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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002

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  • Tuesday- Friday10 am - 4 pm
  • Saturday 10am – 5pm
  • Sunday 12 pm - 5 pm

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Picture Books We Love

Planting a Community: Gardening Books

Whether it’s a plot in the community garden, a pot on your windowsill, magical topiaries in the neighborhood or even an imaginary garden, growing and tending plants together unites us all. The Carle Bookshop booksellers share their recommendations for picture books that celebrate growing and planting within our communities. 

Cover image of Goodnight Veggies show a worm and sleeping turnips in a garden.

This is Hannah from the Carle Bookshop.

Follow the worm though a community garden and say goodnight to all the plants! Full of rhymes and puns, Goodnight Veggies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020) by Diana Murray and Zachariah OHora is a whimsical bedtime read and will inspire young readers to love all things vegetable! The attention to detail in the full-page illustrations has created little “Easter eggs” for the viewers to find each time they go back to read it. The journey follows our worm friend through every page of the book - including the jacket flaps! 

Interior illustration shows worm visiting box garden beds full of vegetables

Both author and illustrator considered the diversity in their audience; the catchy rhyme scheme can be understood and read by beginning readers, artist Zarchariah OHora made intentional visual choices surrounding representation (beyond giving page space to less celebrated veggies - here’s to you, radish and yam!) 

Most notably, the only person centered in the story, who is portrayed as the gardener, is a woman of color. In addition, the garden space is set in the city. While its only visible in the beginning and the end, that detail made this a winner for me, because it took the story beyond a silly bedtime book that might ‘help your kids eat their veggies’ and made it about understanding natural growth, agriculture, and access. Especially in the Pioneer Valley, where fresh vegetables are widely available, it’s easy to forget how much effort people and plants put into growth in urban areas. In addition, that little representational detail could make all the difference to a city kid reading this book, excited to recognize the experience expressed on the page.

interior page spread shows city rooftop garden

 A Community Gardening Story outside in a garden.

This is Allie from the Bookshop,

talking about Green, Green: A Community Gardening Story by authors Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, and illustrator Sonia Sánchez (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017). The story begins in the country, where people play, plant, and tend to their land: “Brown brown, dig the ground.” Then we move to the city where perpetual littering and construction makes it feel like nothing is growing: “Brown brown, dig the ground.”

Interior image shows people with umbrellas looking into a fenced garden lot filled with weeds and trash.

Marie and Baldev Lamba use color and onomatopoeia to tell us how a community garden is built in the middle of this city by everyday people in a multiracial neighborhood. Sánchez fills each spread with movement, color, and life. I especially love how Sánchez plays with perspective in her illustrations, turning a street or tilting a building to fit as much life and plants into the spread as possible.

A child looks at a colorful blooming garden.

I wonder what my own brown, brown garden plot could become…

Gardening book for kids sits amongst the violets

Hi Y’all, this is Sara

and I thoroughly enjoyed every bit this book, design, illustrations and content too! Easy Peasy: Gardening for Kids by Kirsten Bradley, illustrated by Aitch (Little Gestalten Press, 2019) is absolutely stunning! Each activity is gorgeous illustrated with vibrant watercolors and the activities are accessible for all, no matter if your garden is in your backyard or one you make out of recycled juice containers! 

Instruction page from Easy Peasy shows how to make seed balls.

There are pages of information on insects and soil, and a glossary of gardening terms in the back. In my opinion, the illustrations are where the true magic of this book lies, each little flower, every tiny bug and all the gardening tools are painted with such charm and care that every activity inadvertently inspires another just with the detail and feeling imbued in every page. The step of every activity is pictured clearly next to the text, with lovely scenes of how the finished project might look in the home. Simple yet fulfilling activities, many of which can be done without the help of an adult (for elementary school aged children), and inspiring illustrations make for a scrumptious celebration of the joy of helping things grow!

open book spread of gardening activity with actual cat in the shadows

This is Allie from the Bookshop,

talking about The Night Gardener by brothers Terry and Eric Fan (Simon & Schuster, 2016).

Photo of the cover of The Night Gardener among flowers in a dark garden at night.

You may have seen early and later work by The Fan Brothers in the Carle’s exhibit Now & Then: Contemporary Illustrators and Their Childhood Art. In this story, a young boy named William wakes up one morning with the rest of the residents of boring and gray Grimloch Lane to find an enormous topiary shaped like an owl across the street from his house. Every night afterwards, a mysterious gardener comes down the lane to turn their trees into masterpieces.

