In Defense of Food
Real food -- the kind of food your great-grandmother would recognize as food - is being undermined by science on one side and the food industry on the other, both of whom want us focus on nutrients, good and bad, rather than actual plants, animals and fungi. According to author Michael Pollan, the rise of "nutritionism" has vastly complicated the lives of American eaters without doing anything for our health, except possibly to make it worse. Nutritionism arose to deal with a genuine problem -- the fact that the modern American diet is responsible for an epidemic of chronic diseases, from obesity and type II diabetes to heart disease and many cancers -- but it has obscured the real roots of that problem and stood in the way of a solution. In 200 pages, Pollan outlines the challenge and offers a straightforward manifesto -- "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." -- as well as practical advice on how to accomplish these deceptively simple goals.
Nine-year-old Kim plants lima beans in an empty, trash-filled lot as a memorial to her Vietnamese father. Her planting is discovered by Anna, a Rumanian immigrant who has lived on Gibbs Street in Cleveland for 70 years. This discovery leads to the clearing of the lot and the beginning of a community garden, which grows both plants and relationships. The immigrant families of Gibbs Street are living in the isolation caused by poverty and escalated by cultural and language differences. Through the voices and dialects of 13 of the gardeners, we learn about the day-to-day life of the inner-city poor. The walls of isolation break down among the community members as they discuss gardening, assist each other in transporting water, and watch over each others' precious crops. Fleischman has carefully woven the lives of the characters with the common thread of the garden. His succinct use of language creates physical and personality images of each character. Children and adults will enjoy his short book. Teachers will delight in the first-person narratives as a beginning point for writing assignments. The book could be read aloud to classes as a starting point for research on the problems in big cities or on the building of communities. It will be used by social studies teachers, writing teachers, and teachers of literature.
Tops & Bottoms
Adapted and illustrated by Janet Stevens
Ages 4 - 7
Large, dynamic double-page-spread paintings are only part of the charm of this very funny picture book. Easily recognizable as a trickster tale (Stevens' source note roots the story in European folktales and slave stories of the American South), this features appealing, contemporary cousins of Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear. Here, Bear and Hare are involved in a gardening partnership, with industrious, clever Hare reaping all the vegetable profits. As usual, Stevens' animal characters, bold and colorful, are delightful. Hare, decked out in a lively gardening shirt and surrounded by mischievous offspring, is the image of determination. It's Bear, however, who wins the personality prize: he snoozes away each planting season squashed in his favorite chair, changing positions with each flip of the page. It's all wonderful fun, and the book opens, fittingly, from top to bottom instead of from side to side, making it perfect for story-time sharing.
Rabbit, a very organized animal, loves carrot soup. He spends the long winter paging through carrot catalogs (a full-page spread shows the different colors, shapes, and sizes of eight kinds of carrots). Then he plows and plants, waters and weeds, and waits. Finally it's time to harvest, but when he goes to pick the carrots, they are all gone. He frantically questions all the animals he knows, but not one admits to liking carrots. "Discouraged and disappointed, Rabbit went home," where he discovered a wonderful surprise.