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Almost to Freedom

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson: Voices from History

Books have been a part of Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s life since the day she was born. “My mother found my name in a novel she was reading,” Nelson says. Books and family and history form a thread through many of Nelson’s award-winning picture books.
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Sam and the Tigers

Julius Lester

Julius Lester loved language and he loved story. Language, Lester wrote, is not just words and what they mean; music and rhythm are also part of the meaning.  Just reading his books for children makes us want to read them out loud to hear that music and rhythm along with his gift for putting words together.
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Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom

Carole Boston Weatherford

Carole Boston Weatherford has been writing since she was in first grade. Her father taught printing and was able to publish those early stories. Weatherford has written dozens of picture books for young readers — and all readers. We cannot be exhaustive here, but we can introduce you to this wonderful writer.
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Beautiful Blackbird

Ashley Bryan: Brave for Life

Ashley Bryan's life has been so full of making children’s books and there are so many wonderful children’s books that we can only call out a few—a few enticements, and encourage you to take yourself on a wonderful journey into Ashley Bryan’s world.
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Max and the Tag-Along Moon

Revisiting the Moon

A full moon on December 29 ended the year 2020. New year, new moon, and we are thinking once again about moon books – we’ve looked at some of these before, but good books, like the moon, keep coming back.
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The Great Migration: Journey to the North

In the Neighborhood of Eloise Greenfield

Eloise Green­field
In this sea­son of gift-giv­ing we want to look at the gift of poet­ry, specif­i­cal­ly the poet­ry and writ­ing of Eloise Green­field. Since pub­lish­ing her first poem in 1962, she has writ­ten more than forty-five books for chil­dren and was the recip­i­ent of the 2018 Coret­ta Scott King Vir­ginia Hamil­ton Award for Life­time Achieve­ment.
more
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You Hold Me Up

We Are Grateful

We have to con­fess to book envy — that is encoun­ter­ing a pic­ture book and wish­ing that we had writ­ten it. The book’s approach is so arrest­ing, the heart of the book so big, the images so rich. Such books not only make us wish we’d done them, they change what we want to do and what we can do.
more
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Radiant Child

Javaka Steptoe

Though our focus this month is on Javaka Steptoe, we want to begin this column with another book by his father, John Steptoe, Daddy is a Monster…Sometimes. This book is narrated by two children, Bweela and Javaka, who begin, “We are Bweela and Javaka and we have a daddy. He’s a nice daddy and all, but he got somethin’ wrong with him… .”
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Stev

John Steptoe’s Beautiful Books

This month we want to celebrate the work of John Steptoe, brilliant artist and writer, who was born on September 14, 1950. His work is a year-round birthday present to all of us.
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The Grouchy Ladybug

The Very Amazing Eric Carle

Phyl­lis: Spring is final­ly here, and the pol­li­na­tors are buzzing in the blos­soms, so we thought we’d write about bugs this month. Plus, we’ve just fin­ished a book with our good friend and fel­low writer Liza Ketchum about the rusty-patched bum­ble­bee, the first bum­ble­bee to be list­ed as endan­gered. Once we start­ed look­ing for bug­gy books, we found so many by Eric Car­le, from very hun­gry cater­pil­lars to very grouchy lady­bugs to very lone­ly fire­flies that we decid­ed to look at his body of work.… more
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Books about Baking Up Family Time

Jack­ie: We decid­ed to hon­or the nation’s new­found love of bak­ing with a col­umn on pic­ture books focused on bak­ing. We still don’t have libraries (a great ben­e­fit of this con­fine­ment is the reminder of how spe­cial and nec­es­sary are libraries in our lives) so we are lim­it­ed to books we can find read aloud on Youtube.… more
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Duck in the Truck

Just Spring

Phyl­lis: e.e. cum­mings said it best when he described the world as mud-lus­cious and pud­dle-won­der­ful. Snow melts and runs bab­bling away, days length­en, green sprouts of skunk cab­bage and rhubarb poke out. This month we are look­ing at mud­dy, squishy, rainy, wet sto­ries in hon­or of spring. Mud by Mary Lyn Ray, illus­trat­ed by Lau­ren Stringer, begins, “One night it hap­pens.…… more
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Tree Talk

