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Green Thumbs in Training: 10 Must-Read Books for Budding Young Gardeners

January 8, 2024

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Gardening and children - two of life's greatest mysteries, and I've dabbled enough in both to tell you they're surprisingly similar. Both require patience, a tolerance for a certain amount of mess, and the unshakable belief that what you're nurturing will eventually bloom, despite all evidence to the contrary. As a seasoned word-weeder and parent-plant nurturer, I've come to appreciate the less obvious virtues of introducing children to gardening.

It’s not just about growing plants; it's about cultivating life skills. Gardening teaches children the art of patience – waiting for a seed to sprout is the antithesis of instant gratification (a concept as foreign to kids these days as rotary phones). It imparts the lesson of responsibility – a plant, much like a pet or a younger sibling, depends on you for its survival (but with less whining). Then there's the lesson of resilience – when your prized tomato plant is gobbled up by a rogue rabbit, it's a crash course in dealing with disappointment (and perhaps a subtle introduction to the food chain).

For the pint-sized plant enthusiasts, I've unearthed the 10 best books to cultivate a love for gardening in the fertile minds of young green thumbs. Each book is a seed packet of knowledge and fun, waiting to blossom in the minds of your kiddos.

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The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Age Range: 4-8 years

In this enchanting tale, a young boy named Liam discovers a struggling garden and becomes its caretaker. Brown's illustrations are as lush as a well-tended garden, and his story is a testament to how determination and care can transform our surroundings. Plus, it's a subtle nod to environmental stewardship - because it's never too early to teach kids about going green, in every sense of the term.

Why You Should Read It: This book is a visual and narrative feast, celebrating the transformative power of determination and care in nurturing nature. It instills a sense of environmental responsibility in young readers.

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What a Child Will Gain: A love for nature's resilience and an understanding of the impact one person (or child) can have on their surroundings.


Who's Who: Peter Brown is an acclaimed author and illustrator known for his engaging and imaginative storytelling, often blending a deep appreciation for nature with whimsical adventure.


How To Apply It: Parents and children can start their own 'curious garden', identifying a small area in their yard or community to nurture, or even a container garden, mirroring Liam’s journey in the book.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal  

Age Range: 5-8 years

This beautifully illustrated book explores the hidden world beneath our feet and the garden above. Messner's lyrical prose, complemented by Neal's vivid illustrations, creates a magical world where children can learn about the ecosystem and the circle of life. It's the perfect way to introduce youngsters to the wonders of nature's own recycling system.

Why You Should Read It: This book is a melodic exploration of the garden's ecosystem, making it a fantastic introduction to the science of nature for young minds.

What a Child Will Gain: Insight into the hidden world beneath the garden and an appreciation for the interconnectedness of life.

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Who's Who: Kate Messner is a former teacher whose children's books often focus on the natural world, blending facts with engaging storytelling.


How To Apply It: Explore gardening with a focus on observing the ecosystem. Parents can encourage children to keep a nature diary, noting changes and creatures they see in their garden over time.

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy  

Age Range: 4-10 years

Sharon Lovejoy combines practical gardening advice with whimsical projects, making it an ideal guide for little hands itching to dig into gardening. It's more than a book; it's a treasure trove of gardening activities that can turn any backyard into an adventure playground.

Why You Should Read It: It's a hands-on guide filled with creative and practical gardening projects, perfect for engaging kids in the wonders of gardening.

What a Child Will Gain: Practical gardening skills and a sense of accomplishment from completing fun projects.

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Who's Who: Sharon Lovejoy is an author and illustrator passionate about bringing children and nature together, with a knack for creating engaging, kid-friendly gardening activities.


How To Apply It: Choose projects from the book to do together, like planting a pizza garden or creating a sunflower house, making each activity a learning and bonding experience.

From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons  

Age Range: 4-8 years

Gibbons, renowned for her ability to distill complex subjects into digestible bites for kids, does not disappoint with this book. It's a wonderful primer on how plants grow, complete with engaging diagrams and straightforward explanations. It's like the "How It's Made" show, but for plants.

Why You Should Read It: Gibbons presents complex botanical concepts in a kid-friendly manner, making it an excellent educational tool.

What a Child Will Gain: A fundamental understanding of plant biology and the life cycle of plants.

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Who's Who: Gail Gibbons is known for her ability to convey complex subjects to young readers with clarity and engaging illustrations, making her a favorite among educators.


How To Apply It: Use the book as a guide to start a planting project, observing each stage of a plant’s growth from seed to maturity.

