that I had ordered for props arrived, my other readings had been cancelled.
So the dinos and I are having fun on Instagram instead. I am pretty new to posting, having just started my account six months ago. I am learning to market the book without being too heavy-handed by posing dinos around my apartment and patio. Not only am I sharing the title with a broader community, and gaining a few new followers, but I am also relieving the tedium of lockdown. That’s a win win in my books! (Pun intended) Check out dinosaur antics at susanlendroth.
Local L.A. Author, Susan Lendroth, Shares Her Insights About Neighborhood Gardens in a Clever Play on the Beloved Children’s Song.
– A Junior Library Guild Selection
Lendroth’s new read aloud, sing aloud picture book, Old Manhattan Has Some Farms,(Charlesbridge, $16.95, Ages 3-7) is a clever way to introduce urban farming to youngsters while also encouraging interaction with the enjoyable and catchy E-I-E-I-Grow! refrain. The places highlighted in the story are (Manhattan) New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, and The White House in D.C. Little ones will get a brief tour of North America while learning all the different ways to grow food in lots of different locales.
Whether you’ve got a windowsill or a rooftop, Lendroth’s included a variety of garden venues that should make getting started a looked-forward-to adventure. Illustrator Endle’s bold, primary colored art is cheerful and warm like the sunshine, but she even makes a rainy Seattle inviting with swirls of clouds against a lavender sky. Best of all, Lendroth’s included in the end pages what she calls Green Matters with more info on all the ins and outs of urban gardening such as beekeeping, hydroponics and worms. There are links to additional resources and a free song, too, from Caspar Babypants.
Good Reads With Ronna:Old Manhattan is quite different from your other books. When did the seed of this story begin germinating?
Susan Lendroth: Thanks for asking that question, Ronna; I really hadn’t thought about it before now. The truth is that my books — published and unpublished — are all over the map, but yes, the first four that were published all dealt with the past in one way or another, while Old Manhattan Has Some Farms is definitely current. The rhyme just popped into my head when I read an article about a rooftop garden in New York and sort of hummed to myself, Old Manhattan Has a Farm … It’s a bad habit of mine, singing and/or rhyming without warning. I have fought my tendency to write in rhyme because the market for rhyming books is smaller than for picture books in prose. However, sometimes, a rhyme just breaks free, and there is no corralling it.
GRWR: Why do you think the public is experiencing a renewed interest in urban farming and is this a passing trend or here to stay?
SL: Unless we find a more efficient way to clean the air than plants do as a by-product of photosynthesis, I hope making our cities greener is now the norm rather than the exception. Throughout human history until the last 100-150 years, it was commonplace for householders and market gardeners to grow produce in urban areas. Before the advent of fast transportation and refrigeration, it was the only way to put fresh fruits and vegetables on the table. We moved away from that system when it became possible to mass produce food and truck it in. However, another product of our fast-paced age, the internet, has made accessible a great deal of information about the harmful effects of certain pesticides, and people are concerned about the source of the foods that they are eating. Buying from reputable local growers and growing their own foods gives consumers more control. I like to think that our last 100 years of totally separating food sources from consumers was the aberration rather than the norm, but I can’t predict the future.
GRWR:The farm to table movement is something I’ve noted in more restaurants of late. To what do you attribute this?
SL: Fresher produce tastes better. Restaurant patrons can visit farmers markets just like chefs do so they are becoming more savvy about what is available and more discerning about what they want to eat.
GRWR:I just visited Manhattan where The High Line on the West Side was attracting scores of visitors who want to be surrounded by nature. There’s something similar in Paris, too. Do you think this is the next phase in cities around the world?
SL: Oh, I hope so. As cities and their satellite suburbs cover larger and larger stretches of land, it pushes the “countryside” further away. No one should have to commute an hour or two to find a shady nook. And the green spaces are also the cities’ lungs, helping to clean the air and lower the temperatures.
