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“Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!”

Every year, my family eagerly awaits a classic sign of summer in Maine. We look along roadsides, on rocky slopes, and in sunny patches of open fields, hoping to see a bright spot of blue. It has to be a tiny bright spot, though, as those are true wild blueberries. The berries are nestled low to the ground in scrubby bushes with tiny oval leaves; it takes hours to fill a pail because they are so small. Their flavor, however, is big, wild, and delicious.

Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!” go the berries in Robert McCloskey’s iconic story as little Sal drops them in her bucket (and samples a few along the way). I have idealized blueberry picking because of  McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal, which I read not as a child but as a grownup who moved to Maine from the Midwest. I am now getting to experience childhood in Maine vicariously through my own children who are barnacle-scraped, berry-stained, lobster-roll-loving little girls.

My girls love finding things in the wild that they can harvest and eat–from digging for clams in the mud to picking wild sorrel amidst the grass to foraging for summertime berries. There’s an advantage to little hands, too, which I think is part of the fun for them. Kids can also easily reach low bushes and brambles; their focus is low to the ground, which makes spotting the brightly colored berries easier.

Now, what to do with all those berries (that is, if you haven’t eaten them all first)? We’ve experimented with everything from jam, Popsicles, and sorbet, to our latest craze–berry-flavored lemonade. Sometimes we blend the berries with ice or mash them and strain out the juice. You can add a little sugar or honey as sweetener, or a sprig of mint if you have some growing nearby. Edible art is always fun: mash berries in a bowl and use an old paintbrush or your fingers to paint with the richly colored juices. Afterward, the artist gets to lick her sticky fingers!

After the picking and processing, we settle down with a few good books. In addition to Blueberries for Sal, I like Gail Gibbons’s The Fruits We Eat, which introduces different types of fruits, their parts, and their oddities. And check out her companion book, The Vegetables We Eat, as well as her other books about various critters and plants.

Recently, I came across Julie Flett’s Wild Berries, translated by Earl Cook. A little boy picks blueberries with his grandmother, and they meet a variety of animals along the way. The quiet story, told in English, includes highlighted words in a Cree dialect (pronunciation guide and glossary appended). The illustrations’ earth tones are a perfect accompaniment for the contemplative story.

Enjoy the summer’s harvest and have fun playing with it in creative ways. And serve some great books to go along with all that activity!

Books mentioned

Blueberries for Sal, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey (1948, Viking)

The Fruits We Eat, written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons (2015, Holiday)

The Vegetables We Eat, written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons (2007, Holiday) 

Wild Berries, written and illustrated by Julie Flett, translated by Earl Cook (2014, Simply Read)

Visit Susan’s blog for more of her thoughts about these and other nature-themed picture books.

Susan Olcott About Susan Olcott

Susan Olcott lives in Maine with her husband and six-year old twin girls. She's played on lobster boats while getting her M.S. in Marine Science, designed and led snorkeling and kayaking tours in San Diego for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Birch Aquarium, taken kids on bike tours in Europe and the U.S., and taught biology to military personnel in Sardinia, Italy.

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Comments

  1. At this moment there are about four pints of Maine wild blueberries in my refrigerator waiting to be enjoyed. I’m fortunate to live in Ellsworth from May until October 15th. About a month ago my husband and I parked along a road to listen to the news. While we were listening to the radio, I happened to notice something blue growing in the field out the car window. We investigated and discovered we had parked right next to a wild blueberry barren! We watched “our barren” change week by week and a few days ago noticed the field had been harvested. At that time we felt comfortable picking berries that had been left. It was so easy to separate the fruit from the stems and a delightful experience!

    In addition to the books you mentioned, I would like to add A Handful of Stars, by Cynthia Lord, published in 2015. This middle grade novel received shared reviews from Publishers Weekly and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. Amazon ranked it 4.8 out of 5 stars based on 52 reviews. The story tells of a friendship between two girls – a young Maine resident and the daughter of migrant workers who come to Maine to harvest the wild blueberry crop. I enjoyed this story immensely.

    I hope I can find a recipe for popsicles. That sounds wonderful. Thanks for your wonderful post today.

  2. Claudia Haines says:

    You also might like Blueberry Shoe, a favorite among Alaskan blueberry pickers, by Ann Dixon.

  3. Look for all of Julie Flett’s books! They’re terrific!

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