Thursday, April 14, 2011

Earth Day and Compost Stew

Next Friday, April 22, is Earth Day. Celebrate with the organizers' "A Billion Acts of Green," as described on their website. Basically, you perform some kind of environmental service and register it on their site as they try to tally up that billion by Earth Day 2012. What a great idea!

In addition, you can check out Kaboose for Earth Day crafts, recipes, games, and projects.

And did you know it's possible to volunteer at a National Park?

But the most important question here at Book Aunt today is, "How do you make compost?" I guess you could start by visiting Composting 101 or Compost Guide.

Or you could sit down with your child and read Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth, a new book by Mary McKenna Siddals with illustrations by Ashley Wolff. And admit it, the response may not be enthusiastic if you announce, "Hey guys, let's have some fun with kitchen garbage and maybe hang out with the lint from the dryer trap!" I'm pretty sure you'll get better results by calling out, "Let's make Compost Stew!"

As the subtitle implies, this is an alphabet book. It rhymes its way through two dozen plus ingredients for your backyard compost, starting with Apple cores and working its way forward to Nutshells before chortling on toward Zinnia heads.

Of course, if you've ever tried to write an alphabet book, you know you have to come up with viable Q, X and Z entries before you can start querying editors and totting up royalty checks. In this case, the Zinnia heads are joined by Quarry dust and Xmas tree needles.

The text flows fairly well, although the phrasing is sometimes inverted a bit to serve the rhyme. For instance, on one spread we read:
Dirt clods, crumbled
Eggshells, crushed
Fruit pulp left behind, all mushed

Then again, this is a list of ingredients, so it works out just fine.

Siddals gives us a cheerful refrain at regular intervals:
Just add to the pot
and let it all rot
into Compost Stew.

Ashley Wolff illustrates Compost Stew's ripe frolic with collage and added details done in gouache. Our main character is a girl with curly red hair—she is wearing a chef's hat, naturally. My favorite thing about her is her clothes: the chef's hat has origami-style folds, the red gardening gloves have a punched-out flower design around the wrists, and, best of all, her dress is made of seed packets and her apron is made of a farmer's almanac!

In a nice multicultural touch, other composters include an Asian American girl and an African American boy, along with a Caucasian boy. We also get help from a Dalmatian and a goose. Textured papers make the collage even more rich and lively, e.g., the clouds are made of some kind of thin cotton-quilted fabric, the teabags appear to be real, and the egg carton is clearly made from the same sort of thing real egg cartons are made of. And take a gander at the goose's wing on the D page—I never could have imagined that marbling would be such a great choice for representing feathers!

Be sure to examine the endpapers, too. They give us a close-up view of the compost, nicely developed dirt garnished with earthworms doing their thing.

The instructions for making the stew on the last few pages are fairly simple: "Moisten. Toss Lightly. Cover. Let brew...." An Author's Note at the beginning of the book and a rhymed Chef's Note at the end provide additional information, such as what not to put in your compost mix. For further details, you can consult the websites listed above.

Environmentally concerned parents and teachers celebrating Earth Day might want to add this book—and this project—to their repertoires. Compost Stew makes garbage look positively delicious, at least from your garden's perspective!

For a chance to win a free copy of the book, visit the author's website.

Speaking of composting, on their page of quick earth facts, indicates how long it takes human-generated trash to break down:
—organic materials take 6 months
—cotton, rags, and paper take 6 months
—plastics take 500 years
—aluminum cans take 500 years

Not only do organic materials make for better garbage from a biodegradable standpoint, but they actively give back when converted into fertilizer.

Here are a few more earth facts for your enjoyment:

The earth's crust is made of about 47% oxygen, 28% silicon, 5% iron, 8% aluminum, 4% calcium, and smaller percents of other minerals.

Compare this to the composition of the human body: 65% oxygen, 18% carbon, 10% hydrogen, and 3% nitrogen, with other trace elements.

In other words, oxygen is not only what we breathe, it's what we and our planet are made of. So greening the planet helps maintain our existence in more ways than one!

Finally, did you know that only 11 percent of the earth's surface is used to grow food?

So go outside, breathe deep, and start that compost pile. While you're at it, plant a tree!

Thanks to publisher Tricycle Press for providing a review copy of Compost Stew.


msiddals said...

What a generous and thoughtful review! Thanks so much for sharing Compost Stew with your readers, and encouraging them to spread a little green in the world, one apple core at a time...

Mary McKenna Siddals

Kate Coombs said...

Mary--You're very welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

Mary Ann Scheuer said...

Kate, We have loved Compost Stew at our school! It's so much fun to read with students. At first, we get many "ewwws!" but then we talk about composting (many kids are doing this at home with their families) and notice so many details in the artwork.

Kate, I think you're hosting Poetry Friday tomorrow. I have a busy morning (Ashley Wolff, illustrator of Compost Stew is visiting our school!) - can you share my review when your post is up? I've reviewed Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night.

many thanks,

Mary Ann