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Paula Morrow

‘Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer,’ ‘Tess’s Tree’ and ‘Quiet in the Garden’

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Three new picture books express the deep connection a child can feel with nature.

“Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer” loves earthworms so much that she thinks the County Fair should have a prize for Best Worms. Since it doesn’t, she instead helps her neighbors prepare their entries in the Tallest Cornstalk, Best Egg-Layer (hen), and Prettiest Puppy contests. As the book’s title suggests, Winnie’s strategy involves earthworms. The ending is predictable but delightfully satisfying. A final page tells young readers how to start their own worm farms.

Bright, cartoon-style watercolor artwork takes full advantage of the humorous possibilities of the story. A curious cat, not mentioned in the text, accompanies Winnie and provides droll nonverbal commentary through its actions. Young readers will never look at worms in quite the same way again.

“Tess’s Tree” has the distinction of having been first published on the Internet, then picked up by a major publisher for print publication. After a storm severely damages Tess’s beloved old tree, the once-mighty tree has to be cut down. Tess goes through anger and grief, then comes up with her own way of accepting her loss and celebrating the memory of her tree.

Colorful watercolor illustrations reflect the many moods of the story. Oddly, Tess is described as “exactly 9 years, 3 months, and 2 days old” (perhaps in honor of the real Tess who inspired the author), but the illustrations show a much younger child. While the immediate appeal is to preschoolers, older kids will also appreciate the gentle environmental message and if they find themselves in a similar situation may be moved to follow Tess’s example.

The narrator of “Quiet in the Garden” has discovered a wonderful secret: if he is very still, he can see tiny adventures happening all around him. If he is very quiet, he can hear the robin, snail, squirrel, spider, and many more creatures in the garden. Running parallel to the main story text, smaller type presents tiny conversations among his small wild neighbors.

After watching and listening, the little boy picks fruits, veggies, and berries for a picnic with his new friends. The author’s distinctive illustrations in watercolor, crayon, and ink bring the garden and all its inhabitants to life. The last page has simple suggestions for a reader to make his or her own quiet garden in a flowerpot, windowbox, or patch of soil.

A love of nature can bring lifelong joy. These three books encourage a child to interact with the natural world in fulfilling ways.

Children’s literature specialist Paula Morrow lives and writes in Princeton. She welcomes comments and book suggestions at Reviews@PaulaMorrow.com.

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