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Fleen Book Corner: :01 Catch Up Twofer

We’re looking at a pair of nonfiction, largely non-narrative :01 Books (and thus the concept of spoilers doesn’t really apply) today, both of which have been out for a while but which haven’t gotten write-ups because of [waves hands] everything.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I held off on reviewing Maker Comics: Grow A Garden (words and pictures by Alexis Frederick-Frost, released 25 February) because I wanted to try out some of the suggestions in my own annual, smallish garden endeavours and see how things worked compared to previous years. And I held off on Science Comics: Crows (words and pictures by Kyla Vanderklugt, released 24 March) because I was going to bring it and make observations of the ravens of Juneau at Alaska Robotics Comics Camp, only that didn’t happen.

Grow A Garden‘s up first, with a framing story about garden gnomes at the garden gnome version of Hogwarts, including the obligatory reveal of the evil professor up to no good. It’s cute, it serves the purpose of providing a rationale for lecture-like content (a similar approach was taken in Falynn Koch’s baking contribution), but it’s not why you’re here. You’re here to learn a bit about dirt, how to make compost (although you’ll likely have to wait until next year to see how it turns out), how to start seedlings and keep them comfortable, and about the things you might do that will mess up your plants.

On these scores, Grow A Garden is a resounding success, particularly in the way it finds MacGuyver solutions to gardening needs. Fancy drainage posts aren’t needed, you can drill a hole in the bottom of any can or container and give it a good cleaning (unless it held paint or other complex chemicals). Cold frames are complicated, but you can clip together a couple of those transparent shields for window wells.

And that seedling you started that is all atrophied right at the dirt line and falling over? Damping-off disease, from cool, wet conditions and soil fungi¹. Once I get my stuff in the dirt outside² (fortunately I started them a bit late this year, otherwise they would have been outside for the polar vortex and hard frost we got on 7 May, what the heck), I’ll be able to try some of the pest control recommendations. Grow A Garden won’t turn a kid (or an adult) into a master gardener in a season, but it’ll give you some time to get your hands dirty and build up some skills, and we could all use a distraction along those lines.

Crows, subtitled Genius Birds, does a bit better with its framing story. It features a flock of crows that use planning, stealth, tools, and misdirection to steal food from Buddy the dog, with one of their number taking Buddy for a walk around town in search of more food. Along the way, Buddy gets taught about crow vision (color perception into the ultraviolet), memory (faces, circumstances, etc), tool use and fabrication, problem solving, counting skills, vocalization, family dynamics, and brain structure, as the POV crow explains how awesome crows are to an eager (but not genius) audience.

Both Buddy and the nameless crow (well, Buddy refers to the crow as Crow, but there’s never a proper introduction) are pretty expressive characters; mention digging or the park or friends or praise him and Buddy is all excited, ears and tail and eyes doing the talking. Crow, meanwhile, uses some distinctly non-corvid eyebrows and primary feather finger-guns to indicate emotion and reaction.

Crow’s also got a pretty healthy sense of self-esteem (I’m the smartest crow in the world, which would put Crow on par with about a five year old human), a sense of mischief, and an occasional streak of dickishness. It’s Crow that orchestrated the heist of Buddy’s food, earning the gratitude of their family for the feat; a’course, Crow ate far better than they did with Buddy’s help, meaning Crow simultaneously put one over on the flock, pillaged multiple garbage cans, suckered Buddy into all kinds of mischief, and got an ego boost in the process.

Honestly, it might be a bit much, except for the fact that I’ve seen ravens — close cousins of crows, after all — act pretty much like Crow just because they can. As the foreword (by corvid scientist John M Marzluff) reminds us, it’s not a coincidence that crows and ravens are part of myth and religious belief around the world, sitting on the shoulders of All-Father Odin, saving Israelite prophet Elijah, or being regarded as the creator spirit of numerous indigenous groups.

Both books are appropriate for any readers that have the patience to sit and plow through 100 pages at a go; Grow A Garden is useful as an activity guide for let’s say 10 and up with supervision as individually necessary. As always, we at Fleen thank everybody at :01 Books for the review copies.

Spam of the day:

Keep America’s Great

Keep America’s what great? And no, I ain’t clicking on your identity stealing link so I can get my (quoting here) free New Donald Trump gold $1,000 Dollar Bill, whatever the hell that’s supposed to be, not even to blow my nose in. I was going to do something far ruder with your Trump thing, but kids might be reading today’s post.

¹ I’d noticed this in the past with some of my bean seedlings, and was more careful about overwatering this year as a result. Only one seedling out of 24 damped off this time!

² The gnomes recommend starting from seed with two seeds in a pot and then culling the smaller prior to transplant; I’ve traditionally started with two seeds per cup in a pressed-paper egg carton, but never culled. Wondering how that will turn out.

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