In this episode we explore some great books about gardens, gardeners, and how to create gardens together with our kids.
Books Discussed in this Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids.
I’m so glad you joined us today. This is the month of May, and it’s time to get outside and start thinking about gardening and the joy of seeing nature come back to life after a long winter. So today I thought it would be fun to look at some special books about gardening and flowers and plants. I want to start with some picture books, first of all, that just recognize those who have had a history of really making a difference by planting seeds in the world.
And so the first one that comes to mind is the legend of Johnny Appleseed. And he was a real man, Johnny Appleseed. And there are two books I really like about his life. One is Johnny Appleseed by Steven Kellogg, and Steven Kellogg is the author and illustrator of this great little book. I’ve had it for years, and I really love this book. It gives a lot of great details about his life, his family, and the experiences he had on the frontier as he traveled. It’s an excellent book for elementary kids up through middle school. If you’re doing a unit on folk tales, this would be the one I would recommend.
Another one about Johnny Appleseed is more poetic, and it actually is written as a poem. And it is also called Johnny Appleseed, a poem by Reeve Lindbergh and illustrated by Kathy Jacobsen. The artwork is very folksy for that period of time when he was alive. The poem is very well-written, and I think it’s a very sweet, cute book, fun to share because of the lyrical quality of the poem. John Chapman, who is Johnny Appleseed, planted trees. He grew up in an apple orchard in his home. And then when he went across the Midwest, legend has it that he planted many apple trees along the way.
And then another great story about someone who historically has affected the gardening habits in America and the lives of many people is the story of George Washington Carver. And I’ve shared a couple books about him that are really good. There’s another one that came out in 2020, and it is called The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Jean Beretta and illustrated by Frank Morrison. And the illustrations in this book are really special. And the story is really wonderful. It shares a lot of the history of the time and the segregation and his trying to get into college and having trouble with that, but his determination to accomplish what he was created to accomplish. And this one is really meant for children ages four through six, but I think it has such a richness to the story with the history included that I think you could go much older with this story, and children would enjoy it. I kind of believe that about a lot of picture books, I think to limit picture books to just the ages of four to six or even four to eight is sometimes a mistake because they are so wonderful and so rich and so quick. Especially if you’re reading aloud, you want something that you can read quickly. So either a chapter book with shorter chapters or a picture book, and even if you have older children, if you’re homeschooling a wide range of ages, you can work with what you have to really help your children think of the level that they are at with their age. I firmly believe that for the most part, our literature learning with our children should be holding books in our hands and reading them together and not necessarily using a text, although I enjoy some of the literature texts as well, because you can read excerpts from many books with your older kids.
And then one other book I want to share about a person who planted seeds and made a difference in the world. And this is many people’s favorite picture book. It’s called Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. And this is such a wonderful story of Alice Rumphius and how she traveled the world. And then how she planted seeds. And her father had challenged her to make the world more beautiful and how she challenged her niece to also make the world a more beautiful place. She’s known as the lupine lady and she planted lupine seeds everywhere she went. So flowers grew all over, and she made the world a more beautiful place. It’s just a very, very sweet story. If you haven’t read it, you really must read this one. Very nicely written and beautiful, and your kids will love this story.
Now, another story, another picture book that is silly and a lot of fun, even though it’s silly, it teaches a lot of science in the process and the importance of bugs. And so this is called The Queen Who Banished Bugs: A Tale of Bees, Butterflies, Ants, and Other Pollinators: If Bugs Are Banished. And this is by Ferris Kelly Robinson and illustrated by Mary Ferris Kelly. It’s really cute. And like I said, it tells a lot about science in the midst of the story. I’ll read just a little bit about it. “Once upon a once, in the kingdom of Duns lived a king and a queen and insects and seen king Claude ruled the land and the sea and the sky, how did he do it? Why would he try? He was brave and bold and strong and lean, but terrified of queen Libertine. She wanted all things. Exactly. Just so from the blue in the sky to the water below summer required a waft like breeze and springtime must never induce a sneeze. She surveyed her fields from high on her hill, insisting all conform to her will. Everything had to be perfect and neat. A Berry found close to a beet.” And then we’re gonna go ahead a little further. Okay. So then it says, “One day as she spied a flaw in a field a teeny sweat bee set on her heel. She drew her hand back and launched her attack with a smack and a whack and a very big thwack. The creatures audacity, the creatures veracity. That bug discovered the Queen’s pugnacity her battles. Screech was heard over the land and terrified all both critter. And man, the farmers stopped plowing. The cows stopped cowing the owls stopped their hoots and king Claude. Why he quaked in his boots. Her tantrum was heard all the way to Quebec far pest Mexico and throughout van Fleck too late. She cried off with his head. The poor little fella was already dead, but it wasn’t enough. She didn’t stop there. She forbade all insects, no place, nowhere not stopping at bugs with six tiny legs. She destroyed the babies and even the eggs. And so it goes on, and the king saves the day at the end, but it talks about how important it is to have pollinators in the land and how the queen is unreasonable with her temper tantrums and her attitude wanting everything just so. It’s a good introduction to insects and the importance of having them in our gardens. And if you’re like me, you don’t like bugs. And so you may have children who don’t like bugs. And so I think it’s important to help them understand the importance that we have these creatures in the earth to help pollinate the plants and help things grow.
