10 Gardening Books: a Librarian’s List

I’m honored to be contributing to Redeemed Reader! It seems fitting to start off with a “Librarian’s List” of sorts. Megan and I called these “Weekly Round-ups” on Literaritea; essentially it’s a list of great books on a similar topic, often ranging in age/reading level, with one general introduction. Our Easter list last week was a similar idea.

Spring has officially begun, and the garden beckons. Initially, everything seems a mess of dry, dead-looking twigs. When we clear away the old, signs emerge everywhere showing the growth and new life that’s already begun quietly out of sight: tiny new leaves and buds on branches, small shoots poking up through the earth, some daffodils already blooming. Tending a garden–whether ornamental or edible–is a wonderful way to spend time with our children. Somehow, getting our hands dirty–conversation starts to flow.

Myriad spiritual analogies come to mind:

  • dealing with sin in our own lives (and in our children’s) so that the quiet work of the Spirit is able to flourish–like we deal with the old wintry remains in a garden
  • confronting little sins–like little weeds–before they cause more harm
  • remembering that the Spirit’s work on a person’s heart might be unseen at first like those tiny new leaves and buds which have been quietly growing
  • choosing our companions wisely; creeping weeds take over quickly!
  • pruning is necessary–especially for the plants we cherish most
  • strong root systems yield healthy plants (spiritually, too)

Seize the moment!

Seize teachable moments like these or wait for your child to open up. My children and I have rich conversation when we’re engaged in quiet work alongside one another. If you need more inspiration, consider Scripture passages such as Psalm 1, John 15, and the Parable of the Sower.

To prime the pump, as it were, here is a selection of garden-themed books for a variety of ages. I credit my own love of digging in the dirt to my childhood fascination with The Secret Garden. Even today, as I marvel at the Lord’s creation in those tiny new leaves, I also “hear” Colin, Mary, and Dickon pronounce a dead looking plant “wick!” May your own spiritual lives be “wick.”

And now, THE LIST: 10 Gardening Books

(List arranged in order of appeal from youngest to oldest readers. I’d give the books on this list an average rating of 4 for literary merit (some are 3.5, others 4.5) and about 3.5 for worldview–mostly because the nonfiction texts give no acknowledgement of our Creator–an easy “gap” to fill when you read with your children).

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert (Sandpiper, 1992; originally published 1988). Bright collage-style illustrations complete with clear labels show preschoolers how these marvelous plants grow, from seed/bulb to flower!

Mortimer’s First Garden by Karma Wilson (McElderry, 2009). A sweet story of young Mortimer who bravely plants a sunflower seed instead of eating it. He prays for the Lord to bless his “garden.” Try this with kindergartners; have some sunflower seeds on hand to plant!

And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin Stead (Roaring Book Press, 2012). A quiet book about the wonders of new life in springtime that invites continued contemplation; good for preschool-early elementary.

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith and illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin (Peachtree, 2011). A book about how the natural “wild” areas get “planted” by birds, wind, passersby, and other elements, its strong suit is Halperin’s detailed step-by-step illustrations alongside the edges of her larger images. Preschool and up.

Anno’s Magic Seeds by Misumasa Anno (Puffin, 1995). Perfect for elementary-aged children, this tale shows how much a single seed can provide as well as asks the reader to solve some math word problems (Anno’s clever illustrations are a big help–note the groupings of 10).

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and David Small (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997). One of my all-time favorites, this Caldecott honor book tells how a young girl brings beauty into the lives of others through her rooftop garden. All ages.

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Mark Hearld (Candlewick, 2012). A compilation of poetry with a few seasonal activities–arranged seasonally, so you’ll want to look at it again in summer, fall, and winter! Cut paper illustrations are bright and striking. My favorite spring poem is “Dandelions.” This is a good poetry anthology for children ages 4-8.

Handsprings by Douglas Florian (Greenwillow, 2006) is a delightful collection of spring-themed poems and paintings by Florian. Excellent for elementary students (and up!)

Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel (Harper, 1972). While this entire book is a gem, the story titled “Garden” is especially apt as Toad struggles to “help” his seeds grow. Recommended for newly independent readers. (If you’re a Frog and Toad fan, you might check out the other volumes; several have spring-themed stories in them.)


The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (Yearling, 2005). Not a book about gardening, per se, but the father is a gardener and much of this book takes place in and around a garden. Wonderful story, winner of the National Book Award, and worthy of a family read aloud. Perfect for middle grade readers (4th-8th) to tackle on their own.

And so many more! To see our Redeemed Reader gardening picks from last spring, click here.  Other picture books to look for are Kevin Henkes’s My Garden and  Debi Gliori’s Flora’s Surprise. Other chapter book titles include The Secret Garden, The Humming Room, and “prairie” books like the Little House books and Hattie Big Sky. Nonfiction titles include From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons and 10 Plants that Shook the World….See also the spring activities from Reading is Fundamental for more spring book-related fun!

 All cover images from goodreads

What are YOUR favorite gardening-themed books? I’d love to add to my list!

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4 Responses to 10 Gardening Books: a Librarian’s List

  1. Emily March 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    Thanks, Betsy, for this lovely list! You and Megan are such “lovely list” makers that it’s such a treat to have you in our space. Thanks again for joining us! My oldest wants to be a farmer when she grows up, so I really appreciate the discussion suggestions to go along with the books.

  2. Betsy March 28, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    Thanks for the reminder about The Moffats, Connie! Actually, I have picked dandelion leavess from my yard before for a salad! It’s a short window in early spring, though.

  3. Calgary Lawn Care March 28, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Frog and Toad Together is a lovely book, one of my favourite to read to my nephews. They love it too, of course, which is why I like it so much. Thanks for the list.

  4. Connie March 28, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    The Moffat’s series (Eleanor Estes) is another great family to read about. Not specifically about gardening, but the pre WW I setting means that life is closely attuned to the seasons and nature. I can specifically think of a peripheral character who picks the dandelions from neighbors yards to use the leaves for cooking. Couldn’t do that these days – we have to plant dandelions in our garden for harvesting. One of favorite stories within the stories is “Rufus’ Beans.” Not sure which books it’s in, but the whole series is worth reading.

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