We have been think­ing of trees — green, leafy, bloom­ing, buzzing trees. It’s not that we’re tired of win­ter. We love win­ter. Phyl­lis even has snow­shoes — and uses them! Jack­ie loves walk­ing in the snowy qui­et and the near­ly mono­chro­mat­ic land­scape. We both love can­dles, sweaters, and hot soup. But every now and then we think of green.… more
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Snowflake Bentley

A Blizzard of Snow Books

We’re snowed under right now, what with teach­ing and writ­ing and, well, snow, so we thought we’d offer up a bliz­zard of books about the white stuff that falls from our skies.  Curl up with a child, a cup of warmth, and enjoy win­ter in the pages of a book. The Snow Par­ty by Beat­rice Schenk De Reg­niers and Ber­nice Myers A lone­ly woman who lives with her hus­band on a Dako­ta farm wish­es for a par­ty. … more
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Celebrating Winter Celebrations

Phyl­lis: Win­ter has come down like a snowy blan­ket, and ani­mals in our world have migrat­ed, hiber­nat­ed, or are shiv­er­ing their way through the months ahead. But ani­mals in pic­ture books have oth­er ideas. Why not be a part of December’s cel­e­bra­tions of Hanukkah, Christ­mas, Sol­stice or help a friend in frozen need? These books make us feel as cozy as a cup of tea, a light­ed tree.… more
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Wild Berries

Sense of Wonder

In her book A Sense of Won­der, Rachel Car­son wrote: If I had influ­ence with the good fairy who is sup­posed to pre­side over the chris­ten­ing of all chil­dren, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of won­der so inde­struc­tible that it would last through­out life, as an unfail­ing anti­dote against the bore­dom and dis­en­chant­ments of lat­er years, the ster­ile pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with things that are arti­fi­cial, the alien­ation from the sources of our strength.… more
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Ostrich and Lark

Birds

Watch­ing birds is one of the joys of the out­door year (or the indoor year, giv­en the right win­dow place­ment). Emi­ly Dick­in­son notes the “inde­pen­dent ecsta­sy” of their songs. And we can dis­cern per­son­al­i­ties in cer­tain birds. Jays will peremp­to­ri­ly take over a feed­ing sta­tion. Chick­adees perk­i­ly fly in for a seed or two or a sip of water.… more
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Celebrating the Square Pegs

This month the two of us are actu­al­ly in the same place at the same time, and we’re hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about square pegs. We are all not just square pegs and round pegs. We are tri­an­gles, pen­tagons, hexa­gon, oval, rhom­boids, stars. There are shapes for every­one and places, too, where each of us fits best. But we all know what being a square peg means.… more
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Jerome By Heart

Friends, Friends

Jack­ie: We two friends have been doing this blog since 2015. Yet, we’ve nev­er done a col­umn on books about friends. We know there are many, and many clas­sics, such as the always-sat­is­fy­ing Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel, or William Steig’s Amos and Boris, or James Marshall’s George and Martha. But today we want to look at three, one by one of our favorite writ­ers Lucille Clifton.… more
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Come On, Rain!

Weathering Weather

Phyl­lis: Min­neso­ta has had a win­ter full of weath­er this year. We’ve just fin­ished the snowiest Feb­ru­ary on record, and now March is blow­ing down on us with the promised of wind and rain and (most like­ly) still more snow. An anony­mous British poet wrote of the weath­er, “We’ll weath­er the weath­er what­ev­er the weath­er.” We decid­ed to not only weath­er the weath­er but to cel­e­brate it with a few weath­ery pic­ture books.… more
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Thank You, Omu!

