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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Good Garden, written by Katie Smith Milway and illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault. Kids Can Press, 2010. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"Over the next few days, more
and more families come to watch
and learn. Some ask Don Pedro
how to make terraces. Others ask
María Luz how to make compost.
Still others admire the marigolds,
which Don Pedro calls the smiles
of the soil. Everyone is wondering
the same thing- could these new ideas
help their gardens, too."

This is the second book in Kids Can's "CitizenKid" series, written with the goal of encouraging readers to become more globally aware and to use that awareness to make a difference where they live.  It tells of a family in the Honduras who find a way to have an impact on their own sustainability.

María and her family tend to a garden that provides the food they need. They grow corn and beans in the summer and tomatoes, chilies and onions in the winter. When the crops are good, they survive.  But, the land is becoming unhealthy and this year's crops are not so plentiful. They can borrow money for food from Coyote, but they will have to pay dearly for his help. Papa decides he must find work elsewhere.

While he is gone, Maria will plant the winter crops. As luck would have it, Maria has a new school teacher who has much to show her as she helps him with a garden that he plants at school. He teaches his students about composting, terracing and even suggests using marigolds to keep insects at bay. Maria uses this new learning at home for their winter garden. Her neighbors watch with interest and begin to use some of the methods that Maria demonstrates. 

When it comes time to sell their produce Don Pedro encourages the villagers to try selling at the local market rather than to the coyote. He is sure that they will get a fair price there. Maria and her father do as he suggests and find success at both buying and selling. When Don Pedro must move on to a new school, he leaves knowing that Maria and her family, and those who live nearby, will live a better life because they
now have more control over how they live it.

The book is based on a real farmer-trainer named Elias Sanchez and provides inspiration to its readers.
At the end, the author explains this, offers suggestions for further action, and mentions international agencies that work to bring better conditions to the poor people of our world. There is also a useful glossary of the Spanish words using in the telling.

The two page chapters are short and informative; the artwork adds color and authenticity in bright, detailed illustrations that evoke a mood for what is happening in the story shared. I love the soft blues and greens of nighttime on the opening page, where Maria is listening to her parents discuss their concerns for the family's future and then the brilliantly sunlit fields of the hilly landscape as she learns about new gardening methods. We learn about the Honduran countryside and people as we hear Maria's story.

A great addition to this fine series.

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