May 8, 2017

How Does Your Garden Grow? 10 Picture Books to Share

May is gardening month for most places! Granted, this year has been a bit different.  With such a wet spring and the upcoming move I haven't gotten much planted. Here in Washington I usually don't plant summer vegetables until Memorial Day weekend, but in the past at least my spring stuff has been up and growing strong by May! Not to mention all the beautiful flowers everywhere.

Yay for May!

Flower Garden, by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt

     Garden in a shopping cart
     Doesn't it look great?

     Garden on the checkout stand
     I can hardly wait.

A little girl and her dad put together a window box full of flowers for a sweet surprise.

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What a lovely little book this is! Flowers to brighten up a city windowsill, and as an expression of love. What could be better?

With 1-2 simple sentences per page, accompanied by richly colored full-page illustrations, this one would be perfect for the younger crowd. Or their mothers. I'm putting it on my wish list to purchase! :)

The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart
Illustrated by David Small
(Caldecott Honor 1998)

Lydia Grace goes to stay with her Uncle Jim in the city, during the Depression, until things get better for her parents. She brings seed packets along and a determination to find a place to grow things in the city. Uncle Jim is a baker and he never smiles, but Lydia Grace is determined to change that, too.

During her sojourn in the big city, she learns to work in the bakery, makes friends, and discovers a secret place up on the roof that she fills with flowers.

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Written all in letters, each one a glimpse of Lydia Grace's new life. The illustrations are done mostly in muted, sepia tones, with Lydia Grace herself, her flowers, and some of the other characters adding some spots of color.

Now this is a girl after my own heart! She doesn't let bad circumstances get her down, she's not afraid to learn new things, and she is absolutely crazy about flowers!  I love the last 2 lines of her letter to Grandma: "I can't wait to help you in your garden again. We gardeners never retire."

Left me with a smile on my face!

The Good Garden: How One Family Went From Hunger to Having Enough, by Katie Smith Milway
Illustrated by Sylvie Daigneaull

Maria Luz lives with her family in the hill country of Honduras, struggling to get by with poor soil and not enough food to eat from what they've grown. Then a wonderful teacher comes to the village: Don Pedro. He shows his students how to feed the soil by making compost and how to build terraces to keep the good soil from washing down the hillside when it rains. He teaches them about growing cash crops and shows them how to sell directly at the market instead of to the coyote--the middleman who always takes a hefty cut of any profits.

As the new ideas take hold, the villagers begin to have enough: enough food to eat, enough seeds for next year, enough money to buy what they need and build up their homes. Don Pedro must move on at the end of the year, but his influence keeps spreading.

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Longer text telling an important story: the power of education, the power of one person to make a difference in many lives, and the good that can happen when families are able to become self-reliant. Many lessons to be learned from here. This is the kind of book that will help expand your child's view of the world, including some of the problems faced by those in poverty.

Another geared more toward middle grade listeners, though younger children could benefit from a simple retelling while looking at the pictures.

Paddington in the Garden, by Michael Bond
Illustrated by R.W. Alley

Paddington quite enjoys living with the Browns. He likes it even better when they decide to set aside a small garden plot for each of the children and him! Jonathan and Judy get right to work with their plans, but Paddington has a harder time deciding what he wants to do with is space.

He even buys a book to get some ideas. When the book suggests taking a look at your garden site from a distance, Paddington knows just the place: the construction zone across the street has some tall ladders he can climb. Oh dear! Some bears just have a nose for trouble!

* * * * *
Paddington fans will enjoy this addition to the stories about the bear from Darkest Peru. The bear in the blue slicker and red hat is always good for some comfortable storytime fun.

My Day in the Garden, by Miela Ford
Illustrated by Anita Lobel

Three friends visit a little girl on a rainy day, and they spend the whole day playing dress up in elaborate garden-related costumes.

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Short text in an extra-large font size describes each costume and game, generally with 1 sentence per page: "Berry-picking with the birds."  Looks fun! Perhaps it will inspire some imaginative fun at your house, too.

Plant a Little Seed, by Bonnie Christenson

A neighbor girl and boy plant seeds in their shared backyard space, until they're able to have a feast together with their families in the fall.

* * * * *
The joys of growing a garden and a friendship, illustrated with strong black outlines and what looks like colored pencil.

The text has a lyrical quality to it, though it I have to admit it bothered me a bit. Some of it rhymed and some didn't, and I found myself listening for the rhyme to resolve, then feeling like I had missed something when it didn't come through.

We had fun finding the bunny in all the pictures, which then becomes a family of bunnies (true to life!)

Quiet in the Garden, by Aliki

A little boy sits quietly in the garden. As he does, he notices all the animals and insects eating and imagines their conversations with each other.

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A good introduction to the joys of a wildlife garden. Each page starts off with the boy's observation, such as: "The snail ate holes in some leaves." Then another animal or insect asks "Why did you do that?" Each time the answer is some variation of "I was hungry."

Reading through this myself, I thought the repetitive nature of the questions and answers would get tiresome as a read-aloud. I should have known better! Kids love repetition! My 5-year-old stayed interested all the way to the end. I made an attempt to do different voices for all the creatures, but there were a lot!

The very last page gives basic, illustrated instructions for making your own quiet garden.

Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard, by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

A family plants their garden, and a girl watches all the creatures and animals in their interactions throughout the growing season.

* * * * *
I'm surprised this one was in the picture book section of my library, rather than the nonfiction. Almost every page has a pair of chickens sharing facts about various facets of biology. A good, basic introduction to the idea of food chains, as the title suggests, with several different food chains within the garden illustrated and labelled.

I doubt a preschooler would sit through this one without a lot of skipping and summarizing. Definitely more geared toward elementary-aged kids, and those in the lower grades would probably still need it read aloud to them, with the level of  vocabulary presented.

Vegetable Garden, by Douglas Florian

A pair of red-headed siblings and their parents grow and harvest a garden.

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This one would work for the toddler crowd. Rhyming text, with just one phrase per page keeps it moving quickly. Illustrations are interesting--pen and ink, plus watercolors. The outlines of the whole page look sort of hazy, like the author painted over the finished picture to purposely smear the hard lines.

A Year in Our New Garden, by Gerda Muller

A family moves into a new house that comes with a large garden spot, but it is overgrown and rundown. They work together throughout a year to plant grass, pull weeds, and grow flowers and vegetables. The boy upstairs offers help and advice, and they enjoy their new garden with friends and family.

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Longer text and variety of picture sizes, with a few pullouts illustrating how to make a leaf crown, lemonade, and how some plants--like potatoes and spring bulbs--look above and below ground.

Originally published in German, which makes sense after reading it. It's not sugary. The cycle of life--including death--in the garden is dealt with very matter-of-factly: the children come home from a seaside summer vacation to find their vegetables and flowers shriveled and wilting, and their father tells them it's a natural part of the changing seasons. Later on, they find a dead goldfinch under a bush and bury it at the end of the garden, with a little poem to memorialize it. Then life goes on.

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Is your garden up and going this year, or are you still just reading about it like me?

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