In 2005, Richard Louv coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder. Although not a recognized medical disorder, it’s easy to see that many of us spend a significant amount of time indoors and are alienated from nature. Some studies indicate that being disconnected from nature is associated with anxiety, depression, and obesity while direct experience of nature promotes creativity, problem solving, focus, and physical health.
Long before 2005, I joined the ranks of those alienated from nature. It’s not that I don’t like the outdoors; I find it beautiful. I just don’t always want to be outside in the outdoors. Along with this comes a disconnect with the source of our food. Recently, I took a completely unscientific quiz assessing how much I knew about the way food grew. Was it from a tree, a bush, or the ground? Needless to say, I did not perform well.
Happy Veggies promotes a connection with the outdoors and shows how popular vegetables like corn, carrots, beans and tomatoes grow. The text introduces the food through the seasons: asparagus and onions in spring; eggplants and beans in the summer; corn and pumpkins in fall; and root vegetables in the winter. We see also creatures who live in the garden such as bees, butterflies, worms, and moles. As winter ends, the cycle renews.
Mayumi Oda’s illustrations are lovely. To me, they draw from the rich tradition of Japanese art. The vegetables are primarily shown in close up, both what they look like above and below the ground, and sometimes below the ground is as or more colorful as what’s seen above. Even though I’m not a fan of onions, the illustration of purple and yellow onions is so stunning, I would put a poster of it on my wall.
I liked the text less than the illustrations. Some of the pages rhymed, some did not. At times, the story talked to the reader: “Do you want to meet Mother Nature?” and “Potatoes are a garden’s heart. Can you hear them?” But other times, the text was directed to the vegetables themselves as when it exhorted beans to “Grow, grow!” Consequently, the book did cohere as well as it could have.
The style is rather dreamy and talks of angels visiting the garden and corn popping from the stalk (which I don’t think can happen normally!). I wondered if the style and these images would not bring children closer to Mother Nature but make her seem unreal.
That said, Happy Veggies is a valiant effort to teach children how their food grows and promote a connection to the natural world. It’s especially worth perusing for the stunning artwork.
Thank you to Netgalley and Parallax Press for providing an electronic copy of Happy Veggies in exchange for an honest review.