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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Secrets of the Garden, written by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld and illustrated by Priscilla Lamont. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2012. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"I try to imagine what's going on under that soil. Are our seeds alive and growing? Every morning we hurry out of bed and check to see if anything has sprouted. But days go by, and still our garden looks like an empty patch of brown."

I've been getting my hands and feet dirty most days this week. It's that time of year. The plants are bought, most pots are potted and now I just have to sit back like Alice and her brother and wait for the harvest, and for the lasting beauty of the flowers throughout the summer season. There is a certain sense of satisfaction that comes with this time of year. Now, if only the rain would fall on the days it is most needed, and the sun will shine for the rest of the time, we can call it an enjoyable summer season.

I started this post a few days ago. Today, the rain and wind are battering new plants, hanging baskets filled with glorious orange and yellow begonias, and I am left to wonder how they will fare. Weather is weather and, if plants aren't hardy on the Canadian prairies, they don't stand a chance. My garden is nothing like Alice's but she and I have something in common. We both love spring and renewal.

The book begins with looking forward to the family's shared gardening. Dad does the heavy work, preparing the soil for the children to do their planting. The waiting begins, often not too patiently. Soon the seeds sprout and the garden greens. Rabbits, mice, birds and insects all have a part to play in the growing season. As the days go by, the family reaps the real benefits of the planting. After lots of munching, it's time to harvest what they have grown, and prepare the soil for next year's planting.

This is a great example of nonfiction for young readers. There is lots of science included: weather, composting, plant growth, food chains, interdependence, and numerous lessons on garden inhabitants. So much to learn, and seamlessly written in an inviting and informative story.

As we read along, the chickens offer up their knowledge in charts, dialogue and posters. They share important aspects of the learning that happens when you care for a garden:

"Sunlight gives plants energy. Plants use energy from the sun to make food out of air, water, and nutrients from the soil. That's called photosynthesis!

Plants store food in their roots, leaves, stems, seeds, and fruits. These are the nutritious parts we eat, and when we eat them, they pass their energy along to us."

Plainspeak...making it easy for young children to process and use as they garner the lessons to be learned in this appealing new book.  Always cheery, and full of wonder as readers are invited to explore a garden's many benefits.

Priscilla Lamont does an exceptional job of helping us see what goes on in a spring and summer garden, using variety in perspective and design to capture attention and to further inform. The watercolors add a softness to the joy of discovery as we watch the garden in its finest hours:

"I like to call the garden our summer home.
Our real home is made of wood. It has four walls and a roof
and floor that keep out the sun and raind and dirt. It's a good
house, really. But our garden home is different." 

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