Making Something Out of Nothing

Jack­ie: We are in cold, cold win­ter. Too cold to read seed cat­a­logs – spring just seems too far away to imag­ine frag­ile green. We are con­fined to cab­in. What to do but think of repur­pos­ing, mak­ing some­thing out of noth­ing, or next to nothing? Stone Soup by Mar­cia Brown has always been one of my favorite some­thing-out-of-noth­ing (or at least some­thing out of stones) sto­ries.… more
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Too Many Mittens

Knit One, Purl Two

Phyl­lis: Two sticks and some string. That’s the most basic def­i­n­i­tion of knit­ting. The sticks might be met­al or wood. The string might be yarn or flax. But in the hands of a knit­ter, even an unskilled one such as I, they become magic. In the chilly months, we bun­dle up in cozy sweaters, snug mit­tens, hats that hug our heads.… more
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Pie and Gratitude

Novem­ber is a month of grat­i­tude — and, for us, a month to cel­e­brate Pie. We all have a favorite. Many of us have child­hood mem­o­ries of good times and pie. We all wait for the days when we can eat pie for break­fast. So we two thought this would be the per­fect month to look at pic­ture books about pie.… more
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Lucille Clifton: All About Love

Poet Lucille Clifton in a 1998 inter­view “Doing What You Will Do,” pub­lished in Sleep­ing with One Eye Open: Women Writ­ers and the Art of Sur­vival, said, “I think the oral tra­di­tion is the one which is most inter­est­ing to me and the voice in which I like to speak.” Asked about the most impor­tant aspect of her craft, she answered, “For me, sound … sound, the music of a poem, the feel­ing are most impor­tant.… more
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Chasing Peace: Refugee Stories

This sum­mer, deeply trou­bling sto­ries about migrants and refugees at the US-Mex­i­can bor­der have come to us in news­pa­per sto­ries, record­ings, pho­tographs, and videos. In choos­ing to sep­a­rate chil­dren from their par­ents, our gov­ern­ment has shown a dis­turb­ing lack of empa­thy for peo­ple flee­ing vio­lence and tur­moil in their home coun­tries. It is our hope that these pic­ture books will help fos­ter empa­thy and shed light on the com­plex issues of migra­tion for young read­ers, while giv­ing a sense of the courage, resilience, and human­i­ty behind each journey.… more
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Woodpecker Wham!

Taking Time for a Close Look

Jack­ie: Phyl­lis is on the road with her beau­ti­ful and infor­ma­tive new book Search­ing for Minnesota’s Native Wild­flow­ers. [While Phyl­lis is out of the room, I will say that I love this book. It makes me want to get out and find flow­ers. Iowa has many plants in com­mon with Min­neso­ta and I look for­ward to tromp­ing with Phyl­lis and Kelly.)… more
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Summoning Spring

Jack­ie: Spring is a lit­tle late com­ing to the Mid­west this year. But we can remem­ber sun­ny days with vio­lets and tril­li­um bloom­ing and rainy days that turn the grass green (instead of the snow we con­tin­ue to get in mid-April). Rainy days make us think of ducks and we are going to beck­on reluc­tant spring with sto­ries of ducks.… more
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Dearie Darling Cuddle Hug: A Tribute to Wendy Watson

When our chil­dren were young we both spent many hours with them pour­ing over Wendy Wat­son’s illus­tra­tions for her sis­ter Clyde’s rhymes in Father Fox’s Pen­nyrhymes and delight­ing in the sounds and the silli­ness of the rhymes them­selves. We felt as though we had lost a per­son­al friend when Wendy Wat­son died, even though we had nev­er met her.… more
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Spend the Day with Arnold Lobel

Phyl­lis: Feb­ru­ary is the month of valen­tines and lovers, and we spent a day (through his books) with some­one we love: Arnold Lobel. He wrote easy read­er sto­ries that help chil­dren crack the code of read­ing, give them fun sto­ries with char­ac­ters who remind us of peo­ple we know and that give read­ers of all ages plen­ty to think about.… more
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Kari Pearson

Laughing Matters

This month, Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root, the usu­al hosts of this col­umn, have invit­ed Kari Pear­son to share her rec­om­men­da­tions for fun­ny pic­ture books. Let’s play a game! It’s called Funny/Not Fun­ny. It goes like this: Fun­ny: Eat­ing greasy bloaters with cab­bage-and-pota­to sog (see: How Tom Beat Cap­tain Najork and His Hired Sports­men) Not Fun­ny: Shov­el­ing gigan­tic snow­drifts out of my dri­ve­way into piles almost as tall as myself.… more
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Katy and the Big Snow

Let It Snow!