Interior illustration shows a giant topiary in the shape of a rabbit.

Interior illustration shows a giant topiary in the shape of an Chinese dragon. Children play in the branches of the topiary.

One night, William decides to follow him into Grimloch Park. The Night Gardener is an Asian man, William is pale-skinned, and the residents of Grimloch Lane are all different shades, shapes, and ages. In their debut picture book, The Fan Brothers show us how community art can transform a neighborhood, and bring its residents together. 

Photo of a copy of Thank You Garden sitting in the grass.

This is Hannah from The Carle Bookshop.

I think Thank you, Garden by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Simone Shin (Simon & Schuster, 2020) is a spirited romp through a city community garden, and a beautiful visual story! The lively poetic scheme that accompany the engaging illustrations makes this a great choice for early readers!

double page interior illustration shows a variety of community garden beds

The simple text allows readers to focus on the illustrations, also making this a great read for enhancing visual comprehension. I applaud the decision to set teh story in a metropolitan community garden, as with the book Goodnight Veggies, the representation of this hub of organic growth can make all the difference for city kids! Beginning with a welcome diverse cast of characters, the neighborhood cultimates their garden from seed to harvest, and celebrates with - what else - a picnice made from the fruits of their labor!

interior page shows diverse community eating at a table together

The perfect springtime read to get kids excited about growing things in the sunny months.

Photo of a copy of If You Plant a Seed sitting in a flower pot of sprouting seeds.

This is Allie from the Bookshop,

talking about If You Plant a Seed  (Balzer + Bray, 2015) by one of my favorite author/illustrators, Kadir Nelson. It’s a book about gardening, and it’s a book about choosing kindness and building community. A rabbit and a mouse begin their garden together, and after much hard work and patience, grow tomatoes, carrots, and cabbages for themselves. By morning, a handful of birds have shown up hoping to get some free veggies. 

interior illustration by Kadir Nelson shows fighting animals

Nelson says, “If you plant a seed of selfishness…it will grow and grow and grow.”  But, “if you plant a seed of kindness…the fruits of kindness will grow.” With teamwork and seeds of kindness, the animal’s small plot becomes an overflowing farm. Nelson’s vibrant paintings play with space and tone, and it’s easy to start a conversation with readers about what each animal may be feeling based on their facial expressions and placement on the page. Nelson has won many awards for his work and his paintings are in the permanent collections of the US House of Representatives, the Muskegon Museum of Art, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and more. 

close up of Kadir Nelson illustration showing rooster, racoon and chipmunks

Hi, this is Hannah from the Bookshop

talking about The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher (Kids Can Press, 2009).

The Imaginary Garden sits on an outdoor table next to a stack of books

When Theo's grandfather moves into a new apartment, they are dismayed to discover that there's not much space for their favorite activity, gardening together. So Grandpa suggests that they get creative, and paint an imaginary garden on the balcony, just in time for spring! He then asks Theo to take care of the garden while he's on vacation, but she's worried – what if she doesn't know what to do? "When you see the garden," he tells her, "you'll know just what to do."  

One of my favorite aspects of this book is illustrator Irene Luxbacher's deliberate use of color to give life to the scenes that matter: multi-media collage juxtaposes the technically perfect line drawings of the city exterior and sets the stage for the story to come. The reader becomes fully immersed in Theo's experience, going from standing next to the canvas on the balcony to painting flowers in an explosively colorful garden that spans beyond the edges of the page. 

interior page shows child in garden with paintbrush

Along with practical lessons about painting technique and garden development, The Imaginary Garden presents an equally functional strategy for accessible and imaginative play. In this week's Art Studio blog post, artists from The Carle experimented with crafts inspired by gardening. We're very lucky here in the Pioneer Valley, surrounded by state-protected meadows and serene wetlands, that gardening as a hobby and an art is so available to us. Working on the prompt myself, I barely had to move to find any number of stray plants and wildflowers, just asking to be moved and replanted.  

I'm pleased with the growing representation of community and urban gardens, and with it the understanding that not everyone has access to the same experiences. The Imaginary Garden considers another facet of representation – the gardening novices! As someone who definitely doesn't have a green thumb, I appreciate the nod towards gardening-without-a-garden, and the expression of joy that comes from knowing that you've made something grow, whether it be in soil or paint.

For even more recommendations, check out our complete booklist of picture books about growing and planting. Let us know your favorites!

 

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