BUSHNELL ON THE BOOKS: “Down to earth” and “Winterland”

DOWN TO EARTH by Betty Culley; Crown Books, 2021; 217 pages, $16.99


Capturing the interest in reading of middle school students is always a daunting task, especially with all the distractions that surround this age group today. Fortunately, Betty Culley has figured out how to appeal to young readers.

“Down to Earth” is Maine Culley’s mid-level author’s debut novel, an effort that has already earned deserved recognition as a Junior Literary Guild Gold Standard selection. And anyone reading this book will quickly understand why it has been so honored.

Culley combines science, suspense, folklore, and delightfully charming characters in a story that will engage and entertain young readers and adults alike. It’s fun and exciting from start to finish, starring 10-year-old Henry Bower as a smart, curious boy fascinated with space and math. On a cold February night in Maine, he sees a large meteorite crash into his family’s farm field.

Henry and his best friend James examine the meteorite, having many questions about the rock and its apparent magical powers. Within days, colored water gushed out of the impact hole, creating unexpected trouble for Henry, his family, and the town. Initially, everyone is excited about the meteorite, but then people get scared. Henry feels he is to blame and he asks a scientist from New York for help.

Henry and the elderly scientist quickly become friends, a gift of a strange “water rock” changes hands, and Henry discovers he has the power to “dowse” – find water using a divining stick as his family has done for generations. Friends and townspeople offer generous and genuine support to the Bower family, teaching Henry valuable lessons about truth, friendship, acceptance and community. And Henry’s questions about asteroids, meteorites, space rocks and “aquatic rocks” are well worth reading carefully. Then consider the possibilities they present.

WINTERLAND: CREATE A BEAUTIFUL GARDEN FOR EVERY SEASON by Cathy Rees; Princeton Architectural Press, 2021; 192 pages, $30


Many people think that winter is just a season to be endured. Most gardeners think of it as a rest period with little joy in gardening until spring. For Blue Hill landscaper Cathy Rees, winter gardening is an activity and pleasure that can be enjoyed indoors or outdoors just as much as spring and summer gardening, but different.

‘Winterland’ is Rees’ debut book, a clever and original argument that a winter garden can be as visually, mentally and physically beautiful as any summer garden – all it takes is is imagination, planning and preparation. Rees is a native landscape expert and co-founder of the Native Gardens of Blue Hill. The book is beautifully illustrated with 200 color photos by Portland wildlife photographer Lisa Looke.

Rees thinks gardeners are missing out on a wonderful opportunity when they put their gardens “to bed” in the fall, forgetting how the beauty of winter can actually enhance the garden, providing visions usually overlooked or completely missed. Comedian Carl Reiner (1922-2020) once said, “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of the water. Rees sees the snow as a white blanket that provides a clean, stark backdrop to highlight the elements already there: trees, fences, walls, shrubs, sculptures, arbors, stone arrangements, and outbuildings.

The book is divided into five sections: Design (planning, can’t dig into the ground, so what to present and where); Contrast (shapes, colors, size, sunlight, shadow, light and dark); Beautify (add features such as wind turbines, lights, garden ornaments); Maintenance (mulching, pruning, “nothing like a garden without maintenance”); and Share (what you can see inside and out, create bird and insect sanctuaries).

Rees will awaken gardeners to all the possibilities of winter gardening, causing many to say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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