We gardeners--and storytellers working with young children--are accustomed to things going differently than planned. Seeds don't sprout; voles eat your beets; some summers it's September before you get a tomato. You think the kids will love a story as much as you do. They don't. I usually go with the flow, remembering I'm not in control. But I confess to being caught off balance when my back surgery for early June got bumped to the end of June. Summer plans totally turned upside down. So here I am, back at Barnyard Tales for the month of June, now planning to be recuperating in July.
A drizzly morning equaled a smaller crowd. Just 10 children, one of whom hardly counts because he's a new baby. A set of twins joined us later in the garden, but came too late for stories. So fun to see one of last summer's boys who has been in preschool this past year. He's grown up so much! Sits "crisscross, applesauce" without even being asked this summer.
After our opening song, we revisited Mama, Is It Summer Yet? by Nickki McClure. We'd read it early in the season when it definitely was NOT summer yet. But the signs were all there today: we saw buzzing bees, tiny apples and pears on the trees, seeds--and weeds--sprouting in the warm soil. And strawberries, ripe and juicy, ready to pick and eat on the spot. Which they did. Yum!! Today's chill couldn't fool us. We had proof summer is here.
Next was a book I just discovered, My Garden by Kevin Henkes. What a delightful story. A little girl tells us her idea of the perfect garden. No weeds, just flowers that bloom all the time, never die, and change colors. Her rabbits wouldn't eat the lettuce because they'd be made of chocolate and she'd eat them! She'd plant jelly beans and grow a jelly bean bush. Her tomatoes would be as big as beach balls. And she'd plant sea shells and grow a crop. Which is what she is doing at story's end when her mother questions what she is up to. I rarely throw anything away, much to my family's dismay, but it worked in my favor this morning. Of course, I had a bag of sea shells in the cupboard. I pulled them out and asked Dawn to "plant" them in the digging corner while we read stories. Imagine the children's surprise when they dug up sea shells along with the colored glass treasures later in the morning!! "Hmmmm. Do you suppose they got planted here by that little girl?" I asked with a smile. They weren't sure, but they were excited.
As I planned the sea shell surprise, I suddenly recalled the old Mother Goose rhyme about Mistress Mary, quite contrary. In her garden she grew "silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row." Did I have cockle shells in my collection? A Google search told me I did. Several. Henrietta recited the poem and the children examined the cockle shells with fascination. I kept asking if they thought those could grow in a garden. Most of the older ones knew that a sea creature once made that shell its home and they doubted they'd grow in a garden.
Finally I shared the tender story of Grandpa Green, the tale of a gardener whose memories are fading in old age, but whose fanciful pruning of the shrubs in his garden into the shapes of significant events in his life over the years help him to remember them. Written by Lane Smith, Grandpa Green's story is told through the eyes of his loving great-grandson and brought to life by the delightful boxwood sculptures illustrating the tale.
While we were too restless to read another book, we did take time to look at one illustration in a book about how different birds build their nests. It pictured a killdeer and her nest with four speckled eggs laying right there in a slight depression in the ground. The day before I had spotted a killdeer nest with four speckled eggs, just like the book's illustration, in one of the Community Garden plots. I noted its location so we could check it out. After all those fantastical gardens I'd just introduced them to, I think I had lost some of my credibility with the children.
"How do I know that is true?" asked a 5-year-old skeptic. Good question. A bird laying her eggs right on the ground did sound a bit fishy. Maybe this was just more of that imaginary stuff like jelly bean bushes and shrubs in the shape of elephants. I assured him this one was true and we'd go find it so he could see it with his own eyes. We found the nest, but we never got to see the eggs. Instead of the typical killdeer trick to distract us away from her nest by running away from it, making quite a racket, and pretending to have a broken wing, this mama bird stayed right on that nest, so still that my skeptic finally asked, "Is she alive?" There she sat, still as any of the clods of dirt that surrounded her, blending right in and never leaving her eggs. She did look like a stuffed animal. Finally, though, she shifted her position slightly, just enough to let the little boy know she was a real, live bird.
In the Children's Garden, we tasted mint leaves and sucked the sweetness out of honeysuckle blossoms. Lots of dirt was consumed along with the strawberries. And a little girl pretended to feed a clover blossom to a visiting grandmother's very realistic Jack Rabbit puppet that she'd brought along to show us this morning. All in all, it was a sweet morning!!