Before I dig into the book Our School Garden, I want to make sure you know about Readers to Eaters. I met founders and partners Philip and June Jo Lee last summer at an event for the Community Alliance for Global Justice event and they were delightful and incredibly informative. Their passion for all things food, including justice, was palpable.
The pair founded Readers to Eaters in 2009 to promote food literacy. Their three-way strategy involves book publishing, book selling, and education. Pop over to the website for information on great books for all ages, events, and more and make sure to follow on Facebook to get their weekend reading suggestions!
Our School Garden
Our School Garden was written by local Seattle school librarian Rick Swan and illustrated by Christy Hale. It is a story of a new student, Michael, that feels less alone in discovering the school garden and exploring all the opportunities it brings throughout the year.
There is a lot to like about the book. The beautiful illustrations of the gardens are earthy and real. I really like that they are growing things beyond the typical things-to-grow-with-kids-in-the-garden-(and-further-stunt/limit-their-palate) of carrots, peas, and sunflowers. They grow things such as rhubarb, collards, arugula, mustard, and kale – and I love it!
As an aside, I firmly believe kids will enjoy and eat a lot more variety than adults (at least in this country) give them credit. Provided that the flavors are introduced early and often they are allowed to grow and pick their own. I mean, children worldwide don’t subsist on only mac-n-cheese and dinosaur chicken nuggets, right? But I digress and that is a post for another day.
Back to the book! Our School Garden shows the link between what is grown in the garden to cooking and sharing meals together. The connection of the food we eat to how it is grown is one that is all-to-often unseen. It is really important for our kids to have this knowledge if we ever hope that our food system will see the revolution (!!!) it so desperately needs.
The school has a harvest celebrations and recognizes the importance of the harvest in many cultures. They also compost, explore beneficial insects, solve garden riddles, and compose found poems.
However, the thing I love most is the variety of skin tones depicted. We don’t really need to see another book full of only white kids. Or white kids and a token child of color. I want kids’ books that show characters with different skin tones, family structure, cultures, religions, classes, genders, and abilities. Characters that are living their lives and not merely being portrayed as “the other” while being compared to a (non-spoken and assumed) norm of white, middle-class, able-bodied, gender-normative, straight, and Christian. Being accurately represented in literature is an important part of identity development and self-esteem in children. Children need to see themselves reflected in what they read.
In our family, we find this with queer books. I want books that have a kid with two moms (or other non-hetero-normative family structures), but is more than just a book that says a generic “See Jane! Jane has two mothers! Jane’s family is neat-o! We should be nice to Jane because Jane’s moms are diverse! Weeee!” Agh. I don’t want to read a book to her that is giving a lesson on why it is ok to have two moms. That a super, duper boring and plot-less story and there are already enough awful kids’ books out there. (I’m looking at you Goodnight Moon). But more importantly, such stories center other families as being the norm which, in effect, reinforces bias.
Children need to see the intersecting aspects of their life (family structure, gender, class, culture, ability, religion, ethnicity, etc) represented and not just as a diversity lesson to an assumed norm. Anti-bias learning is started in infancy and includes all literature, art, television, and movies they are exposed to.
So, I love Our School Garden for providing beautiful imagery, inclusion and integration for children, while taking us for a visit through a school garden and showing off many of the lessons learned through a garden.
If you have any interest in gardening with children or school gardens, definitely give this book a try – you won’t be disappointed! The author also has a great list of resources on school gardens and food here.
And, I implore you to take a good look at who is being represented in children’s books!
A few books we like:
- Everywhere Babies – Susan Meyers/Marla Frazee
- Mommy, Mama, and Me – Lesléa Newman/Carol Thompson (also Daddy, Papa, and Me)
- Lola at the Library – Anna McQuinn/Rosalind Beardshaw (and Lola Loves Stories)
- Subway – Anastasia Suen/Karen Katz
- Flower Garden – Eve Bunting/Kathryn Hewitt
- My Princess Boy – Cheryl Kilodavis/Suzanne DeSimone
- My Friends – Taro Gomi
- I Love You, Sun I Love you, Moon – Karen Pandell/Tomie dePaola
- Whose Toes are Those? – Jabari Asim/LeUyen Pham (and Whose Knees are These?)
- A Chair for My Mother – Vera B. Williams
- Bee-bim Bop – Linda Sue Park/Ho Baek Lee