Monday, June 9, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Gardening Lab for kids by Renata Fossen Brown

Around this time of year, or even earlier, I start looking for new gardening books to add to the collection. It's really hard to find gardening books that actually talk about gardening and are directed towards kids without being a collection of crafts with some seed planting thrown in.

There's a really wide variety of projects in the book, but some things were disappointing to me. The subtitle reads "52 fun experiments to learn, grow, harvest, make, play, and enjoy your garden". The book is supposedly directed at kids, but most of the information seems to be aimed at parents and the type is very small.

The introduction talks about the benefits of gardening, the basic parts of a plant, planting zones, annuals and perennials, watering basics (geared towards the Midwest), and basic gardening tips and tools. The second section, getting started, has growing seeds in a bag, designing and planting, and different tools like making your own sprinkler or water gauge, painting a tool tote, etc. The third section offers "theme gardening" which varies from things like a pizza garden or butterfly garden to a "shoe garden" (plants in rubber boots) or a "baseball garden" (decorating a pot and using a baseball bat as a trellis). The fourth section, green gardening, has things like making a home for pollinators, creating a worm bin, making your own rain barrel, and creating a bird feeder. The fifth section, "garden art" is pretty much what it sounds like - stepping stones, a birdbath, and lots of different things to put in the garden. The last section, "enjoying your garden" has things like writing garden poetry, making a garden journal, and creating a garden fort.

Throughout the book there are sections called "dig deeper" with additional information or suggestions. There are also some resources listed.

I liked the variety of projects, although nearly all of them need extensive adult assistance with power tools, chemicals, etc. A lot of them posit a fairly large yard and/or access to a lot of different tools and materials. The book really is directed towards adults, not kids, so it would have perhaps been more accurate to say "Gardening Lab WITH kids" not FOR kids. Some of the projects don't show the finished item and everything looks very tidy and organized. No garden I've been involved in ever looked like that. I didn't see any mention of using chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides or not and there is a lot of lawn shown in many of the pictures. There's also no mention of using native plants and other than a couple things like birdfeeders, no mention of wildlife gardening. Of course, that's not the main point of the book, but since it is so adult in outlook, I would think those things would have been briefly mentioned.

My major gripe with the book though? The author is responsible for education at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, so presumably she knows the city of Cleveland well. Cleveland is about 50% African American and 10% Hispanic. All of the children pictured in photographs have cameos in the back of the book where you can clearly see their faces. This makes the staggering lack of diversity in the 17 children used as models in the book even more glaring. Of the 17 kids, 3, maybe 4, appear to be biracial and all have light skin. The kids appear to have been drawn from her friends and neighbors and I'm not saying she should have lined the kids up and picked a range of skin colors or something, but I can't believe that in a city with such a large African American population she couldn't find a more diverse group of kids to participate. Apparently only kids with light skin are photogenic and anyways gardening is not something for black kids. Yes, this really annoyed me. Even DK, with their ridiculously gendered books includes a more diverse range of kids.

Verdict: This isn't a bad gardening book, and I think it would circulate, but it's not the best. I'm looking for gardening books that are geared more specifically to younger children, that have simple, inexpensive projects, and that feature a more diverse range of children participating in the activities.

ISBN: 9781592539048; Published 2014 by Quarry Books; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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