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Friday, June 15, 2012

First PEAS to the Table, written by Susan Grigsby and illustrated by Nicole Tadgell. Albert Whitman & Company, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"I pulled a shiny nickel fom my pocket. Jefferson was on the front and his home, Monticello, was on the back. This would be my good luck charm for winning, I decided."

I am hearing more in the news these days about school gardens and the resurgence for 'growing our own'. What a wonderful way to get children leaning about the good food we should be putting into our bodies. Imagine their joy when they actually eat what they have grown.

I think that Susan Grigsby is doing a real service to children and the adults in their lives when she combines history with nonfiction as she did previously in her book about George Washington Carver, In the Garden with Dr. Carver (Albert Whitman, 2010). By using real people and the lessons that they taught, she brings history alive for the children who share her stories.

Ms. Garcia knows something about Thomas Jefferson and she uses it as the premise for a contest:

"His five-thousand-acre plantation at Monticello, his home in Virginia, included a thousand-foot-long garden. From 1766 to 1824, he recorded notes in a journal, called his Garden Book. In his neighborhood's contest, the winner served his peas at a dinner for the other gardeners."

 She uses information about the third U.S. President to encourage her students to learn about growing peas for their own table. Using his model, and teaching them about Thomas Jefferson and his love of the land, she entices them with a contest to see who can put peas on the table first. Twenty seeds and a small pot for planting is all the equipment they need. They can begin at home.

At school, they keep a garden journal that will help them track their learning; there is a lot to learn. Maya, who is our storyteller, keeps us apprised of the action in a clear voice. Her friend Shakayla is as eager as Maya to win the contest. They keep their data in the journal which helps them chronicle their daily learning.

It takes time, patience and some fierce competition between the two friends to get their peas up and growing. Their methods are totally different, and they learn much along the way. Books provide help when determining the best way to care for the tiny plants; they keep concise notes on their separate processes, drawing, measuring, and comparing. Weather gets in the way and causes concern. Finally, in mid-May, a full bowl of peas is placed on the table, a winner is crowned, and a life lesson learned:

"No wonder Thomas Jefferson liked gardening so much - from one tiny seed, a whole plant could grow, full of flowers first, then giving you the sweetest peas in the whole world. Some things were worth waiting for."

The watercolor illustrations keep readers close to the action, showing the seeds as they are distributed, cared for, and harvested. The artist uses full color double page spreads when needed to show the garden in its finery, and smaller illustrations to show small bits of action and activity, including some brief glimpses of the president at his work. The endpapers will help young readers to solidify what they have learned about the growth cycle of a plant. The author adds an afterword with pertinent information about the president gardener and a bibliography to help those interested in finding further information.

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