Review of ‘Sylvia’
Review of ‘Sylvia’
Written and illustrated by Christine Sharp.
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Age Range: Early Childhood – organic gardeners of all ages
Themes: snails; gardening; organic gardening; produce; community; sustainability; poetry; love.
To add this book to your home, school or library collection click on cover or title links.
I have so been looking forward to the release of ‘Sylvia’, as Christine Sharp’s former picture book, ‘Bea’ is a firm favourite at home and in my school library – my very gushing review of ‘Bea’ is here.
It’s always a bit of a worry when I build a book up too much, but ‘Sylvia’ actually exceeded my expectations and certainly those of ChickPea…who can now recite pretty much the entire book. Yesterday, whilst purchasing socks at Kmart, she insisted we purchase a ‘snail’ sign that we walked past in the gardening section. She cried and cried until, at 6pm I could stand it no longer and drove to my school kitchen garden so she could stick the sign amongst the parsley and comfrey, ‘for Sylvia’.
Dear Simon Green, I love you. I love your luscious lettuce, choice cucumbers and buttery beans. I desire your dandelion, cabbage and kale. Oh, Simon Green, how I pine for your parsley leaves and fresh young peas. Your spinach and your strawberries are so scrumptious.
Sylvia the snail is in love with Simon Green and his perfect produce. But Sylvia is just a small snail in a gigantic garden, so how can she get him to notice her? And it seems Simon Green is (initially) not feeling the love for Sylvia and the holes she leaves in his kale!
As the ‘head’ of our Earth Angels group at school, clearly I was always going to love a book depicting home gardening and organic produce. But there was so much to love in this book! It romps along beautifully, the production quality is outstanding and the illustrations are works of art (are they for sale I wonder? I need a garden one!). There are even bearded hipsters with enviro bags and vegetable smoothies – seriously. Could this book be any better?
I’ve tried to work out why ChickPea AKA The Wild Thing, who is three years old, so identifies with ‘Sylvia’, as I am always trying to figure out what makes a children’s book work for children. PudStar thinks that the endpapers are what ChickPea likes best (proud mother/librarian moment…endpapers people!). But I think it’s that Christine has somehow captured, in text and art, the utter fascination that young ones have with creatures like snails. They take the time to notice these things…unlike us adult gardeners who would really prefer the snails leave our kale and cabbages alone.
Both my children spend hours in the garden – most especially when in the garden of my parents, who are both keen gardeners and have the most enormously wonderful space for their five granddaughters to romp in and pick edible delights from. I manage the school kitchen garden at work and it is bursting with food. I love showing young people and their families how easy it is to grow and cook with ingredients from an edible garden. The only plant that never survives in the kitchen garden is the stevia…once I let slip that stevia was a sugar substitute it got eaten down to the ground four times over by sugar mad students.
As a passionate organic gardener and purchaser of locally grown produce, Christine hopes ‘Sylvia’ will inspire children to take an interest in growing, harvesting and eating wholesome, seasonal food. She states; ‘In a world of large-scale commercial food growing practices that are often unkind to our health and the health of the planet, growing at home or buying from the local growers’ market can promote wellbeing and create community, while taking care of the Earth’.
Sustainability is a cross curriculum priority in The Australian Curriculum, and ‘Sylvia’ fits the bill perfectly. There are excellent teachers notes here which outline a number of ways ‘Sylvia’ can be used in the classroom context.
Some of my other favourite books about gardening with children are here. My rave about my grandfathers’ garden is here – he really was an amazing gardener. If you want to make a worm tower (mine are still going strong two years on!)?…see here. If you would like to try growing carrots in a pot see here. If you want to start off miniature…try a fairy garden or a dinosaur garden, or even an egghead.
So Christine, you now have ‘Bea’ and ‘Sylvia’…who is next? I think you need a worm.