Friday, January 21, 2011

What does the groundhog really see? Shadow or food?

Children never complain about the weather: they love freezing and snow blocked ‘inconvenient’ ( grown-ups’ perspective) winter as much as they love hot sweaty ‘unpleasant’ (grown-ups’ perspective) summer. Yet, they do long for spring when winter seems too long (mainly to be free from a heavy coat, I figure). Still in the middle of deep winter, everyone is getting “restless,” and that’s around February. Luckily, Groundhog Day is right on February 2, which will tell us how much more winter fun we will have or when winter will be over.

Groundhog Day is a folk custom and a tradition that puzzles and amuses children in a way no other “days” do. It gives them a chance to know the ways farmers used to live, to learn about certain beliefs, and getting familiar with unfamiliar animals (like a groundhog), and their behaviors. Lorna Balian, one of the much-beloved children’s book authors, whose books are often passed down from a mother to a daughter, captures all aspects of this unique tradition in A Garden for a Groundhog, in a playful manner, let alone her much praised illustrations.
Mr. and Mrs. O’Leary live in a small cottage with their cat in a small farm that has a tiny shed for the goat, the lamb and two chickens, and a tiny vegetable garden. There is also an apple tree, under which a groundhog, who loves vegetable as much as the O’Learys, owns his burrow, and hibernates there. All winter long the O’Learys spend time knitting and reading, and eating a lot of zucchini dishes. But Mrs. O’Leary and Mr. O’Leary have a little different opinion about a groundhog. When Groundhog Day came they went out to see what the groundhog saw!

The water-color illustrations are so distinguished- detailed touch, gentle lines, and, the warmth of colors is radiated in page after page. There are five kitchen scenes in the book, which are slightly different one from another, that make me restless to find out what has been altered!: the stove, the sink, the calender, the cat, the “Home Sweet Home” picture, the number of zucchinis, and a lot more.

A Garden for a Groundhog can be read on many different levels (I didn’t get why they eat so many zucchini dishes when reading it for the first time), from preschoolers to early graders would find different giggling (and learning) points in their own ways. A Garden for a Groundhog is lovely and playful just like the lamb, the goat, and hens peeking outside of a shed on a snow falling winter night, or kicking-up their heels in the spring grass. And Lorna Balian tells a story in a way a grandmother tells a story in her warm kitchen when the snow falls quietly.

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