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Spring Flings

          The arrival of spring brings thoughts of gardens, poetry and spring training.  Kevin Henkes’ new picture book, “My Garden,” will get your preschoolers in just the right mood for digging in the dirt.  The young narrator helps her mother in the garden, shooing away the rabbits, watering and weeding.  “But if I had a garden…” the little girl muses and, before you know it, she has imagined a special garden all her own. 




          In her garden, flowers could change color, and even come in patterns.  The rabbits would be made of chocolate so she could eat them.  She would plant seashells and new ones would grow, then plant jellybeans and grow a jellybean bush.  And “…carrots would be invisible because I don’t like carrots.”

Starting with the oversized sunflowers on the end papers, Henkes repeats circular shapes throughout the book, in the hollyhock flowers, the oversized tomatoes, and the little girl’s gardening hat.  Bright pastel colors and a playful sense of fun will prompt gardeners four and older to come up with their own gardening ideas.

In “Mirror Mirror,” Marilyn Singer has created a series of poems that reveal more with each re-reading.  Each tells a familiar fairy tale in poems that are mirror images of each other.  The Goldilocks poem reads, “Asleep in cub’s bed / Blonde / startled by / Bears, / the headline read.”  On the facing page, with slight changes in punctuation and line breaks, the same words in reverse tell the story from the opposite perspective. 

The cleverness of the idea is matched by Singer’s perfect execution – not once does the device strain credulity.  Instead, readers will delight in her inventiveness and enjoy the puzzle-solving aspect of each “reverso,” as she calls these poems.

Josee Massee’s beautifully colored paintings use a similar device, splitting the images for each poem so that they reveal different aspects of the story.  Although this has definite appeal to elementary school readers, it would be fun to challenge middle schoolers to create reversos of their own.

Baseball records are made to be broken, but Ted Williams’ hitting record has never been surpassed.  Fred Bowen tells of a pivotal moment in his career in “No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season.”

It was the summer of 1941, likely Williams’ last season before he went to war, and chances were good that he’d bat .400 for the season.  As the summer went on, he reached .39955, which would have been rounded up to .400, a record.  But there were still a few games to come, and he had to decide:  would he sit out the last doubleheader, knowing he’d already secured the record, or play through with the possibility of losing it?

Bowen obviously admires Williams for his strong work ethic and dedication to practice.  He tells the story in a straightforward style that’s well matched by Chuck Pyle’s illustrations in a style that evokes Norman Rockwell in their realism and attention to detail.  Even kids who don’t follow baseball will find Williams’ story compelling and are sure to admire the decision he made.  Pair this with Jonah Winter’s “You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!” from last year to introduce kids to two baseball greats whose stories are worth remembering.


First published in the Free Lance-Star on April 6, 2010.