Monday, September 6, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: The Good Garden by Katie Milway & Up We Grow by Deborah Hodges

This Monday I'm looking at two gardening/farm books - with a little more than just how-to-grow or cute-outdoor-crafts going on! Deborah Hodges' Up We Grow is a composite of several different small farms, specifically co-ops, which are practicing sustainable farming. The story is arranged by seasons, from spring to winter. Descriptions of farm life, planting, weeding, caring for livestock, and selling produce are interspersed with information on how sustainable farms care for the land and animals. The text also includes questions for younger children to answer and to spur ideas of small scale farming in your own yard or home. An end note explains how a sustainable farm is defined and gives a little more information about the farms pictured in this book. The photographs mostly feature children interacting in farm life and there are plenty of animals and equipment pictured to interest younger children. This enthusiastic, optimistic nonfiction will be enjoyed by beginning readers and listeners alike and perhaps inspire adults to try a little sustainable farming themselves - or search out their closest farmers' market.

Up We Grow! A Year in the Life of a Small, Local Farm by Deborah Hodges, photographs by Brian Harris

ISBN: 978-1554535613; Published August 2010 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates
The Good Garden looks at sustainable farming from a slightly different angle. This story of a fictional family explains the work of Don Elias Sanchez, who taught Honduran farmers how to move beyond subsistence farming and, using sustainable farming, create a better life for their families. The story follows one young girl, Maria Luz Duarte for one year. Their land is worn out and cannot produce enough food to feed the family. When Maria Luz' father has to leave to find a job to support his family, they worry he won't earn enough money - and they'll lose their farm, like many other families. But when school begins, a new teacher arrives. The new teacher helps the children create a school garden using compost, terraces, and natural techniques to fertilize the soil and keep weeds and insects away. Maria Luz tries the new techniques at home and also tries growing a cash crop; radishes. With the teacher's support, Maria Luz' family and others bypass the middleman, Senor Coyote, and take their crops to market themselves. Their families have enough food now - and money for medical supplies and school. The new teacher moves on to teach another school the new ideas, leaving Mariz Luz and her family with more than enough food for the winter; now they have hope for a better future.

An end note explains the life and work of Don Elias Sanchez and what it means to be "food secure" or have a "food crisis". Ideas on how kids can help are included, as well as further information on the topic. Four organizations that work on rural development are spotlighted and there is a brief glossary of Spanish words from the story. The art is lovely and inspiring and the story broken into simple chapters so even smaller children can listen.

This would be an excellent book to use in a classroom or library program to encourage children to contribute as well as think about gardening for their own families. It's long for a read-aloud, but could be broken into sections for a multi-part program or classroom series. This would make a great resource for libraries that have a charity component for their summer reading program, something I hope to incorporate some day in the future!

The Good Garden is part of Kids Can Press' CitizenKid series, which simplifies global issues for elementary age children and gives them concrete things they can do to help, without making the issues scary or overwhelming. More resource materials specifically for teachers are available at More information on getting involved in rural development is available at or

The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault

ISBN: 978-1554534883; Published September 2010 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates

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