Monthly Archives: October 2022

Little Homesteader: A Fall Treasury of Recipes, Crafts, and Wisdom, by Angela Ferraro-Fanning

As our world spins faster and faster and our connection to the natural world grows more distant, many of us feel a yearning for a simpler existence, and thoughtful parents desire to see their children live richer, more mindful lives.

Angela Ferraro-Fanning has written a series of picture books tied to seasonal themes and activities. The fall volume is filled with apples and pumpkins. The author explains what happens to plants and animals in the fall, and then she offers an array of suggestions for traditional activities for young children. The book offers many recipes and craft ideas, often needing adult supervision. Illustrator Annelies Draws covers the matte pages with cute, childlike drawings of rosy-cheeked, diverse children and cheerful animals.

Ferraro-Fanning maintains an environmental awareness throughout, which seems to be important to the publisher, also, as Quarto’s Ivy Kids announces on the front and back that the book is printed on 100% recycled paper. Suggestions for using up waste are sprinkled into the pages, too. After the cinnamon applesauce recipe, there are instructions for making apple tea or feeding your peels and core to animals. After the pumpkin muffin recipe, children are encouraged to roast the seeds or make percussion instruments with them. There are many more ideas that are not food-related, as well, and I am fascinated with the idea of making acorn cap tealights as part of a fall centerpiece.

These are valuable books of simple, wholesome ideas to get your little ones away from screens and toward self-sufficiency—in other words, to make them little homesteaders! Creative, warm, and fun.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng

Bird’s mom was a poet who read him fairy stories and taught him to work in the garden. Now she is gone, and Bird lives alone with his father, who says that Bird must now be called Noah. His father used to be an etymology professor, but now he shelves books in the university library so that they can share a dorm suite. Bird doesn’t understand why they had to move out of their house.

Margaret was pregnant with Bird shortly after The Crisis, when no one had work and people scrounged through abandoned stores and trash cans for food and clothing. Everything was better now, though, and everyone was patriotic. Very carefully patriotic. Margaret and her new husband were living in a rosy glow with a little house and a baby on the way, so they were able to ignore the posters in all of the shop windows about PACT, the Preserving American Culture and Traditions act. After all, it was targeted toward anti-American Asians, and they were good Americans, even though Margaret’s parents were from China.

 Ng’s newest novel is frightening not just as dystopian fiction, but because so many of her details can be seen in our culture today. Having survived a slow-rolling crisis not long ago, we can see how easy it would be for a desperate nation to accept unthinkable levels of authoritarian government, and once that regime is in place, how difficult it would be to loosen its grip on power. We can all flatter ourselves that we would resist tyranny to the death until the authorities play their ultimate card: they will take away your children. Everyone in Ng’s world will give up any of their rights if they can recover their missing hearts.

I almost hesitated to read this novel because I worried that it could not live up to Little Fires Everywhere, which I loved and reviewed here. Our Missing Hearts is every bit as good, although completely different. It doesn’t hurt that it is a love letter to librarians, who play a heroic role throughout. The audiobook is read by Lucy Liu, whose calm voice is often filled with emotion whether she reads from Bird’s or Margaret’s perspective. Celeste Ng reads the foreword and the epilogue.

A dystopian novel that slowly reveals its shocking details, Our Missing Hearts packs an emotional punch and will leave you shaken. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I listened to an audiobook of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

She steps into a patch of sweetgrass and asks its permission to take some. She waits. When she feels that she has been accepted, she leaves a bit of tobacco from her pouch as a gift, according to the Law of Reciprocity. Only then does she begin to harvest some stems of sweetgrass—never the first plant, and never more than half. Those who take all of a species or clearcut the land fall prey to the Wendigo, a ravenous beast of indigenous folklore who is never satiated and is always seeking to devour.

Robin Wall Kimmerer takes her students on camping trips out to the forest or swamp so that they can turn their Latin nomenclature into true knowledge. Kimmerer has found a way to combine her Ph.D. in plant ecology with her ancestral Potawatomi traditional wisdom in practices that will bring healing to the land, the plants, and the humans who live here. As she writes of her daughters’ childhoods, her nurturing spirit shines through stories of maple sugaring and pond reclamation. The chapters are interwoven with Potawatomi creation myths, memoirs of family and friends, and detailed scientific experiments. Kimmerer believes that we have lost touch with the natural world, and that we have forfeited so much peace and wisdom from not listening and receiving its gifts.

Everywhere I turned, I heard Braiding Sweetgrass mentioned as the best resource to teach us how to reconnect spiritually with creation and what was variously called the “non-human” world, the “other-than-human” world, or the “more-than-human” world. I listened to the audiobook, which is almost seventeen hours long and is read in Kimmerer’s soft, kind voice. Although it was originally published in 2013, our library system still has holds lists on our many copies of both the print and digital editions. In other words, the message is enduring and is growing more and more important every day. The stories and ideas are so absorbing that I often arrived at work with no clear memory of my commute, floating in a peaceful, thoughtful state.

If you are a botanist or a camper, an ecologist or a gardener, or just someone who watches water disappearing in western North America and swallowing Florida, Kimmerer has a unique perspective on how we can begin to heal. She can stand in a rainstorm and watch droplets form on moss, name every tiny bit of the plants in Latin, and then draw spiritual lessons from her observations. Those of us who are descendants of European immigrants, steeped in consumerism and rugged individualism, have much to learn from indigenous understandings of the land and of human relationships with the natural world.

Very highly recommended. A must-read.

Disclaimer: I listened to an audiobook edition of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Farm That Feeds Us, by Nancy Castaldo

How many kids today, if asked where their food came from, would say, “the grocery store”? As our culture moves away from family farms, it becomes more and more important for us to teach our children about how vegetables grow and how animals are raised so that they can make good choices for their own health and the health of the planet. Of course, such efforts can backfire, as when an elementary class a few years ago televised their school garden. When they pulled up a ripe carrot, the children exclaimed, “Ew! It came out of the dirt!” and the entire class swore off vegetables for life.

The Farm That Feeds Us shows “a year in the life of an organic farm,” with large, busy pages filled with the various activities that happen on different kinds of farms. Castaldo begins by explaining that there are arable (crop) farms, dairy farms, poultry and sheep farms, orchards, and others, and defines what “organic” means. She then launches into spring, showing the equipment needed to prepare and plant fields, always a big hit with little ones. Throughout the year, different aspects of farming are given a more detailed treatment on double-page spreads with illustrator Ginnie Hsu’s colorful paintings: orchards and beekeeping, the farmer’s market, breadmaking, dairy herds, sheep shearing, pest control, pollination, county fairs, cool weather crops, and putting the farm to bed for the winter.

Throughout this friendly volume, Castaldo helps children to see the connection between farms and the broader population, such as marketing to restaurants and supermarkets, making it clear that farming is not a hobby, but an occupation. Whereas most children’s books would say “sheep have wool,” this title shows many different breeds of sheep and why they are valued. It also mentions breeds that are endangered and does not shy away from saying when animals are used for meat. There are similar layouts with varieties of pigs, corn, and apples. Conservation and making good choices are stressed throughout.

Cozy interior scenes show the family making pies or bread, and there is a simple bread recipe for children to try. The author ends with notes on supporting local growers and how to eat healthy foods, as well as a glossary of agricultural terms. Your kids will come away knowing that farming is hard work all year long, but that it is also deeply satisfying and important.

Recommended for urban, suburban, and rural five- to ten-year-olds.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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