Occasionally, picture books will be made that startle the aesthetic senses with their graphic splendor. "Growing Vegetable Soup" by Lois Ehlert (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987. $10.95) was such a book. In a hundred words of text - not counting the labels on objects - and with brilliant collage in vivid shapes, the sequence of planting, watering, watching vegetables grow and making soup is described. A recipe is included on the fly-leaf. The reviewers called this book "bold," "a delight" and "the brassiest garden book to hit the market."
A companion to the cycle of soupmaking is "Planting a Rainbow" by the same author/illustrator (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988. $14.95) This book also captures the beauty of the garden from endpaper to endpaper and with an ingenious six-page spread that has been cut in different lengths tagged with the colors of the rainbow.While this inventive method of different page widths may have been a publisher's nightmare (it was printed and bound in Singapore), it is a reader's delight! Flipping a prism of color, from red to purple, is something to be done again and again. The large format of each book encourages the notion of space - space of the earth, space to grow. And that is just what happens: the irregular shapes of bulbs, seeds and rhizomes sprout into stalky forms and then to splashy blossoms.
It is fascinating to see Ehlert's ability to capture the motion and style of each plant - vegetable and flower - with cut paper as a medium. The simple clear-cut lines suggest the harmony and symmetrical beauty of nature. The text in each - "grow it again next year" - makes these two picture books timeless for the young reader and those who study the illustration as an art form.
* Marilou Sorensen is an associate professor of education at the University of Utah specializing in children's literature.