I'm doing something a little different today. This week I read two books that complement each other quite well, and then I thought of another book that could easily be added to the mix. So the following three books could be used independently or all together for a variety of lessons.
Picture Book Resources
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
This is a newly purchased book for the elementary library, but it could be used at multiple levels. The story is about a little boy who lives in a drab urban environment. He finds an abandoned elevated train track and decides to help out the scrappy plants he finds there. Through trial and error he improves his gardening skills and thanks to his perseverance, soon there is a patch of color in the drab city. Over the seasons, he continues to care for the garden, and it spreads both in space and in popularity. Soon others catch the gardening bug and before long the entire city is transformed.
There are numerous ways this could be used in lessons. Here are just some of my ideas for lessons/talking points:
- Talk with students about the benefits of plants. Whenever I taught a unit on plants I always had students initially whine, "Why do we have to study plants?" This book will help give a visual and can open up a discussion for other ways plants benefit humans.
- There's also the psychological aspect of the drab environment being changed into something beautiful that could be discussed.
- Have students debate the pros and cons of adding more plants to an area (i.e. smog vs pollen).
- Students could even start brainstorming small ways they could help their community.
- I also liked that the author showed the boy persevering through some mistakes. You could discuss the perseverance and patience needed in learning new things, and how we can learn from mistakes. (A really important message for students with a tendency for perfectionism.)
- It's also just a fun read for the artwork.
- And lastly, history teachers might be interested in the note at the back that the boy's garden space is based on a real abandoned elevated train line.
- (In studying the history, you could also discuss various forms of recycling and repurposing things.)
The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, pictures by David Small
During the Great Depression, a little girl goes to stay with her Uncle in the big city until her parents can find more work. She writes letters to her parents and Grandma regularly telling them how she is helping in the bakery, planting the seeds she brought with her, and planning a surprise for her Uncle that she thinks will finally get him to smile. When news comes that it is time for her to return home, she leaves having made quite an impression on her Uncle and others in the city.
Like The Curious Garden, this has many potential classroom uses:
- The text appears entirely in the form of letters, so this could be used as a model for letter writing or an introduction to lessons on letter writing and the parts of a letter.
- With the historical setting, it could easily tie in with history lessons on the Great Depression.
- One of the best things about this book is the little girl's attitude throughout. It would have been so easy for her to be upset and grumpy about being shipped away from her parents and staying with an unsmiling uncle, but she keeps a cheerful attitude despite her circumstances. Perfect for starting a discussion with a class about how your attitude can affect your life and the lives of those around you.
- Relevant to international students, this could be a way to open up a discussion about the hard parts about leaving a place and people. The little girl took seeds with her to her new home, what would (or what have) students take(n)?
- Like, The Curious Garden, this can obviously be used in talking about the benefits of plants both for the environment and for the psychological impact.
- And like The Curious Garden, this can be used as a jumping off point for a talk on small ways students can impact their community for good.
- This book won a Caldecott Honor in 1998. Talk about the Caldecott Medal with your students. It's a relevant time to do so, the new winners will be announced next Monday, Feb 2 at 8am (9pm our time).
- If you read both The Curious Garden and The Gardener, have the students compare and contrast the two gardens and gardeners, or compare and contrast the settings, or compare and contrast the art styles...lots of compare/contrast options.
The Tree Lady: the True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
This is the picture book biography of Kate Sessions, the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a science degree and the visionary who helped transform San Diego's city park from a dry dust bowl to a green haven. It's the story of a woman who repeatedly did the seemingly impossible, and mobilized others to do so as well. And all this was at a time when women were not seen as community leaders, at least not outside of fashion.
Kate Sessions' story could be used in so many ways:
- Obviously, this could be used when studying the history of California or the US West.
- It is also a great illustration of the impact of plants in helping prevent erosion and things like dust storms. So yet another benefits of plants for the environment and psychological factor discussion starter. (Ask students if they would have rather lived in San Diego before or after Sessions planted trees there and why.)
- Classes studying women's rights, like the right to obtain an education (still a relevant topic in the world, it's why 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala was shot).
- Kate Sessions was another great example of someone who persevered. Talk with students about whether they would have worked so hard to bring trees in, or if they might have given up.
- The book talks about the way Sessions researched which trees would grow best in San Diego's climate before bringing in the trees. Talk with students about the importance of research and planning before action. Or talk with students about biomes, types of plants, and why it was necessary for Sessions to do this research. (You could also easily include a discussion about invasive species with this.)
- Kate Sessions is an example of someone who took a subject she loved and turned it into a career. Talk with students about some of their passions and what careers match well.
- Kate is also a good example of someone who used her talents to help others. Kids may at first be skeptical that a botanist could help people, but have them list the ways Kate helped her community with her science skills. You can also talk about ways students could use their talents to bless others.
- I really enjoyed the artwork in this book and felt it matched the story perfectly. Ask students what observations they can make about the art. And have them debate whether the style was a good fit or not and why.
- Of course, if you're doing a unit on biographies, this is a great example.
- Science teachers, when students ask what can you do with a science degree...Kate Sessions is a good example of a profession they probably wouldn't normally think of.
- And if you read The Tree Lady along with either The Curious Garden or The Gardener, or both, you can discuss the difference between fiction and nonfiction, compare the gardens involved, compare and contrast the stories, or just use Kate as an encouragement for your students that such things as imagined in the fictional stories can and have really happened.