August 16 – It’s Water Quality Month


About the Holiday

Water is one of earth’s most precious resources. Worldwide, millions of people do not have access to clean water. Climate change is also contributing to alterations in water temperature which affects sea life and coastal animals. Pollution, habitat destruction, pesticides, and a disregard for the crucial importance of this limited resource all threaten not only the quality of water, but the quality of life on this planet. To get involved in the solution, volunteer to clean up waterways, be mindful of the products you use, and consider donating to the cause.

Over and Under the Pond

Written by Kate Messner | Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal


A mom and her son have taken their rowboat out on the pond, where they “slide, splashing through lily pads, sweeping through reeds.” As they gaze over the side of their little boat, they can see the sun, the clouds, and themselves reflected in the still surface. But the little boy wonders what is below, where they can’t see. His mom tells him there is a “hidden world of minnows and crayfish, turtles and bullfrogs.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-over-and-under-the-pond-what's underneath

Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

On top the two can see tall grasses that break the water’s surface and little beetles and skaters making their way along the water. Below, a brook trout waits for his dinner. As the mom and her son paddle between thick stands of cattails, three painted turtles take turns slipping from their sunny perch back into the safety of the pond. Hidden in the cattails is a small nest, just a pocket of sticks and grass for red-winged blackbird babies.


Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

There are babies under the pond, too. “A secret shelter of pebbles and sand” that hold the larva of a caddisfly. Along the shore, trees cast shadows on the water as a moose makes a lunch of water lilies. It’s also mealtime under the pond, where three beavers pull up roots to chew on. The weather is turning breezy over the pond, making the current stronger and blowing leaves here and there. All around animals are maturing: “a new goldfinch teeters, finally ready to fly” while tadpoles are “losing tails, growing legs, growing up.”


Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Carefully picking his way in the muddy shallows, a great blue heron searches for food. He spies a minnow and with a flash snaps it up with his long, pointy beak. Way up in the trees the tat-tat-tat of a woodpecker looking for ants echoes through the air while down below an otter has her eyes set on a passel of mussels. The sun is beginning to set, and an iridescent dragonfly takes a rest on the little boy’s knee. Perhaps it is related to the dragonfly larvae underwater who has just grabbed a minnow for its dinner.

The nocturnal animals begin making an appearance in the spindly grasses. “Ospreys circle on quiet wings. Raccoons and mink stalk the shoreline for supper.” In the blue-black evening, the mother and her son head home as “a far-off loon calls good night.”


Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

An Author’s Note about the ecosystem of a pond and the animals that live in and around the water follows the text.

Kate Messner’s lyrical environmental books invite young readers to discover the world around them through the eyes of their peers. In Over and Under the Pond, Messner takes children on a leisurely afternoon boat ride that compares and contrasts what is happening on top of and below the water. Along the way, kids learn fascinating facts while absorbing the feel and beauty of the outdoor world.

Christopher Silas Neal gorgeously depicts the mysteries of a pond environment in his matte, mixed media illustrations that allow readers to view the birds, fish, insects, plants, and animals in action as they go about their day. The mixture of familiar and new creatures will engage children interested in learning more about the natural world. As the sun goes down and evening falls with its comforting starlit sky, young readers will feel happy to be part of this wonderfully complex world.

Ages 5 – 8

Chronicle Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1452145426

To learn more about Kate Messner and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of artwork by Christopher Silas Neal on his website!

Water Quality Month Activity


Busy Pond Coloring Page


There’s so much going on at the pond! Get your pencils, markers, or crayons and have fun with this printable Busy Pond Coloring Page! You can even add tissue paper grass, real sand, and other materials to make it look realistic!

Picture Book Review

April 24 – It’s National Garden Month


About the Holiday

April is the month when the earth comes alive again after a long winter! Flowers bloom in brilliant colors, trees bud and blossom with pale, green leaves, and the birds and animals prepare for new life to come. Today enjoy the warmer weather, plan a garden or flower bed, or visit a nursery or park and take in the sights and smells of spring!

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Written by Kate Messner | Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal


Snow still blankets the ground as a little girl and her Nana survey their garden plot. The girl’s head is full of dreams of the bounty to come. As the days warm and the wind whistles, the girl and her Nana dig in the mud. “’It’s not quite time,’” says Nana. “’Down in the dirt, things need to dry out and warm up.’” Her granddaughter is curious about what’s below.

Down in the dirt, Nana tells her, a whole world of insects are already working. Up above, the two gardeners are working too—gathering scattered twigs, removing weeds, and spreading compost.

Down in the dirt, pill bugs chew dead leaves, rolling into tight balls when poked. Up in the garden planting is taking place, the seeds carefully snuggled into beds and watered. As peas and other early plants sprout, bees pollinate and wasps hover.

Down in the dirt earthworms tunnel, enjoying the cool soil. Up in the garden the girl and her Nana rest in the shade then play in a sprinkled shower. Down in the dirt the water soaks deep, feeding the squash plants’ roots.

The summer is progressing and up in the garden tomatoes and beans are ripe for eating. Down in the dirt a robin finds a meal too. Up in the garden there’s so much to harvest. Nana and her granddaughter work until dark, sharing the garden with bats and June bugs. With nightfall a skunk finds grubs and cutworms down in the dirt.

The air is turning cooler up in the garden. Pumpkins turn orange under towering sunflowers while down in the dirt a spider weaves her sticky web. As Autumn wanes it’s time for the final garden harvest. Down in the dirt the insects know it too; they scurry to gather food.

Up in the garden and down in the dirt everything is prepared for winter. As snow once again blankets the garden plot, the girl and her Nana, the earthworms and pill bugs, the bees, and the skunk are all waiting for spring to come again.

Kate Messner’s lyrical paean to gardening is a wonderful way to introduce children to the changing seasons and how nature works together. Comparing and contrasting what gardeners do up above as they plant, tend, and harvest their crops to the work insects and animals perform down below emphasizes the interconnectedness contained in even a small plot of land. Messner’s language is beautifully evocative—the snow is sleepy, brittle stalks snap and are rustly when gathered, chickens squabble and scratch, newly planted seeds snuggle in the dark, pumpkins blush orange, and sunflowers bow to September.

Christopher Silas Neal illustrates the changing garden with striking up-close, ground view images of the plants and creatures that call the garden home. Vibrant green grasshoppers, brilliant yellow sunflowers, deliciously red tomatoes, soft pink worms, scruffy backyard animals, and more join a sprightly Nana and her curious granddaughter in soil so dark and fertile that any gardener would be envious.

The final pages include more information on the creatures found in the book, a list for further reading, and an author’s note. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt would be a welcome and special addition to any budding gardener’s or outdoor lover’s library.

Ages 5 – 9

Chronicle Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-1452119366

National Garden Month Activity



Plant a Flower Garden! Word Search


Whether you like to plant your flower bed in horizontal or vertical rows or just scatter the seeds for a wild burst of color, you’ll love this word search planted with favorite spring and summer blooms. Print your Plant a Flower Garden! word search and the Solution here!