We started our first lot of seeds inside a few days ago, and have begun busily digging and clearing outside...perhaps this summer we will actually live our dream of canning and pickling (although I am so traumatized by the exploding tomatoes in Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright that it might never happen. Even though I have never met anyone in real life who has a. been hit in the eye by a boiling hot tomato b. been cut on the cheek by an exploding glass canning jar). But anyway. Every March I, and many others, have a tendency to read books about gardening to the children. And being one who improves each shining hour, I appreciate books that combine gardening with other useful skills (colors, counting, the alphabet--The Little Seed, by Eric Carle, is therefore disqualified). Here are a few examples, and even though my children have already learned how to count, etc., we still enjoy them:
Jerry Pallotta is a winner as far as alphabet books go, and he has two that are plant related-- The Flower Alphabet Book and The Victory Garden/Vegetable Alphabet (the former seems to be the hard cover, the later the paperback). The flower one is lovely, but the flowers are not in garden context, so it doesn't quite inspire enthusiasm for dirt. However, the vegetable one is an inspiration to all of us who hope for produce.
Planting a Rainbow, by Lois Ehlert (1988), is an equally great inspiration for those who hope to grow flowers with very young children (2-4 ish), taking lovely plants from the ground to the end result. Not only does it talk about different colors and types of plants, this book comes right out and boldly uses the words "corm" and "rhizome." And why not. Eating the Alphabet is also a lovely book, but the fruits and vegetables it features have, as the title suggests, stopped growing, so it's not about gardening.
Counting in the Crazy Garden, by Margarette Burnette, illustrated by Brooke Henson (2008, JenPrint), is a newcomer to the genre of plant and learn books (I just got a review copy from the publisher). Arnold Bear loves playing chef in his garden, coming up with delicacies from 1 serving of worm cobbler to 9 sand sandwiches. Not surprisingly, his little brother and his friend Maria have no interest in sharing. At last Maria shows Arnold how to plant a real garden, and good food is had by all. The illustrations are cheerful, but a bit too un-nuanced for my taste; the story encourages kids to enjoy gardens, which is great. I think, though, that the pretend food looks more fun than the garden produce. I myself loved playing kitchen with bits of plants, and have tried with little success to get my children to do likewise--a book that encourages kids to use their imaginations outside, even though that's not the intended point, is a good thing. This is the only book I can think of that combines counting and gardening (as opposed to random things outside, that seem to be counted a lot)--am I missing something? (another review is here, at the Well Read Child, and here's the Chipper Kids website).
Another gardening classic with a bonus didactic component is of course the story of the Little Red Hen (and this lesson is not one my children have fully absorbed--"who will help me clean this house?" I ask, with predictable results). Thinking about it, within the fictional framework is a darn good non-fiction account of the hard work involved in going from seed to bread.
But at the end of the day, it is always nice to simply read one of the best gardening stories for kids ever--"The Garden" from Frog and Toad Together, by Arnold Lobel:
"All the next day Toad sand songs to his seeds.
And all the next day Toad read poems to his seeds.
And all the next day Toad played music for his seeds....."
For more non-fiction, head over to today's roundup of Nonfiction Monday posts here at Picture Book of the Day.