So a couple books that do talk about the need for bugs, the need for insects–I’m going to share a couple of my favorites. One is really cute. It’s called Lola Plants a Garden, and it’s by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw, and the illustrations are so cute in this little book. And she plans her garden. She shares her flowers. She keeps the seeds to plant the next year, but she loves the nursery rhyme “Mary Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow?” So while she’s waiting for the plants to grow, she and her mom do an art project with the poem and she gets to plant her little flower garden next to her mom’s vegetable and fruit garden. And it’s just cute, cute, cute. You’ll really enjoy this little book.
Another one’s very short. It’s called Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert. And this is about planting all different colors of flowers, and it is a book of color. And it’s a board book. Now this one doesn’t deal too much with the bugs. Lola’s deals a little more with the bugs. This one just deals with colors, but one that is super, super cute about bugs and about gardens is My Busy Green Garden by Terry Pierce and illustrated by Carol Schwartz. I love this book. This one is one of my favorites. It’s got really cute rhyme and beautiful, beautiful illustrations. I think this one should be read every spring. On each page the rhyme builds, and the first begins with, “There’s a surprise in clever disguise that hangs in my busy green garden.” And then it goes on to the next creature. “This is a ladybug dawdling so near the surprise in clever disguise that hangs in my busy green garden. This is a honeybee buzzing below the red spotted ladybug dawdling so near the surprise in clever disguise that hangs in my busy green garden.” And so the story keeps going and builds to the end when we find out, of course, what the surprise is that is hanging in her garden. And then at the end of the book, they have information about each of the insects or creatures that are mentioned in the book and it gives information about them. So it’s really beautiful. It’s my favorite probably of all of the picture books about gardening that I looked at. I highly recommend this one.
And there’s one special book that’s called Garden Flower Alphabet Coloring Book by Ruth Soffer. And these are great coloring pages, very beautiful coloring pages and takes you through the alphabet with the names of different flowers. So this would be really fun while you’re reading aloud to let your children color one of these pages. If you’re reading one of these picture books to them and having your read aloud time, then you could have them coloring one of these pictures.
And then one last one about the garden and the insects and the things that are in a garden is called In A Garden by Tim McCanna and illustrated by Aimee Sicuro. This is for young children and it shows you all the things that are in a garden from the earthworms and the bugs and the termites, the birds, all the little critters. And then it goes through the whole process of the plant starting to come up through the ground and the flowers blooming and the garden growing.
There’s one more book that is really well-written. But if you have someone who’s a little squeamish about bugs or creatures, I wouldn’t recommend this for them, but it is very well-written, but it’s got some pictures that would make me not want to garden if I didn’t like creatures. It’s called Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt; it’s written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. It’s a great book. There’s some very vivid images in this book that will stick with your children.
I want to touch on a few books that are educational, how-to books for gardening with children. One is Gardening for Kids by Brandy Stone. This is a fantastic handbook. It covers everything from safety in the garden, how to plan your garden, and how to get the kids involved in gardening–what they need to do. In fact, the subtitle of this book is Gardening for Kids: Learn, Grow, and Get Messy with Fun Steam Projects. And so “steam” of course stands for the science, technology, engineering, art, and math skills. And so this has steam projects. It has some art projects to do. It has lots of supplemental materials and activities for you to do with your kids. Especially if you were doing this as part of your homeschooling, this is just a great book, very clear, very good instruction. And I highly recommend it. I think it’s wonderful.
Another one that deals specifically with gardening is (I love the title), it’s called Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy. And this one is really great. The title alone makes me smile. And the illustrations are really cute in this book, but it talks about what are the best plants to grow with children. I love the idea–they have this one, they have themed gardens, and one of them is called the pizza patch. And so you could grow a pizza with your kids. Wouldn’t that be awesome? There’s several different themed gardens that they list. And then they have gardening basics: how to plan, plant and care for your garden. So this is just a fun book with some great ideas that I think would get your kids really excited about growing a garden together.
I think, too, gardening is such an important skill. They have found–scientists have found–that gardening can help a child relax and feel less anxious. It’s a wonderful activity where they’re using their muscles. They’re moving, they’re squatting, they’re raking, they’re hoeing, and they see something they’ve done–the planting of the seeds and the preparing of the soil–create something wonderful as those plants grow. And so gardening is such a special thing for children. Plus they are learning patience as they wait for the plants to grow. They’re learning, self-sufficiency where they can grow their own food, provide for their families, where they can use these plants that they’ve helped grow to create wonderful dishes for their family. I think it’s just a wonderful skill to teach our kids.
