Books reflect our lives and the times that we are living, as the details that form the content weave cultural elements of any given place and time into the words. For this reason, seeing a children’s book about school gardens is a heartening symbol of our current society. It signifies the exciting fact that parents and kids are recognizing the school garden as a common entity.
The new book, “Our School Garden!” by Rick Swann, works to spread that shared experience through his unique layout that mixes verse, lessons and history. We enter the story through the character of Michael, who is starting his first day at a new school in a new city. From his perspective, we get introduced to their thriving school garden, his new friends, and the learning that goes on throughout the year. Each page presents a topical verse, from “The Enormous Carrot” to “Pill Bugs” to “Harvest Day!” which is linked to a short informative lesson on the next page. My favorite is “Three Sisters” where Michael describes planting corn, squash and beans with Julie and Simon. On the next page, we learn about “companion planting” and the reasons that the Native Americans chose these three crops to grow together. Another great section is “Homonym: One Word, Many Meanings” in which we hear about all the ways the word “bank” is used within the context of Michael’s garden, ie: food bank, snow bank, seed bank, etc. Through the concept of a homonym, the important idea of donating to food banks is introduced.
The beautiful illustrative work of Christy Hale lends a perfect visual component to this book, capturing the vibrant colors and dreamy scenes that make up a year in a garden. She brings the reader into each page by offering lots of textures, backgrounds and small details to focus on while also maintaining emphasis on Michael as a character and the garden through his eyes.
Swann is an elementary school librarian in Seattle, and something that started inspiring him to delve into the subject of gardening was his research that uncovered the long history that gardens in schools has had. We get some of this knowledge in Michael’s “Found Poem” verse, along with a lesson about victory gardens during World War I and II and even today at the White House. The Author’s Note at the very end gives us even more insight about the history of Swann’s specific school, and really emphasizes why our country felt compelled to create these special spaces for learning and why it is important to keep that trend alive and well.
For parents and teachers, the author has also included a list of resources and recommendations for other good books about the subject. His website, www.rickswann.com, dives even more into the topic, offering more historical references and images of historic community garden posters, as well as a curriculum guide that has activities to pair with all the poems in the book. He also offers a few fun examples of his own stopmotion animation, up to date blog posts, and a variety of presentations that he is happy to bring to your school.
– Amber Turpin, Life Lab Staff and Civil Eats Writer