Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Read-Alouds for Gardens

For Lower Elementary

In addition to books like the ones below, teachers of lower elementary students will no doubt also want to include “classic” titles such as The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons, and Lois Ehlert's popular Growing Vegetable Soup, Eating the Alphabet, and Planting a Rainbow. Links to other lists of recommended titles appear under Additional Resources. Teachers may also want to check out these K-2 lesson plans about edible vs. nonedible plants, soil temperature, roots, and garden planning.

Ayres, KatherineUp, Down and Around.  ISBN:  0-7636-2378-4. Lexile: not available
Ayres's book is a joyful tribute to what grows up, down, and around in the garden. The pages beg to be read aloud and could easily be acted out. The text is spare, and the rhythm and rhyme will help early readers to read it independently. Consider putting it on the interactive whiteboard, projector, or document camera for whole group chanting. Use in individual browsing boxes or reading folders for partner reading.

Glaser, LindaGarbage Helps our Garden Grow: a Compost Story.  ISBN:  9780761349112.  Lexile: 670.
Enjoy the beautiful photography by Shelley Rotner and informational text as Glaser brings readers into the backyard of one family to learn about composting. Close-up shots of the food scraps, leaves, worms, and equipment make nature’s recycling process easy to understand. A question-and-answer section at the end of the book is helpful, and introduces additional domain-specific vocabulary. This is an excellent example of a how-to book for teachers who use them for informational/explanatory writing. Use it as a model to write a class how-to book related to an area of the curriculum.  Find other composting activities and ideas from teachers here.

Henkes, KevinMy Garden.  ISBN: 978-0-06-171517-4.  AD 670.
This short text is not only a celebration of the wonders of a garden, but of the imagination of a child.  The little girl narrator thinks about her ideal garden—one with no weeds, perpetual blooms that change color on command, morning glories that stay open at night, jelly bean bushes, and strawberries that glow. Pair this with the Mother Goose rhyme Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, and use it to challenge kindergarteners and first graders to imagine their own unique garden to draw and write about.

Hutchins, PatBumpety, Bump!  ISBN:  0-06-056000-2. Lexile: 360.
This sweet book takes us on bumpy wheelbarrow rides with a little boy who accompanies his grandfather all around the garden, harvesting vegetables and berries. All the while they are followed by a little red hen, who ultimately has a surprise waiting for them. Kindergarteners and first graders will join in with the repetitive text, and delight in the colorful illustrations. Hutchins subtly reminds children that plants can grow both below and above ground, and incorporates cutaways that show root systems, tubers, etc.  This pairs nicely with Ayres's book above.

Keller, HollyCecil’s Garden.  ISBN: 0-06-029594-5.  Lexile: AD630.
Cecil, Jake, and Posey need to plant this year’s garden, but can’t agree on what seeds to plant. Their arguing delays the planting, so Cecil visits his neighbors only to find that they, too, have arguments going on. No one seems to be getting anything done. Cecil’s time away helps him to come up with a solution and all ends well. Use this book before making class decisions about what to plant in your school garden if you have one, or simply as a reminder about cooperation and compromise. 

Lobel, ArnoldFrog and Toad Together.  ISBN:  Lexile: 450.
Lobel's books are spot on for young learners, and the characters of Frog and Toad have delighted children for decades. This is a K-1 text exemplar from Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, and it has one chapter entitled “The Garden.” It is a perfect text to use to discuss the central message or theme, and for children to provide evidence about why Toad thinks that gardening is very hard work. This video could be used at a center for repeated readings of the book, listening comprehension, and for exposing grade level text to struggling readers.

McKenzie, PreciousOur Organic Garden.  ISBN: 1-61741-969-9. Lexile: 447.
McKenzie’s book provides a very basic introduction to organic gardening. The layout is uncluttered and attractive, with many colorful photographs and a number of features of informational text—close-ups, cutaways, captions, bold print, glossary, etc. The book provides a model for argument/opinion writing in the Common Core. The author makes claims about the benefits of organic gardens, and supports those claims with details in the pages that follow. She also provides the how-tos for starting an organic garden, and this, too, can be used as a model for procedural writing.

Paye, Won-Lyde.  The Talking Vegetables.  ISBN: 0-8050-7742-1.  Lexile: 368.
Reminiscent of The Little Red Hen, this is a retelling of a tale from Liberia in which Spider refuses to contribute to the efforts of the village's community garden and is ultimately denied access to its harvest. The text is spare and predictable, and the colorful illustrations have a childlike simplicity. The book could very easily be turned into a Reader's Theater script and performed during units about plants, nutrition, or friendship/community.

Schuette, SarahEating Pairs: Counting Fruits and Vegetables by Twos.  ISBN: 0-7368-1676-3.  Lexile: not available.
Explore the connection between math and gardens. The colorful, larger-than-life photos of lush fruits and vegetables can be used to generate interest in the foods even if counting by twos is not something you are working on. Pairs go up to 20, with each number highlighted in the sequence of even numbers beginning with 2. One hundred peas are shown as well. There are many possibilities here to practice counting. Extra information at the end explains where each kind of plant grows, and science vocabulary such as tuber and fungus are part of the book.
Wortche, AllisonRosie Sprout’s Time to Shine.  ISBN: 0-375-86721-X. Lexile: 464.
Even the youngest students will understand Rosie's feelings as time and again she is overshadowed by Violet, who is “best” at everything. When the class begins to study plants and what they need to grow, Ms. Willis provides pots and seeds for all. It inevitably becomes a competition to see whose pea plant will grow the tallest. Rosie has a brief moment where she tries to sabotage Violet's sprout, but feels guilty almost immediately. She makes amends by diligently caring for both girls' plants when Violet is out for two weeks with chicken pox. Rosie truly shines as a gardener and demonstrates qualities of a good friend. There is a lot to discuss here, and students will easily make connections between Ms. Willis' plant unit and their own.


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