Monday, June 26, 2006


Well, if I had been really good this weekend, I would have been working hard in my garden, but I seemed to prefer reading to weeding for the most part. So here is a season's worth of heirloom variety children's books that are sure to help children's love of reading grow and grow and grow! Forgive the oldies but goodies, but if it is a garden of reading, it's only natural to include perennials.

Start by reading THE TINY SEED by Eric Carle (Aladdin) (this one always chokes me up a little), THE EMPTY POT by Demi (Henry Holt) (surprise ending...and did you know Demi sometimes paints using a mouse's whisker for a brush?) and older kids will enjoy WESLANDIA by Paul Flesichman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick) (Children are natural utopian visionaries, and agriculture is as good a place as any to start.)

Make garden hats by using corrugated "Bordette" bulletin board borders (sold at teacher supply stores). Wrap a length of the border around the child's head and staple to secure and form a "crown." Decorate the tops of green pipe cleaners with flowers and leaves designed out of tissue paper or construction paper, and then tuck them in the holes in the corrugation. Instant wearable garden!

Follow a reading of TWO OLD POTATOES AND ME by John Coy, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher (Knopf) with a game of Hot Potato: play music while children sit in a circle, passing a potato around.When the music stops, the one holding the potato is out, and the last person not holding the potato gets a prize. A British variation of the game is towrap a gift in many layers, and whoever holds the package gets to unwrap a layer. Whoever unwraps the last layer gets the prize! This method produces screaming fun, and nobody has to be "out." You can wrap a potato for this game, but books also make very good prizes!

Read your favorite version of Jack and the Beanstalk,(mine happens to be the version retold byAnn Keay Beneduce, illustrated by Gennady Spirin) and then pass out "Magic Beanstalk"seeds from Renee's Garden. These beans really do seem magical; when they grow, they form a lovely long vine with red flowers that reach up to the sky, and inside the pods are shocking purple/fuschia colored beans.

Make a garden meal! Children might actually eat their vegetables after reading about how they are grown (I said might). Gazpacho, green salad, salsa, crudité, watercress sandwiches, stuffed zucchini, veggie pizza, fruit pie, lemonade, or let the children produce their own inventions using produce! Be sure to have recipe cards available, in case children need to write their cooking secrets down. Some good recipes may be found in THE CHILDREN'S KITCHEN GARDEN by Georgeanne and Ethel Brennan (Tricycle) (sadly out of print but stil available used or in libraries) or Mollie Katzen's new step-by-step illustrated cookbook for children, SALAD PEOPLE (Tricycle). Read and eat the classic GROWING VEGETABLE SOUP by Lois Elhert (Harcourt), and with the leftovers, create your own crunchy characters using black-eyed peas and the models in HOW ARE YOU PEELING? FOODS WITH MOODS by Joost Elffers, Saxton Freyman (Scholastic). Be aware that within some circles of early childhood educators, there has been discussion about whether or not food should be used as a plaything or art supply when so many children around the world are hungry. This is a point worthy of consideration; food should always be treated with reverence and gratitude. Consider eating your art!

Make carrot bookmarks using orange and green construction paper, or use popsicle sticks and squares to make bookmarks that double as garden markers. Accompanying reading: MUNCHA MUNCHA MUNCHA by Candace Fleming, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Atheneum) and THE CARROT SEED by Crockett Johnson (Harper, 60th anniversary edition!)

Read about MISS RUMPHIUS by Barbara Cooney (Penguin) who changes the world one lupine at a time, and then set out still lifes of blue and purple flowers in vases, along with temperas of blue, violet, green and white. Let the children paint away! Mixing salt into the paint also creates an interesting effect. Once the paintings are dry, you can cover them with clear contact paper to make them into placemats. Or, let the children paint on paper plates and punch holes in the top; string with ribbon so the paintings can be hung easily. Doesn't the world look beautiful?

Decorate envelopes and fill with wildflower seeds to create a "Secret Garden" mix, or create "Grow a Reader" mixes featuring seed packets that look like covers of favorite books (ALISON'S ZINNIA by Anita Lobel [Greenwillow], anyone?). For the full package, accompany with the odd and funny STORY OF FROG BELLY RAT BONE by Timothy Basil Ewing, who incidentally, is the illustrator of Kate DiCamillo's latest (Candlewick).

Decorate a small pot by using acrylics to paint a fun face on to it. Then fill with soil and grass seed. Soon the children will have long-haired friends. Take that, Chia Pet! You may want to recommend
TOP SECRET by John Reynolds Gardiner (Little Brown), an intermediate novel in which a boy's science fair experiment on photosynthesis goes terribly awry.