Phyl­lis: The first real snow has fall­en overnight, and the qual­i­ty of light when I wake up is lumi­nous out­side the win­dow. Sol­stice approach­es, and we’ve turned our thoughts to books about win­ter and snow. So many to choose from! Here are a few. When my grown daugh­ter saw a copy of Katy and the Big Snow by Vir­ginia Lee Bur­ton on my book­shelf, she cried, “Oh!… more
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How to Make Apple Pie and See the World

Pie Season

Jack­ie: This is grat­i­tude sea­son and that is a good reminder. Many of us have plen­ty to be grate­ful for and we often for­get that while wait­ing for the next good things. It’s also Pie Sea­son. It is the one time of the year at my house when we have no holds barred on pie. Every­one gets to have a favorite at Thanks­giv­ing.… more
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A Kindle* of Cats

Phyl­lis:  *Even though kin­dle means cats born in the same lit­ter, the allit­er­a­tion was hard to resist. All my work is done in the com­pa­ny of cats,” writes Nico­la Bay­ley, won­der­ful pic­ture book artist and writer, in her book The Nec­es­sary Cat. I know what she means. Right now my cat Luna is sit­ting on the open copy of The Kit­tens’ ABC, clear­ly a cat of dis­cern­ing lit­er­ary taste.… more
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More, More, More Said the Baby

Our Hearts Will Hold Us Up

Jack­ie: It seems per­fect­ly appro­pri­ate that the Man­ag­er of Hol­i­day Place­ment  has placed Valentine’s Day, a day to cel­e­brate love and affec­tion, right in the mid­dle of cold, dark Feb­ru­ary. I want that cel­e­bra­tion to spread out for the whole month (why not the whole year?) the way the smell of bak­ing bread fills an entire house, not just the kitchen.… more
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Night on Neighborhood Street

The Books in the Night

Phyl­lis: Night means many things: the ter­ri­fy­ing dark­ness behind the garage where I had to car­ry the garbage after sup­per as a child, the dark night of the soul that depres­sion brings, the hours between sun­set and sun­rise that grow longer and longer as our earth turns into win­ter. But night holds com­fort as well as fear, and this month we want to look at books about the gifts that night and dark­ness can bring.… more
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Doctor De Soto

William Steig and Transmogrification

Jack­ie: After Phyl­lis and I read Amos and Boris for our last month’s arti­cle on boats we both won­dered why we hadn’t looked at the work of William Steig. He so often exe­cutes that very sat­is­fy­ing com­bi­na­tion of humor and heart. Steig’s lan­guage is fun­ny but his sto­ries reg­u­lar­ly involve wor­ri­some sep­a­ra­tion and then return to a lov­ing family.… more
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Coming Home to Safe Harbor

Phyl­lis: This sum­mer I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sail for a week in Lake Supe­ri­or, so we are turn­ing our thoughts to books about the sea (includ­ing the great inland sea that bor­ders Min­neso­ta, so vast it makes its own weath­er).  If we can’t go sail­ing right now, we can at least read about it in a fleet of good pic­ture books.… more
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A Few Tall Tales from the Land of Rampaging Zucchini

Jack­ie:  Phyl­lis, the zuc­chi­ni seeds you gave me have grown into a plant that knocked on our back door this morn­ing. I gave it cof­fee and it retreat­ed to the yard, head­ing toward the alley. When I was a kid one of my favorite sto­ries was the tall tale of Paul Bun­yan. I laughed at the exag­ger­a­tion, the total wack­i­ness of an ox so large his foot­prints made the Great Lakes.… more
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Tomi Ungerer

Tomi Ungerer: Far Out Toward the Heart

Phyl­lis: Tomi Unger­er has writ­ten and illus­trat­ed over 30 books for chil­dren, along with over 100 oth­er books. I didn’t know much about him until Jack­ie sug­gest­ed we do a blog on him, and I’m so glad she did. I came home from the library with a stack of his books, which range wide­ly from the ridicu­lous to the mysterious.… more
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Farmer Duck

Gardening and Farming Delights

  Jack­ie: At last — we made it to spring and all the usu­al accou­trements have shown up — lilacs, vio­lets, the smell of apple blos­soms, and thoughts of sprout­ing seeds and grow­ing veg­eta­bles.  How could we not look at pic­ture books about gar­dens and farm­ing this month? I have to con­fess, Phyl­lis, I did not know of Miss Jaster’s Gar­den, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by N.… more
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Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring

Spring, Where Are You?

