Secrets of the Garden by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Cindy: I just picked my first tomatoes of the summer from my small deck garden so Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in our Backyard (Knopf 2012) is perfect reading this week. The illustrated story of a family planning, planting and harvesting a vegetable garden is heartwarming but it so much more. Subtle lessons about seasons and the parts of plants combine with easy to understand explanations of simple food chains and food webs. While their cat hopes they’ll plant some catnip for him, the family plants seeds for zucchini, radishes, carrots, lettuces, peas and beets and seedlings of tomatoes, peppers and the sprouting potatoes.

A chicken and rooster hold up charts of the edible parts of plants, herbivores-carnivores-omnivores, and the food chain examples (a pepper plant grows, a caterpillar eats the pepper plant, a hen eats the caterpillar, the hen lays eggs, we eat eggs) and share other facts to supplement the gardening story.

I appreciate all the information tucked away in this book, but I have to admit that the scenes of canning tomatoes and planning the garden with seed catalogs were dear to me as they remind me of my gardening father and all he taught me about where we get our best food. He and I had a tradition of having the water boiling on the stove before picking and shucking our backyard sweet corn….yum…I miss that…and him.

Lynn:  There is so much great science tucked into this lovely story that I’m tempted to give it a nonfiction category despite the CIP that resolutely says fiction.  I love the device of the two funny chickens who pop into the story with interspersed pages of information on food webs, herbivores and carnivores, the various edible parts of plants, seasons and other information.  Kids will absorb a solid understanding of the many facets of the science behind a garden as they enjoy the sweetly unfolding story.  Priscilla Lamont’s pen and watercolor illustrations are charming and add both humor and interesting details.  I especially like the illustrations of what various types of plants look like as sprouting seedlings and the expanding and concrete examples of food chains.  The concluding winter scene of the family looking at a seed catalog is one that gardeners everywhere will recognize.  Did I mention the chickens?  Everyone will love those chickens!

Pair this with another lovely garden picture book, And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano (Roaring Brook 2012) for outstanding additions to classroom studies of seasons and food webs.

Cindy: Lynn, did you notice that Priscilla Lamont is the artist who illustrated Sue Stauffacher’s Animal Rescue Team series that we love so much?

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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