Sunday, May 3, 2020

🐝How Does Your Garden Grow? Five Picture Books Perfect for Spring

Tulips in Carl Schurz Park Spring 2020
I haven't gone out much this spring because of the coronavirus, but I have gone to help a friend with her garden, and I have walked around Carl Schurz Park across the street to see what the Conservancy there has been up to there. And then I came how and re-read some wonderful picture books about gardens and gardening that I would like to share with you.

Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood
by Tony Hillery, illustrated by Jessie Hartland
Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2020, 40 pages
This is the story of how one empty lot that was a dumping ground for whatever people wanted to get rid of - things like "wrecked couches, old TVs, broken bottles, and empty cans" - was turned into a wonderful community vegetable garden thanks to one new teacher at PS 175. Slowly, Mr. Tony began removing the trash, and when it was done, he brought in new, clean soil, along with seeds, tools and an invitation to Nevaeh, his student, and her friends to come help with the planting. But when their first attempt at growing food didn't work, they tried something different and it did work. Soon, they had a thriving farm right in the middle of New York City. And the best part of this story is that it is a true story, and that farm, called Harlem Grown, is still there, still thriving and growing, and still encouraging kids to participate...all in the heart of Harlem. This is a real feel good inspiring story written by the founder of Harlem Grown, with vibrant gouache illustrations that perfectly harmonize with the text. If you are inspired to start a garden similar to Harlem Grown. Mr. Tony has include a step by step guide along with additional resources. Happy planting!

Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures
by Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Elaheh Taherian
Candlewick Press, 2020, 32 pages
Khalil and his family live in the upstairs apartment of a two family house. Mr. Hagerty lives alone in the downstairs apartment. Summer has come and Mr. Hagerty has been working on his garden in the backyard, while Khalil has been hunting for some interesting bugs and rocks, or just laying in the grass reading a library book. Mr. Hagerty often helps Khalil with hard, unfamiliar words and Khalil helps Mr. Hagerty find his misplaced items. Gradually they become friends, even sharing chocolate cake and cold milk together when it gets too hot. But both are discouraged - Mr. Hagerty with his vegetable garden, Khalil with the lack of good buried treasure. One night, they both get an idea that is sure to make the other very happy. And not only do their ideas work, but they become even better friends, happily enjoying each other's company and celebrating with some more delicious chocolate cake. Springstubb's text is warm, layered, and straightforward, just like the friendship that develops between these two lonely people and Taherian's oil and colored pencil collage illustrations done in a predominately green palette really demonstrates that warmth and layering. I just love a good intergenerational picture books and so do my young readers, most of whom see their grandparents regularly. And my kids got a kick out of the ending. I was only sorry we couldn't explore the illustrations together, but we had to read it on Zoom.   

In a Garden by Tim McCanna,
illustrated by Aimée Sicuro
Simon & Schuster/ Paula Wiseman Books, 2020, 48 pages
The gentle rhyming text in this book celebrates the diversity of life in a community garden throughout the year, beginning in spring "In the earth / a single seed / sits beside a millipede."  through summer "Blooms of every shape and size / call to bees and butterflies," to autumn, winter and finally back to spring, when "Time goes by / and by / and then... / life returns / to start / again." McCanna shows young readers that there is so much activity in a garden, bugs and insects, their activity often unseen and unnoticed, are as busily at work as the children and adults. Flowers, insects and bugs are all named within the rhyme. My young readers and I were luckily enough to read this before we had to shelter at home, and they loved exploring each page and talking about everything there is to see. For example, one two page spread shows a mama bird bringing a tasty worm to her newly hatched babies in their nest, a squirrel running down the tree, a bird enjoying some green growing treats, and a butterfly going about her business all unnoticed by a little girl walking her dog. The seasonal illustrations are done in watercolor, ink, charcoal and Photoshop and the people are as diverse as the depicted vegetables, flowers and creatures. This book was rated A+ by my young readers.      

Thank You, Garden by Liz Garton Scanlon,
illustrated by Simone Shin
Beach Lane Books, 2020, 32 pages
"Garden ready / garden new / Garden so much / work to do!" Yes, gardens are a lot of work, but in the end they can be so rewarding. And that is exactly what this simple rhyming text picture book imparts to young readers. In this community garden, a group of diverse neighbors of all ages work all spring and summer for make this a successful garden, coming together at the end to enjoy the fruits of their labors. The text is repetitive and it only took a few reading for my kids to memorize the words and chime in. But despite the simple rhyme, there is much to explore here. The acrylic, watercolor, and Photoshop illustrations are done in a palette of garden greens and browns and have a somewhat folk art style to them. This is geared toward readers about age 3 and up and is a great opportunity to open a discussion with kids about being grateful for and appreciating the food they eat without being preachy.    

In the Garden written and illustrated by
Emma Giuliani
Princeton Architectural Press, 2020, 16 pages
Join Plum and her little brother Robin and explore with them all the wonders of their garden from the end of winter through to spring, summer, fall and finally to the return of winter, and including the features of each season. Every page in this oversized picture book for older readers gives details along with flaps to open and discover even more information, for example, what the inside of a bulb or flower looks like, or the parts of a seed. Young gardeners learn how to care for a garden, e.g. spreading mulch over the soil in winter, then spreading compost in the spring, setting up stakes for things like beans to climb as they grow, or knowing when to harvest and plan bulbs in the fall to flower in spring. Giuliani's language is accessible, even when she is using terms readers may never have heard before, and she even includes some of the processes that growing plants go through, like how cherry trees go from flower to fruit. This is the book I wish I had when I was a fourth grade classroom teacher and we went on a class trip to the New York Botanical Gardens every year.


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