Phyl­lis: Each year, as soon as the snow melts, I’m eager to go search for native wild­flow­ers. Two of the ear­li­est flow­ers bloom in two dif­fer­ent pro­tect­ed places a car ride away. And every year, I go too ear­ly — either the ephemer­al snow tril­li­ums aren’t even up yet or the pasque flow­ers are still such tiny, tight, fur­ry brown buds that they’re hard to spot in the dried grass on the hill­side where they grow.… more
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The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats

Celebrating Ezra Jack Keats

Jack­ie: This is the time of year when I read the Trav­el Sec­tion of the Sun­day paper. I just want to go away from grit­ty snow, brown yards and come back to Spring. Well, there are no tick­ets on the shelf this year so Phyl­lis and I are tak­ing a trip to the city cre­at­ed by Ezra Jack Keats. And why not?… more
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Crankee Doodle

Feeling Cranky

Phyl­lis: Feb­ru­ary is the month for lovers and for love. And it’s the month where some of us also get a lit­tle grumpy. Gray slushy snow — no good for ski­ing or build­ing snow peo­ple — lines the streets. The weight of win­ter coats wears old. And even though we do love Feb­ru­ary, we thought we’d look at books about grumpi­ness — just in case any­one else might feel a lit­tle, well, cranky once in a while.… more
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Moonlight

That Lovely Ornament, the Moon

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root Jack­ie: We’ve passed the Sol­stice but we still have more night than day. We can watch the moon with our break­fast and with our din­ner. We thought we’d cel­e­brate this sea­son of the moon by shar­ing some sto­ries fea­tur­ing that love­ly ornament. Phyl­lis: And Christ­mas Eve we saw an almost full moon cast­ing shad­ows on the snow before the clouds blew in. Moon­light… more
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Two for the Show: Winter Stories

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root Jack­ie: Ah win­ter. Sea­son of hol­i­days and snow. Such a rich­ness of stories. Phyl­lis: I have a shelf full of favorite Christ­mas books. What most of them have in com­mon is sto­ry, not just about Christ­mas itself but also about fam­i­lies cel­e­brat­ing their con­nec­tion to each oth­er.  They meet my own test for a good Christ­mas sto­ry — take away Christ­mas from the set­ting and the sto­ry still has a strong heart­beat about love, fam­i­ly, com­mu­ni­ty, and car­ing for each other. more
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Chair of Honor for Vera B. Williams

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin: Some writ­ers teach us craft. Some writ­ers inspire us. Vera B. Williams does both. As part of cel­e­brat­ing her won­der­ful life and career we want to take anoth­er look at her love­ly sto­ries and her busy life. One of the many remark­able things about her books is that they “erupt” (as she said) from the activ­i­ties of her life.… more
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Two for the Show: What Scares You?

Note to read­ers: we are try­ing a new for­mat this month. We want to make our blog more con­ver­sa­tion­al. Let us know what you think. Phyl­lis Root:
What scares you? How do you deal with that fear? And why do so many of us like to scare our­selves sil­ly, as long as we know that every­thing will be all right in the end?… more
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Two for the Show

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root We want to start by say­ing that we are lov­ing the chance to look at for­got­ten books or won­der­ful clas­sics from the past that this blog has giv­en us. And this time, when we were think­ing of what we might look at, John Step­toe came to mind— maybe because we were con­sid­er­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties in August and he died in August of 1989.… more
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Two for the Show: How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Phyl­lis Root and Jacque­line Brig­gs Martin It’s high sum­mer in the gar­den, with an abun­dance of veg­eta­bles to har­vest and flow­ers abuzz with pol­li­na­tors. Crunchy car­rots, leafy kale, sun-warm toma­toes, gar­lic bulbs, green beans, zuc­chi­ni (some gigan­tic) all offer them­selves to the gar­den­er. But more grows in a gar­den than plants. Peo­ple grow, too, and con­nec­tions between peo­ple take root and blos­som.… more
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