The Healing Power of Nature

summer-of-silk-mothsCindy: We have a pair of books today about building community nature projects (in the midst of Michigan winter we both like to think about gardening even if it will be months before we need our trowels again). A Summer of Silk Moths (Flux, 2009) is set in author Margaret Willey’s southwestern Michigan landscape and features two teens who are helping to develop a nature center. Pete, 17, is the right hand man helping Abe with all the work of clearing paths, building fences and anything else that needs to be done. The new nature center is being built in tribute to Abe’s older brother, Paul, who died at a young age in a car accident. Their work and world is upset with the appearance of runaway Nora, Paul’s daughter, who knows nothing about her father or his legacy. Nora is bitter and angry but once she trades her flip-flops for proper work boots, she finds that a love of nature is in her genes. The antagonistic relationship between Pete and Nora gives way slowly to a tenuous budding romance. All of the characters are well developed and all have secrets they are hiding and others yet to be discovered. Some of those secrets are left unanswered, but Willey’s blog promises a sequel is in the works–I just hope it doesn’t take her another ten years to write it! The novel is a modern send up to Gene Stratton Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost, a nature classic that is celebrating its one hundred year anniversary this year. Willey published an essay about this connection in the Nov/Dec 2009 Horn Book that is excerpted here in her blog. Like Porter’s Elnora, Willey’s Nora finds healing and comfort in the natural world as does Pete, who captures his in the artwork he creates sketching the silk moth collection Nora’s father left behind. Willey’s blog has links to moth sites to see these amazing creatures up close. Readers who want to see the real model for the Riverside nature preserve depicted in the novel can look at the Fernwood Botanical Garden in Niles, Michigan. I feel a road trip coming on for next summer!

36233007Lynn: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (Little, Brown 2009) is the second book in today’s post. This book tells of a dreary city without gardens or trees where most people spend their time indoors. One small boy loves being outside and one rainy morning he makes a surprising discovery. On an abandoned railroad track above the city, a few plants were struggling to survive. Liam becomes their gardener and despite a few mistakes, the plants flourish and a real garden begins. The garden like the young gardener wants to explore and over the summer the plants spread, taking over the entire track. When winter comes, Liam spends the cold hours preparing for spring and thinking about the garden. Now the garden really expands and it begins to get help from new gardeners. Soon the city is once more a green and inviting place. It is a lovely quiet story that carries an undoubted message but the message feels as nicely organic as the subject. Brown’s charming illustrations are filled with engaging humorous details that warrant close inspection. As a fanatic gardener myself, I had to smile at the pictures of the plants that popped up in places where they didn’t belong. A lovely part of this book is the way Brown shows children the natural cycle of plants and what a gardener does all as a part of the bigger story. In his author’s note, Brown tells about New York’s Highline gardens, now a park, that inspired this story. Share this book with all the budding gardeners you know. A few more green thumbs may sprout.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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