Saturday, July 04, 2009

Bountiful! Corn by Gail Gibbons

It won't be long before those primary grade field trips to the farm are back on the agenda, which means that there's no better time for a great book on that staple of agriculture (almost as American as the Fourth of July!)--corn. And who to do it better than the superstar of nonfiction picture books, Gail Gibbons.

Forthcoming in paperback in July, her Corn begins at the beginning, with the Mayans and Aztecs, who took a local grass and turned it into that powerhouse of agriculture--CORN! Gibbons shows how the native Americans introduced corn culture to the first settlers. Even then, corn was prized for its versatility. In a portentious page showing a Pilgrim family's kitchen, we see that the corn plant had already proven its utility--from cornbread, popcorn, corn pudding, and sweet corn to eat to corn husk mattresses and dolls, and corn cobs for fuel to cook the corn. And people have gone on to increase the lists of products produced from this bountiful plant--from baby powder to ethanol, from paper to biodegradable plastics and packing materials, from medicines to muffins, oils to paint.

Cultivated widely on every continent except Antarctica, corn comes in four types: sweet corn, eaten while the kernels are tender; popcorn, eaten from exploded dry kernels; and flint corn and dent corn, from which dried kernels are processed into corn flour, grits, cereal, animal feed, and the myriad of other products made from this miraculously bountiful plant.

Gibbons' teaches the physiology of the corn plant, including its amazing corn silks, which carry pollen inside the husk to fertilize the egg cells which become each separate kernel of the ear of corn. She shows how corn is cultivated on large industrial farms and small family gardens and how silage and kernels provide tremendous provender for animals.

It's a powerhouse of a little book for a powerhouse of a plant, and even a jaded adult will finish this book with a great appreciation for corn in all its many permutations. Engaging and accessible text and bright, tempting illustrations in Gibbons' familiar ink and watercolors make this book a first choice for the introduction of this subject for the primary grades.

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