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Saturday, February 9, 2013

It's Our Garden, written and photographed by George Ancona. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $20.00 ages 5 and up

"A lot of water is needed to keep the garden healthy. When it rains, water flows off the roof, down a drainpipe, and into an underground tank called a cistern. A solar panel on the roof of the outdoor classroom creates electricity..."

The sub-title reads 'From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden'; it is an inspirational and thoughtful story for schools everywhere. George Ancona's curiosity leads him to visit school gardens in his home town of Sante Fe, New Mexico. As luck would have it, one of those visits is to Acequia Madre Elementary School where all children spend part of their school day in the garden. You don't have to imagine the joy he found in spending his days with them. You can read all about it right here!

It started with a dream...envisioned by Mrs. McCarthy, the third grade teacher. A small seed of an idea  spread to other teachers, to the administration, to parents. The enthusiasm was passed on to Miss Sue, her husband Will and a small group of college students who would design the space and help children learn to care for it.

It begins in spring, as gardens do.

"Depending on the weather, some classes are held in the open classroom, the garden, or the greenhouse."

They all have much to learn and inspired guidance for doing so. The children comb seed catalogues looking for what they want to grow. Lunch scraps are delivered to an ever-expanding compost pile. Soon, it is time to plant. They have everything they need to make the project a success...seeds, planting beds, the sun, rainwater, and wonder.

Working in the garden leads to learning about the insects and animals who thrive in it:

"In the early spring, a teacher orders butterfly cocoons by mail. When they arrive, the students put the cocoons in a new cage to raise them in the classroom. When the butterflies emerge, they are taken to the garden and released so that they can pollinate the plants."

Always busy, their garden becomes a gathering spot for the students and their families. They work together on weekends, evenings, holidays. They celebrate the abundance with music and eager conversation. When it comes time to harvest, they learn to cook and eat what the garden has produced. As a new school year then begins in the fall, there is much work left to do and reason to rejoice:

"To celebrate the end of the harvest, a series of lunches is prepared with many of the garden's vegetables. These become festivals  of good food and fun."

And then, there's the clean-up...worth it, as they happily anticipate next year's garden!

George Ancona's wonderful photography and his straightforward description of the development of the school garden will help anyone wanting to try some version of their own project with school children. The book's design is appealing and the inclusion of children's artwork just adds to the richness of the presentation.

Bravo to all who set out to create school and community gardens where children and their families grow food for their own tables, and more to share with others! Pair this book with Paul Fleischman's wonderful novel Seedfolks for a classroom or family read. You will be inspired!

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