What's that munching on my squash?!?!

I’m in a gardening state of mind, and, from the great questions I get at the beautiful Plaza Library, so are lots of Kansas City kids! Each month, we can go a little bit plant-crazy on the Keyword: Kids blog. I’ll review food-related books; share stories, recipes and tips from my backyard garden; and tell you about great events around the metro that kids will love!

June is in full swing now and, sadly, so are the garden pests that want to feast on my produce just as much as we do! Luckily, there are some friends waiting to help themselves to a big bug snack! This month, take a look at some fascinating facts and silly stories about the insects that call gardens home.

Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! By Bob Barner is a great place for the youngest readers and read-to-mes to start their insect research. Bright paper collages and silly rhymes are sure to keep the giggles coming while a handy table and actual size chart at the end of the book provides important facts about the bugs discussed. If your toddler or preschooler can’t get enough of the creepy crawlies, then Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! is the perfect choice!

Sometimes, creepy crawlies are not the only garden enemies. Some of you, like me, may have discovered dug up plants and mysterious holes when you went to check on your beds in the morning. It could be squirrels looking for nuts and seeds they hid last fall! Nancy Tafuri’s The Busy Little Squirrel turns down invitations for autumn fun to hurry through preparations for winter. What will Squirrel do once winter arrives? Check out The Busy Little Squirrel to see!

Another furry and altogether infuriating garden visitor is the rabbit. The ones in my yard seem to have the same favorites as me—they always go after the vegetables I love first! It’s hard to stay angry at them for long, though, when you read Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes. Instead of munching on an unsuspecting gardener’s prized beets, Little White Rabbit goes on an adventure through his own imagination. The things that he sees on his journey help him realize what qualities he doesn’t have, but also those that he does.

When we talk about “mollusks,” we’re usually just using a fancy word to describe creatures that live in water, like squid or scallops. Kindergarteners through third graders will meet a land-lubber of a mollusk, Seymour Slug, in Seymour Slug Starts School by Carey Armstrong-Ellis. Gardeners the world over appreciate that slugs like dead leaves, but slugs also like to taste test tender, young vegetable shoots! Seymour doesn’t spend his days sliming around gardens and looking for lettuce to munch, however, he has just moved to a new city and is about to go to his new school for the first time. Will all of the worries that are keeping Seymour up at night come true? Find out when you visit your Library to get a copy of Seymour Slug Starts School!

Lots of kids like to watch grasshoppers hop through their yards (and sometimes chomp on the landscaping!), but how many know what makes a grasshopper a grasshopper? Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries give you the facts you need to know in Are You a Grasshopper? Beautiful illustrations and easy to read text lead readers through each phase in the life of a grasshopper, and even clear up any confusion on the difference between grasshoppers and crickets! Younger elementary kids might need some help with the text, but any elementary school-aged kid who is into bugs will get a kick out of this book!

Another good book for younger and older kids to share is Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle. Few people would call Maria’s “summer birds,” what we know as butterflies, garden pests. The young caterpillars from which they come, however, can be a different story altogether. Maria Merian lived in Germany nearly 400 years ago, but her story of incurable curiosity and a passion for science are as modern as they come. Like many kids now, Maria loves to catch and study bugs of all sorts. Her very favorite ones are the mysterious “summer birds” that many of her neighbors think appear through witchcraft. Gorgeous pencil drawings reflect the discoveries that Maria makes as she untangles butterfly fact from fiction. What did Maria find? Check out Summer Birds to see!

A pair of nonfiction books will appeal to readers in 3rd through 6th grades with a bug attraction. What to Expect When You’re Expecting: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos cleverly turns the popular grown-up pregnancy franchise into a hilarious and fact-filled buggy delight. Written like a question and answer guide for expecting insect parents, silly pencil and watercolor cartoons lead readers through the ins and out of insect reproduction and early development. If science with a sense of humor is your thing, go to your nearest library branch and grab What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae right now!

A more serious and straight-forward approach is found in Bugs and Bugsicles: Insects in Winter by Amy S. Hansen. As the title hints, older elementary kids will finally learn the answer to the question, “Where so bugs go in winter?” This fact-filled book discusses individually eight different insects, some garden friendly and some not so much, and then ties things up with a short note about what brings the bugs back in the spring. The book closes with a couple of cool science experiments for readers to try themselves with stuff you probably have at home right now!

Whether insect or rodent, some garden visitors are just plain not welcome in my yard. Others ensure that my flowers will bloom beautifully and that my harvest will be plentiful. Speaking of harvest, isn’t it about time that we start talking about the produce of all our hard work?

Next month, I’ll tell you about some great cookbooks and other foodies finds that are waiting for you on the shelves of your favorite branch. Until then, keep weeding and watering, and see you at the Library!

by Melissa Horak-Hern, Plaza Kid Corner Associate