Books for the Budding Gardener

At a recent community garden clean-up, my 5-year-old was asked to clear the cut grass clippings out of the garden beds. Not one to miss a beat, she pointed out a few varieties of wild grasses and weeds, and asked if she should pull those up, too. “By the roots,” she was quick to note. At her age, I likely would have told you that peas came from either a can or the freezer. So whether your kids are first-generation mini-farmers or still not sold on eating carrots (never mind growing them), these books for young gardeners will inspire, educate, and entertain.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, art by Christopher Silas Neal
“What’s down there?” a little boy asks his grandmother, when she tells him the ground isn’t ready for them to plant just yet. On alternating pages, we discover what’s happening at the surface of the soil, as well as what’s beneath it: insects chewing up leaves from the year before, roots drinking water, and compost being spread by the grandson and grandmother. This informative-yet-poetic picture book follows them through the summer season and into fall harvest, all the way until the garden beds are put to sleep again for the winter. At the end, three pages introduce small readers to the creatures mentioned in the text, so they can identify them in their own gardens.
New ground: Exploring what happens below the soil.

Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano, art by Kellen Hatanaka
Tokyo, his family, and his ice-cream loving cat, all live in the house his grandfather grew up in. Once surrounded by nature, it is now set amidst tall buildings, the city having engulfed it. When a mysterious old woman gifts Tokyo with three seeds that will grow him anything he wishes (in a Jack and the Beanstalk-esque scene), he plants them in the backyard, where nothing is growing, “not even a weed.” The next day, three wildflowers appear and by dinnertime trees, meadows, and moss appear. Soon the city is covered in the flora. There are bison in the streets, sloths occupy elevators, and bears climb phone poles. Tokyo’s grandfather thinks things may have gotten out of hand, but Tokyo enjoys this new green world…
New ground: Exposing environmentalism to urban dwelling kids.

To Market, To Market by Nikki McClure
Celebrated artist and author Nikki McClure treats us to her trademark paper-cut illustrations with this in-depth look at what goes into a healthy meal. The book starts with a trip to the farmer’s market, as a boy and his mother are introduced to the makers and growers dedicated to the various portions of the coming feast: a goat farmer and fish smoker, fruit and vegetable farmers, a beekeeper, a baker, and a napkin maker. The narrative of the day at the market alternates with detailed accounts of how each item purchased came to be, cumulating in a much appreciated home-cooked meal with friends and family.
New ground: Following the journey from maker to market to table.

A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Aston, art by Sylvia Long
Part of a series of non-fiction children’s books about nature, including A Rock is Lively, A Nest is Noisy, An Egg is Quiet and A Butterfly is Patient, this book is a thoughtful ode to seeds. Both lyrical and informative, it teaches young green thumbs about plant parts, types of seeds, and the many things that grow from them. Unlike most educational books, where charts and diagrams usually take precedence, this one features detailed watercolors that are poster-pretty. “A seed is fruitful,” one page tells us, explaining that 90% of the world’s plants flower. Share this and other discoveries with your budding gardeners.
New ground: Better understanding a main source of life!

Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, art by Carolyn Fisher
Any parent who’s ever wanted to see their yard dandelion-free knows that adults and kids don’t always think alike when it comes to weeds. A dandelion to a child might hold as many wishes as it does seeds. While we adults may be looking for ways to discourage weeds from “finding a way,” this book flips that idea on its sunny head and will have your little ones rooting (pun intended) for the unwanted plants. As the text explains, stubborn weeds adapt and flourish where other plants won’t—and there just may be a lesson in there for kids trying to push through in various ways, too. As far as non-fiction goes, this one reads like a poem, with short pages and large text, that’s ideal for younger audiences.
New ground: Looking at weeds in a new light.