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle  

Age Range: 4-8 years

Ah, Eric Carle, the Picasso of the preschool world! In this book, Carle follows the journey of a tiny seed as it becomes a giant flower, teaching kids about the life cycle of plants with his signature collage-style illustrations. It's a classic story of resilience and growth – both for the seed and the little readers.

Why You Should Read It: Carle's iconic illustrations and storytelling bring the journey of a seed to life, teaching perseverance and the beauty of growth.

What a Child Will Gain: An understanding of the life cycle of a plant, resilience, and the power of persistence.

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Who's Who: Eric Carle is celebrated worldwide for his unique, colorful, and imaginative illustrations and stories, often focusing on nature and animal themes.


How To Apply It: After reading, plant a variety of seeds with your child and track their growth, relating back to the story's journey.

A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long  

Age Range: 5-10 years

This poetic book is a gem, revealing the wonder and complexity of seeds. Aston's lyrical text, paired with Long's detailed illustrations, makes learning about seeds feel like uncovering a secret world. It's a bedtime story that could very well inspire dreams of botanical adventures.

Why You Should Read It: It's a beautifully introduction to seeds, blending science with artful storytelling.

What a Child Will Gain: A deeper appreciation for the complexity and diversity of seeds and plants.

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Who's Who: Dianna Hutts Aston is known for her lyrical style in children’s literature, often focusing on natural themes that ignite curiosity and wonder.


How To Apply It: Engage in a seed-collecting and identification activity, using the book as a reference to learn about different seeds found in your local area.

Green Thumbs: A Kid's Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening by Laurie Carlson  

Age Range: 6-12 years

Carlson turns gardening into a game with this activity-filled guide. It's a hands-on way to get kids involved in growing their own plants, with enough fun facts and crafts to keep even the most fidgety gardener engaged.

Why You Should Read It: This book turns gardening into an interactive and educational adventure, perfect for active, curious minds.

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What a Child Will Gain: Hands-on gardening experience and the joy of engaging in creative, nature-based activities.

Who's Who: Laurie Carlson is renowned for her activity books for children, often focusing on history and science, making learning fun and interactive.


How To Apply It: Pick activities from the book to do together on weekends or during holidays, like growing a windowsill herb garden or making a terrarium.

The Vegetables We Eat by Gail Gibbons  

Age Range: 4-8 years

Gibbons strikes again, this time taking young readers on a colorful tour through the world of vegetables. It's a delightful way to connect the dots between the garden and the dinner table – and maybe, just maybe, it'll make those veggies on their plate a tad more appealing.

Why You Should Read It: Gibbons makes the world of vegetables fascinating and accessible, connecting gardening to everyday eating.

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What a Child Will Gain: A better understanding of where food comes from and the importance of vegetables in their diet.

Who's Who:  Gail Gibbons has a talent for making educational topics engaging for children, often focusing on science and nature.


How To Apply It: Start a vegetable garden, no matter how small, and involve your child in each step from planting to harvesting and finally cooking.

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert  

Age Range: 4-7 years

Ehlert's vibrant, cut-paper illustrations make this book a visual treat. It's a simple yet vivid journey through the colors of a garden, perfect for the youngest of gardeners who are just starting to explore the natural world.

Why You Should Read It: Ehlert’s book is a colorful introduction to gardening, perfect for capturing the imagination of young children.

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What a Child Will Gain: A basic understanding of colors and plant types, and an appreciation for the beauty of gardens.

Who's Who:  Lois Ehlert is celebrated for her colorful, bold illustrations and simple yet engaging narratives, often inspired by nature.


How To Apply It: Plant a flower garden featuring a rainbow of colors, and have your child help with the selection and planting process.

Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals, illustrated by Ashley Wolff  

Age Range: 3-7 years

Who knew compost could be so captivating? Siddals turns composting into a culinary adventure, with Wolff's lively illustrations adding a dash of fun. It's an engaging way to introduce the concept of composting and recycling to kids.

Why You Should Read It: It's a fun and educational look at composting, teaching environmental stewardship in an engaging way.

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What a Child Will Gain: An understanding of recycling organic waste and the importance of composting for the environment.

Who's Who:  Mary McKenna Siddals is an author with a knack for creating engaging, environmentally focused children's literature.


How To Apply It: Start a family compost bin and involve your child in adding to and turning the compost, using the book as a guide to what can be composted.

These books are not just about plants; they're about planting ideas. Ideas that grow into a love for nature, patience, and maybe, just maybe, a lifelong passion for turning little patches of earth into oases of life. So, dear parents, consider this: in a world where 'going viral' is usually done sitting down, gardening books might just be what your child needs to stand up, step outside, and grow.

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