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


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

“Down to Earth” is central Maine author Culley’s first middle-grade novel, an effort that has already earned deserving recognition as a Junior Literary Guild Gold Standard Selection. And anyone reading this book will quickly see 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. This is fun and exciting from start to finish, with 10-year-old Henry Bower as a smart, curious boy fascinated by outer space and math. One cold February night in Maine, he sees a large meteorite smack into his family’s farm field.

Henry and his best friend James examine the meteorite, asking themselves loads of questions about the rock and its apparent magical powers. Within days, colorfully tinted water gushes up from the impact hole creating some unexpected problems for Henry, his family and the town. Initially, everyone is excited about the meteorite, but then folks become frightened. Henry feels he is to blame, and he asks a New York scientist for help.

Henry and the elderly scientist become fast friends, a gift of a strange “water rock” changes hands, and Henry discovers he has the power to “dowse” — finding 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 “water rocks” are well worth reading carefully. Then, consider the possibilities they pose.


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


Many people think winter is just a season to endure. Most gardeners think it’s a time of rest with little garden joy until spring. For Blue Hill landscape designer Cathy Rees, winter gardening is an activity and pleasure that can be enjoyed indoors or out just as much as spring and summer gardening, — but different.

“Winterland” is Rees’s first 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 some 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 nature photographer Lisa Looke.

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

The book is divided into five sections: Design (planning, can’t dig in the soil, so what to feature and where); Contrast (shapes, colors, size, sunlight, shadow, light and dark); Embellish (add features like wind spinners, lights, yard ornaments); Care (mulching, pruning, “no such thing as a maintenance-free garden”); and Share (what you can see from indoors and outdoors, creating bird and insect sanctuaries).

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

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

Comments are not available on this story.