I like picture books about gardens.
Which is kind of funny, because I don’t have a garden and never will. I manage to keep one houseplant alive, and that’s about the extent of my gardening abilities.
But hypothetical gardens in picture books are a wonderful thing. And, I love all the different ways authors and illustrators are able depict them. So, with the faintest hope of spring appearing in the Wisconsin air, I present four gorgeous garden picture books for your reading pleasure with notes about why I think they work.
THE CONCRETE GARDEN by Bob Graham (Candlewick Press, 2023). I’m a big Bob Graham fan. And this book more than lived up to my expectations. It’s about a group of kids who, after a long winter trapped inside, come together. And, with nothing more than a box of sidewalk chalk, they work together to create a glorious garden of drawings.
Does it last forever? Of course not, but it reconnects the kids — and some of their parents. And that reconnection is enough that when a rainstorm washes the garden away, the kids happily move on to the next activity — together.
The art in this book is extraordinary and the text is beautiful and so kid-centered and true-to-life. It nods to the pandemic keeping people apart without specifically mentioning it. It’s a winner on all fronts.
I especially love the first sentence: “After a cold, hard winter, doors opened. Children spilled out like candies from a box.”
THE LAST STAND by Antwan Eady. Illustrated by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey (Alfred A. Knopf, 2024). This is another book that blew me away with its powerful story. It’s about a grandfather and grandson who operate a fresh fruit and vegetable stand in their small, rural community.
They build relationships with their neighbors and customers as they provide pumpkins, peppers, plums and eggs. Then, when they need it, the love comes back to them.
But this is more than a beautifully structured and written story. (And it IS both those things. Check out this line: “The star-speckled sky, black as only a town without streetlights could be, leads us home.”)
An author’s note talks about the decline of Black farmers in the United States and how that decline was exacerbated by discrimination that led to a class-action lawsuit in the 1990s that resulted in the largest civil rights settlement in history at that time.
Author Antwan Eady writes: “Here, in this book, I’ve taken heartbreak and turned it into a story about a boy and his grandfather who now have the last stand at a farmers’ market in a community that can’t afford to lose it. I’ve taken the pain from our world to create beauty in another.”
WINTERGARDEN by Janet Fox. Illustrated by Jasu Hu (Neal Porter Books, 2023). This book turns gardening into a year-round activity. With a little bit of love and care, a few seeds nestled in pots, and a good windowsill, a young girl and her mom grow everything you find in a spring herb garden, from oregano to parsley and baby greens, carefully tending their plants to watch them thrive, all while frigid snow falls just outside the window.
The fresh greens are just what they need to stay warm through the coldest and darkest season.
There’s even backmatter to help aspiring gardeners start their own wintergarden as they dream of spring.
Here’s how author Janet Fox described the inspiration for her book:
“I wrote this book from personal experience, during the worst part of the Covid lockdown. I’ve always loved gardening and done a lot of seed starting indoors. Here in Montana we have a short growing season, and we were craving greens. I put together a little mini ‘greenhouse’ with grow lights. And this story came out of my own wonder at how to make food from tiny seeds.”
IN OUR GARDEN by Pat Zietlow Miller. Illustrated by Melissa Crowton (Putnam, 2022). This book is mine, so I won’t wax poetic about it. But it’s a about a small child, new to the U.S., who looks at the flat, emplty roof of her big-city school and sees what could be.
Thanks to her vision and the commitment of the school community, the rooftop soon has a garden that produces more than enough produce to share. The story has themes of imagination, patience and blooming where you’re planted. And, it’s part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
No matter if you like to personally dig in the dirt or keep your gardening to the printed page, I enourage you to start your own garden of picture books with these four titles.
Happy reading! Happy growing!