Children’s literature provides a wonderful method for teaching and discussing green living practices. A plethora of great literature exists on the topic of gardening, my family’s favorite application of green living that promotes healthy eating. Gardening is also a great theme for preschool and primary curriculums. The following five books are amongst our favorites that serve to motivate and educate children about gardening.
A Handful of Sunshine by Melanie Leclare
This delightful gardening book follows the life of a gigantic sunflower grown by Tilda. Real photographs of Tilda’s sunflower growing experience accompany the text of A Handful of Sunshine. I particularly like Tilda’s sense of style with her rubber boots and striped sweater, as she digs and plants in the garden. She climbs a ladder to reach her sunflower head and discovers a toad in the garden. In the end, she saves the seeds from the sunflower she grew to plant next season. The end page of the book shows a simple time line in the life cycle of a sunflower. Tilda starts planting in March, which may be too early for some northern locations. Planting sunflowers after reading A Handful of Sunshine is a natural extension of this great gardening book for children.
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson
The Carrot Seed has just celebrated its 60th anniversary! This simple, almost Zen-like story tells of a young boy’s determination to grow a carrot, despite his family’s doubts and opposition. The little boy tends the seed, ever patient, keeping his expectations high. In the end, he is rewarded with a carrot so large, it has to be hauled with a wheelbarrow. Not only does this book teach the basics of growing a plant from seed to harvest, but also children learn how to persist in the face of opposition. It is unfortunate that the boy’s parents are not supportive of his efforts, but the boy triumphs in the end. Crockett Johnson’s simple illustrations, reminiscent of his other famous work Harold and the Purple Crayon, match this minimalist tale of gardening and positive attitude. Planting carrot seeds, especially in a root viewer, is a great extension of the story in the classroom.
How Groundhog’s Garden Grew by Lynne Cherry
How Groundhog’s Garden Grew is a wonderful book about gardening, and we are thankful to have received it from our midwife! The story begins with Groundhog stealing food from his friend’s garden, which of course leads to trouble. His friend Squirrel steps in to help teach Groundhog how to grow his own garden. Squirrel teaches him how to cut potatoes for planting, find seeds, space plants, etc. By the end of the book, Groundhog’s garden is bountiful, and he celebrates with a feast of thanks for all his friends. Lynne Cherry’s illustrations are detailed and realistic, something that is often missing from children’s books that try to create cutesy animals to entertain children. How Groundhog’s Garden Grew is also full of very useful information about gardening, and as one reviewer wrote, "It would be impossible for a child to hear this story and not learn something of vital importance, about everything from the complicated interdependence of the natural world to the simple
effectiveness of composting and going pesticide-free. Parents be forewarned: It’s also probably impossible to read this book and not have your child want to plant a garden." How Groundhog’s Garden Grew leaves the readers feeling good and learning important lessons about community participation and sharing, as well as gardening!
Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
One of our favorite things to make from our garden is vegetable soup, and Lois Ehlert’s book is perfect to read before this activity. Graphic images illustrate the text about the entire process from seed to the cooking pot, helping children make the connection between the food they eat and the garden/farm. The artwork is somewhat abstract, so this book may not be the best choice if your goal is to teach children what plants actually look like. However, children familiar with gardening and plants will enjoy this tale and its accompanying recipe for vegetable soup. The simple, bold illustrations do provide a model for creating gardening based art with children.
Little Yellow Pear Tomatoes by Demian Elaine Yumei and Nicole Tamarin
Little Yellow Pear Tomatoes comes from my favorite children’s literature publisher Illumination Arts. In this book, a little girl marvels at the circle of life in her little yellow pear tomatoes. She says, "Everyone and everything-my daddy, my mommy, bugs and worms, clouds and sky, lakes and rivers, the sun and stars-are parts of the tomato you cannot see. Take away any one, and the little yellow pear tomatoes in my garden could not be." This book takes its inspiration from the author’s little girl and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The interconnectedness of life is the theme of Little Yellow Pear Tomatoes, as the book is very thought provoking for children and grown ups. This is my favorite book of the five, and I can never look at the yellow pear tomatoes in my garden the same after reading this book.