May’s Birthday Pick (A Story to Grow Up On)

May 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

Miss Maple's SeedsIf you’re big into symbolism (or if you, like me, tear up when inscribing books for gifts), then you’re going to want to give Miss Maple’s Seeds to all the young seedlings celebrating birthdays this spring. There are lots of wonderful picture books about seeds (Jean Richards’ A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds and Bonnie Christensen’s Plant a Little Seed are two favorites), but none have the magical realism of Miss Maple’s Seeds (Ages 3-7), written and illustrated by newcomer Eliza Wheeler.

Miss Maple is an eccentric, not-quite-of-this-world sort (a bit like my neighbor, who converses with the chipmunks in her backyard). Out of her home inside a hundred-year-old Maple tree, she runs a kind of orphanage for lost seeds, dividing her time between searching for “seeds that got lost during the spring planting” and caring for those seeds until they’re strong enough to lay down roots of their own. “‘Take care, my little ones…for the world is big and you are small,’” she continually reminds her seeds—while bathing them, taking them on educational outings to learn about different soil types, reading to them at bedtime “by firefly light,” and giving them chances to practice “burrowing down into the muddy ground” during thunderstorms. “She’s taking care of them like they’re her babies!” my son was quick to point out, an observation that quickly captured the attention of his younger, doll-obsessed sister.

The story’s prose is unquestionably beautiful: lyrical, concise, and easy to connect back to our own children and the heroes (parents, relatives, teachers) that so lovingly and carefully nurture their growth. But it is Wheeler’s ink-and-watercolor illustrations, light and airy and with just a touch of whimsy, that make this gem soar. Sporting a willow weed hat, pointed nose, and delicate slit eyes, Miss Maple epitomizes tenderness in all that she does, whether sweeping her hearth to welcome the new seeds to her home or bidding each one farewell as she sends them down the river in lantern-lit leaf boats to find new homes.

One of the most enticing illustrations looks like something out of a naturalist’s guide, depicting 20 seeds with their species names captioned below in cursive writing (presumably from the hand of Miss Maple). From the fat acorn to the oval pumpkin seed to the single grain of wild rice, the page exhibits not only the visual diversity of nature’s seeds but also the magic that seems to lie within (a giant sunflower grows out of THAT?).

On the left, the page mentioned above with the seed pictures and  names. On the right, Miss Maple tenderly scrubbing the orphaned seeds.

On the left, the page mentioned above with the seed pictures and names. On the right, Miss Maple tenderly scrubbing the orphaned seeds.

We all need a little bit of Miss Maple’s tenderness in our own relationship with the earth, just like our own children need the reassurance that “even the grandest of trees once had to grow up from the smallest of seeds.” I dare you not to tear up when you copy that quote inside the cover of this book for your next gift.

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