GRWR:Old Manhattan Has Some Farms is a great idea to get kids excited about growing fruit, vegetables, herbs, and getting honey from beekeeping. Did you grow up in a city and do this as a child? And if not, do you do it now with your daughter?
SL: I grew up in a suburb of L.A. where we had a nice-sized backyard. My parents planted a few veggies for us to tend as children, but Mom was more into roses than radishes. I do remember corn and tomatoes, but unfortunately, recall a bumper crop of tomato worms more than our harvest. My daughter and I live in an apartment with a private patio, but it’s shaded for most of the day which means that while tropical plants thrive there, when it comes to sun-loving produce — not-so-much. When my daughter was three-years-old, we planted a few seeds in containers lined up against a sunny wall in the carport. I don’t know if the bees failed to find and pollinate the blossoms or (more likely) the pots were far too small for the plants, but we raised lots of leaves and one watermelon the size of a walnut. Now I stick to herbs on the windowsill. Basil is hearty enough to survive even my poor gardening abilities.
GRWR: You’re so knowledgeable on the subject of sustainable gardening and even include great resources in the back matter of the book. How can parents, schools and even our government encourage more Americans to go green?
SL: Many organizations exist with just that mission. There are foundations dedicated to promoting gardens in schools, neighborhood groups reclaiming city lots for community gardens, architects devoted to designing green buildings, etc. I think anyone interested in any aspect of urban agriculture will be able to find like-minded individuals in their own community with a quick search on the internet. The best encouragement we can all give is to support the movement with our efforts and our funding:
– buy food from co-ops, farmers markets and supermarkets that promote locally grown and organic crops
– make donations to community organizations that reclaim lots, plant school gardens, etc.
donate books, DVDs and other materials about urban greening to local schools
– buy a few potted herbs at the market and let your children tend a windowsill garden, and then cook with them — sprinkle basil on pizzas, dill in a salad, etc. Let everyone taste how fresh makes foods pop.
GRWR:What else would you have liked to have included in the book that space simply did not permit?
SL: Actually, this is one of the first times I wrote a book where I didn’t feel constrained by the word count. One of the benefits of rhyme is that it serves as a kind of shorthand where much is packed into a few words. Plus, I was allowed a section for back matter to explain concepts further so I was satisfied. However, I am sure that there are many elements other people may have wanted me to include, such as backyard chicken coops or cities of different syllable counts, like Portland or Dallas, that just didn’t fit my rhyme pattern.
GRWR: In your opinion, which city or state is doing the best job of promoting urban farming?
SL: I have no way of ranking the efforts. What I do find amazing is how many of them are taking place, from city officials greening up rooftops to municipal codes being changed to allow beekeeping to an edible garden being installed at AT&T Park, the baseball stadium of the San Francisco Giants. Whether a city or state’s efforts is large or small, the fact that any effort is being made should be applauded. I’ll leave the measurement of those efforts to someone else.
GRWR: Can you tell us about the free song by Caspar Babypants readers can get with your picture book?
SL: The amazingly talented Kate Endle, who illustrated Old Manhattan Has Some Farms, is married to the equally talented musician, Christopher Ballew, A.K.A Caspar Babypants. He volunteered to record the book’s text as a song. I’m tempted at readings to just whip that out and play it for the audience while I turn the pages, but in the interests of being more interactive, I gamely sing book with my less-than-professional voice. And audiences are great about singing the refrain with me: E – I- E – I – Grow!
GRWR:Is there anything else you’d like to add before we all head off to buy some seeds?
SL: How about a healthy tip? Right now is a great season to buy organic grapes. My favorites are the black seedless. Pluck them off the bunch, wash them and let them dry on a baking sheet or paper towels spread out on a table. Once they are dry, bag the now clean, ready-to-eat grapes and freeze them. They are the most terrific snack. My daughter says they’re better than ice cream. And they will last long beyond grape season.