Now, when I’m thinking about gardening and scripture, there’s two verses that come to mind immediately for me when I think about gardening, and the first one I love to use, it’s a very simple way to have an object lesson with your kids, is just simply before you garden, to talk about the gospel and how God used the analogy of seeds and planting seeds with sharing the gospel. And in 1 Corinthians 3:7-9, it says, “It’s not important who does the planting or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose, and both will be rewarded for their own hard work for we are both God’s workers and you are God’s field. You are God’s building.” I shared these verses with children at VBS once (Vacation Bible School) and handed each of them a seed to remind themselves that whether they get to share the gospel with someone or they just get to answer their questions later or share a little bit more about the gospel, it’s not important. We just keep sharing, and then God will bring the increase. He will make the seeds grow. He will save the person. That’s not our job. Our job is simply to share–it’s to plant the seeds, it’s to water the seeds, and to help people see who God is, and to share the gospel with them. I was really blessed by how just letting a child hold that seed, made that story seem real to them in a way that maybe they hadn’t thought about it before–that they can do that. They can plant a little seed, you know. And I think sometimes we get the feeling like we’ve got to preach a sermon and know a bunch of scriptures and be able to share the whole Bible with someone when we want to just share our faith with them and share what God has done in our lives. And so helping children to understand they’re just planting a little seed, even if it’s just being kind to someone and showing God’s love to a person in whatever way we can. At that moment, that’s planting a little seed or watering a seed that has been planted in their hearts before. And so that’s one object lesson I love to use with children.
And then I want to share a little story I wrote. It’s just a fun kid’s story. I’ll have it in the show notes. You can share it with your kids if you like it, but it’s based on Mark 4. That’s the other scripture I always think of. When I think of gardening, I think of Mark 4, the story of the farmer sowing seeds, which is the parable Jesus shared. The parable is mark 4:3-8. This is the story I wrote for fun based on those scriptures. The scriptures in the ERV say, “Listen, a farmer went out to sow seed. While he was scattering the seeds, some of it fell by the road. The birds came and ate all that seed. Other seed fell on rocky ground where there was not enough dirt. It grew quickly there because the soil was not deep. But then the sun rose and the plants were burned. They died because they did not have deep roots. Some other seed fell among thorny weeds. The weeds grew and stopped the good plants from growing. So they did not make grain, but some of the seed fell on good ground. There it began to grow, and it made grain. Some plants made 30 times more grain, some 60 times more, and some 100 times more.” And then later in that chapter, Jesus explains that this is referring to how people receive the word of God. So here is my version of the story for kids. It’s called The Four Seeds.
One spring day, the farmer scooped some seeds into his hand and said, I will plant you in the field I’ve prepared with rich soil to help you grow. Perhaps you will be strong and produce tasty fruit. Then he placed the seeds into his pouch, put on his hat, and walked down the road toward the field. One impatient seed jumped out onto the dirt road that was made hard from animals, carts, and people using it. The seed pushed with all his might, but he could not dig into the ground, and a bird snatched him up. Soon the second seed jumped out of the pouch when he saw dirt. “I like this spot. Why wait for the farmer’s field?” But the rocky ground only had a little dirt. The seed tried to dig deep, bumping its head on a rock. He grew into a scraggly little sprout, but the hot sun shriveled him up. The third seed said, “Look, bushes!” And jumped into the thorny weeds by the road. He had no good soil because the weeds ate all the vitamins. He sprouted into a scrawny plant whose tummy always growled. He never grew bigger. The farmer arrived at the field with only one seed left. He dropped it into the soil and watered it. The seed snuggled down in the dirt and felt safe and warm. Soon it sprouted and grew leaves. The farmer returned every day to make sure it was growing well. The plant loved the farmer, and the farmer loved the plant. All spring he sprouted green leaves, and bloomed with white flowers all summer. He grew taller and stronger all fall. The plant produced delicious fruit ready for harvest. The farmer had always known what was best. The farmer thought about the impatient seeds who would have loved to grow in his garden. If only they understood what the farmer had planned. As the strong plant grew, he created more seeds. He told the story of the four seeds to all the new seeds. Once the farmer gathered them for next spring, he hoped those seeds would be patient and remember to let the farmer plant them in the best soil, so they could have life and grow as they were meant to.
This story is like Jesus’ story in Mark 4. The seeds are like us when we hear what the Bible says. And the farmer is like God helping us grow in the Lord. When we obey the Bible, we grow closer to God and have joy and peace.
So I want to offer a little prayer for us as we think about gardening and as we think about growing in the Lord. Father, God, I pray that you would help us. First of all, that we would grow closer to you, that we would do the good works you designed for us to do. And Lord, I pray as we teach our children and our grandchildren about you, that we would help them to understand how much you love them, that we would plant the seeds of your word deep, deep into their hearts and that they would grow in their knowledge and their love for you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books spark wonderful conversations and fun times with your children and that you will have a fantastic garden if you try to make one this year. You can sign up for my mailing list on my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com.
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Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.