Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Read-Alouds for Gardens
For Upper Elementary
Several titles below will spark discussion about the role that migrant farm workers play in bringing food from farms to our tables. Use news items from current events sources to extend the themes in these books. Provide opportunities for students to empathize with the characters, perhaps by completing a short, focused research project about migrant workers.
Altman, Linda Jacobs. Amelia’s Road. ISBN: 1-880000274. Lexile: 660.
Amelia travels with her family from harvest to harvest, and like the children of many migrant workers, longs for a place she can truly call home. Use this short picture book to set the stage for others on this list, and to generate questions.
Alvarez, Julia. Return to Sender. ISBN: 978-0-375-85838-3. Lexile: 890.
An injured Vermont farmer facing foreclosure decides to hire Mexican workers to help save his farm. Eleven-year-old Tyler befriends the eldest daughter, whose letters and diary entries end each chapter and move the story along. Tyler must wrestle with his feelings about the undocumented family who have become his friends and what he's always been taught about obeying the law. Mari's family is deeply troubled by the disappearance of her mother in a border crossing months before, and they live in constant fear of being discovered by immigration officials. Students will be left with a sense of hope at the story's conclusion, but not before coming to grips with some difficult scenes and situations.
Fleischman, Paul. Seedfolks. ISBN: 0-06-027472-7. Lexile: 710.
This slim title is a series of vignettes, each offering the perspective of one member of a small community in Cleveland who transform a parking lot into a community garden. Once an eyesore among neighbors who barely interact, the garden and the simple acts of gardening transform the people as well. Share this real-life example about how Annette Smith and her neighbors came together because of a garden she began on a median strip in San Francisco.
Gourley, Robbin. First Garden: the White House Garden and how it Grew. ISBN: 0-547-48224-8. Lexile: AD 1070.
Gourley recounts the rich history of gardens and gardening at the White House, providing students with some context as she shares how Michelle Obama's kitchen gardens mark “a glorious return to those early ideals.” The themes of independence, self-reliance, and of adding beauty to our surroundings are woven into the narrative that shows the vision, the planning, the planting, the teamwork, and the harvest of the First Garden in 2009. Gourley includes recipes from White House chefs and ideas for what students can do to make small changes for better nutrition and health. She lists twelve kid-friendly reasons to have a garden and provides an extensive list of print and online resources about the Presidents, the White House, gardening, and supporting local agriculture. Pair this book with Michelle Obama's adult volume below, and introduce the idea of a primary source.
Havill, Juanita. I Heard it from Alice Zucchini: Poems about the Garden. ISBN: Lexile: 593.
While some of the twenty poems in this volume are suitable for even younger children, middle and upper elementary students will appreciate them more. Internal rhymes, onomatopoeia, and more sophisticated vocabulary make it an excellent choice. They will appreciate the humor, be able to infer the meaning of some of the poems, and can step back and “try on” the point of view of the speaker or the subject of the poem.
Jimenez, Francisco. The Circuit: Stories from the life of a Migrant Child. ISBN: 978-0-395-97902-0. Lexile: 880. (also has a sequel—Breaking Through)
This volume is a collection of twelve autobiographical stories that weave a tale of the author's family's struggles and enduring faith on “the circuit” in California—from picking cotton and strawberries and grapes, to topping carrots and thinning lettuce. Students who are captivated by the main character may be motivated to read the book's sequel, Breaking Through on their own.
Obama, Michelle. American Grown: the story of the White House kitchen Gardens and Gardens across America. ISBN: 0-307-95602-4. Lexile: Adult
This coffee table book documents the creation of the White House Kitchen Gardens beginning in 2009. The text is organized by the four seasons with lush photographs throughout. Readers are introduced to the many staff members who help maintain the garden and to the chefs that make use of the garden's harvests. Many of the topics included in other gardening books (insects, soil preparation, composting, plotting and planting, etc.) are addressed here as well. The book includes recipes from White House chefs and information about some successful community gardens in the United States and how the gardens help those in need. Use relevant portions of the book to meet your objectives and have it available for browsing as part of a gardening text set.
Trottier, Maxine. Migrant. ISBN: 978-088899-975-7. Lexile: AD880.
In this picture book, Anna and her family are Mennonites who live in Mexico but travel north to Canada for the fruit and vegetable harvests. Like other children of migrant workers, Anna wonders what it would be like to be rooted in one place and simply watch the seasons come and go. She compares herself to various animals (a jackrabbit, living in someone else's burrow, for example), which may invite discussion and journaling about students' own comparisons.
Zoehfeld, Kathleen. Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in our Backyard. ISBN: 0-517-70990-2. Lexile: 546.
This book packs a lot of information into a narrative about one family's huge vegetable garden. Students are reminded about what plants need to grow, and are introduced to some domain-specific vocabulary for horticulture. Students will enjoy reading the speech bubbles of the family's chickens as they learn about which parts of plants are edible, how photosynthesis works, how composting can help, what kinds of food chains can be observed in a garden, and how the food chains form a food web.