MUDPIES AND OTHER RECIPES: A COOKBOOK FOR DOLLS by Marjorie Winslow, illustrated by Erik Blegvad (Walker)
FAIRY WENT A-MARKETING by Rose Fyleman, illustrated by Jamichael Henterly (Penguin) (Goodness gracious, this book is pretty!)
FLORA'S SURPISE by Debi Gliori (Orchard) (Flora tries to grow a house by planting a brick)
COUNTING IN THE GARDEN by Kim Parker(Orchard) (So splashy and fresh as a bouquet)
SEEDFOLKS by Paul Fleischman (Johanna Colter) (Chapter book for older readers will bring out their community spirit. Sayyy! He also did a very nice picture book and fine read-aloud with Bagram Ibatoulline, THE ANIMAL HEDGE. Looks like we could spend many summer hours just reading what Fleischman has planted in our imaginations!)
ROOTS, SHOOTS, BUCKETS AND BOOTS: ACTIVITIES TO DO IN THE GARDEN by Sharon Lovejoy (Workman) (A handy guide for experienced gardeners or novices. It's not too late to start growing your sunflower house described in this book, a perfect summer reading hideaway!)

There are so many great books that relate to things that grow; many more are listed at, and you are of course welcome to post your own in the comments section!

And finally, I'm so excited to share this great idea by elementary librarian Jani Collins:

"After reading HARVEY POTTER'S BALLOON FARM by Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by Mark Buehner (Harper) I told the kids that I had found a "conjure stick" that really worked. It was my 10 inch mascot for the year, a green and white stripped book worm that was fabric and had a bendable wire inside his skinny little body. I had straightened him out (literally) and told the kids that he was a great conjure stick. Before going into their class I had blown just enough air into a balloon to make it stand up straight, tied it off, taped it to a broken popsicle stick and "planted" it into a small terra cotta pot full of dirt. I kept it hidden until the story was over, then told them about the conjure stick, that I had said eeee ya ya ya over it and 'boing' it had started to grow. They of course were skeptical. Before leaving I gave each of them a "seed" (un-blown un-blown a word?) and told them, all they had to do was find just the right conjure stick. Over the next couple of days I replaced the 'growing balloon' with new larger ones so as to make them think it was growing. We live in a very small farming community in needless to say...I was "sweetly scolded" for telling them they could grow balloons. One mom called and said her daughter (who has grown up to be one of the MOST imaginative, well read kids I've ever met) was driving her crazy. She was in the corner of the field with the balloon in the ground waving all different size sticks over it and screaming...eeee ya ya ya ya. hee hee hee ...I love it when a plan comes together!!! But the absolute best was Colby...a died in the wool doubter of the unbelievable kind. He has farming blood in every vein from every side of his life. BUT...he has a great mom that is creative. When she found the balloon in Colby's backpack, he said it was from a story that Mrs. Collins' read, and repeated most of the story (yeehaa Colby!). Mom talked him into planting it and waving a yard stick over it. Colby was doubtful. The potting soil was in the closet with the water heater. It was warm. They planted the "seed" and hung it over the edge of the pot. Then they left and went to town. Colby left the potted balloon in the garage. The garage was cold. Need I say more? Let science be your guide. When they came home....TAA DAA...the balloon was standing straight up and I had a full blooded balloon farmer believer on my hands. He couldn't WAIT to get to school to tell me and all hisfriends....'it's a miracle' I believe were his words. His balloon never got any bigger...but it didn't matter....for one moment in time....every possible dream he could ever dream would come holds barred!!!"

(P.S. from Esme: branches wrapped in ribbon, fabric, streamers and bells also make good conjure sticks! Thanks again, Jani, for such creative inspiration, and for making lasting magic in the lives of children.)

Also of interest:
A lot of people think that Miss Pointy, the teacher in SAHARA SPECIAL, is me (which she is, when Miss Pointy loses her temper). But the best qualities of the character were actually inspired by the remarkable Ms. Liza Airo (pictured, she's the one on the right). Not only is she my teaching inspiration, she is a gardening inspiration! She started a whole school literacy and gardening initiative, creating thematic plots for different grade levels, integrating children's literature every step of the way. Mr. McGregor's Garden included cabbage, lettuce, carrots, radishes, beets, turnips, cauliflower, onions; the Native-American influenced "three sisters" garden was home to squash, corn and beans; Shakespeare's garden was where plants referenced in A Midsummer Night's Dream and A Winter's Tale grew; and purples and blues and a miniature bridge delighted the eye in Monet's Garden. All of the children in the school helped with the gardens, and were introduced to accompanying literature. Of course, Dr. Seuss's LORAX watched over all this hard work (pictured above). Please note: Ms. Airo is also very handy with a table saw.

Last but not least:
Over the weekend Queen of England threw quite the 80th birthday bash , an enviable party featuring storybook characters and lovely finger sandwich picnic lunches! I'll have to remember that when I am queen!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

1 comment:

Christie said...

Dear Esme,

Thanks for the garden of inspiration! I am just embarking on a huge gardening project with my students for the summer. Thanks for the great ideas!



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