Books are a fun way to introduce kids to the joys of gardening, and there are more and more beautiful ones to share. We compiled some favorite books below for kids of different ages. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments!
For the youngest readers (0-2)
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert is a classic for young readers. It teaches about how plants grow while also teaching the names of colors. It includes a special section reminiscent of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. If you want to plant your very own rainbow, visit a nursery or online organic seed catalog, and choose colorful vegetables and flowers for each color, then plant in the rainbow pattern. Kids will have fun watching the rainbow take shape. Follow the theme with rainbow crafts from recycled/upcycled objects.
My Garden/Mi Jardin by Rebecca Emberley is a bilingual book for toddlers with bold, colorful illustrations and simple text introducing kids to gardening vocabulary in English and Spanish.
For preschool-aged kids
In Jo MacDonald Had a Farm (Mary Quattlebaum) kids can sing along with the familiar song, but with lyrics which teach about garden and the creatures that make them flourish. And kids can watch one mysterious plant to see what it will become. Since the book talks about how butterflies, bees and birds help a garden, consider planting some butterfly-friendly plants.
My Garden by Kevin Henkes features the author’s signature bold and vibrant illustrations in a story about growing tomatoes as big as beach balls, flowers that change color, and other fanciful crops. Preschoolers are old enough for experiments to find what plants need to grow. Plant seeds in a dozen or so equal containers (this is an excellent time to recycle!) and put one in the light, one in the dark. One gets water, one does not. And so on.
An older book but a favorite is Ten Seeds (Ruth Brown), a wordless book which shows what happens to ten seeds planted by a young boy. One by one they fall prey to birds, mice, and other hazards, until one seed is left. This seed grows into a sunflower, which drops ten more seeds, starting the cycle over again. Sunflowers are fun to grow, and they come in many varieties. You can harvest seeds from most fruits and vegetables, as you prepare meals, let your preschooler plant the seeds and see which grow best. Keep a scrapbook of pictures of how the seeds germinate (or not) and foster simple discussions about climate zones, what grows best in your area, and what to plant next year.
For early elementary aged kids
In Secrets of the Garden (Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld), a girl reports all she sees about how her family’s garden grows, including the insects that eat the plants and the birds that eat the insects, allowing kids to see the food chain in this little habitat. Talk about organic gardening and pest control without chemicals, and explain how chemicals get into our food. Using photosynthesis (explained in the book), talk about how kids get their energy, and why food is so important to whole body wellness.
The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown captures the transformative power of gardens in this beautifully illustrated book. It tells the story of a boy who discovers and tends to a struggling garden, and the unexpected results. If you have a community garden, this book makes an excellent compliment to a visit, and budding activists can start a small garden in a common area. Urban food forests are becoming very popular, investigate whether your city has one. Don’t forget about your next vacation — ask relatives to take you to their community garden when you visit, or make a special trip to an urban food forest as you drive to see grandparents.
The Gardener (Sarah Stewart) tells the Depression-era story of a young girl sent to live in the city. Told through a series of letters, the book shows how gardens can change attitudes and lives. Use your garden to connect with grandparents or other friends/relatives. Write letters, take pictures, Skype, or just invite people to visit. If your child has an interest in a particular flower, look for a club in your area — the members are usually thrilled to have children express interest and attend meetings. Find a rose garden or other urban garden and sit and watch who comes, discussing how gardens bring people together today. Can you donate some of the bounty of your garden to someone who would enjoy it or needs it? Sharing some of the flowers, or donating extra zucchini (who doesn’t have extra zucchini?) can demonstrate how gardens connect us. If you enjoy canning, kids can share some of their jam or canned fruit at the holidays as a present that they made themselves. Sharing recipes with family can reinforce fractions learned at school, and give your child something to talk about when grandma calls.
For older kids (8 and up)
Me and the Pumpkin Queen is a chapter book with a pumpkin plant at the center of the story. In it, 11 year old Mildred enters a pumpkin contest to take her mind off her worries. Mildred is obsessed with winning the contest in memory of her mother, who never got to enter. There’s more to this book than meets the eye, it’s a great choice to read together.
Grow Your Own for Kids (Chris Collins) is an attractive book which teaches older kids how to garden 10 easy vegetables that kids love to eat. The advice is easy to read and comprehensive, from soil preparation through troubleshooting and recipes for the harvest. If you have a picky eater, this might entice them to taste something otherwise off limits. You can also grow a themed garden (grow your own pizza gardens are easy and fun) or include some of the vegetables you used to make those natural dyes at Easter and experiment with dying other items all year long.