In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
March, 2012
Regional Report

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Bailey's happy that Molly the cat found a winter home with friends at the organic farm. Photo courtesy of Heather Tuckman.

Gardening Through a Child's Eyes, Ears and Imagination

Creeping through a patch of chard, Molly peeks from under the farmer's hat. Where is she going? Who will she meet? Turn the page. Come inside. Join Molly, the homeless orange cat who finds friends, fun, food, shelter on a Sierra Nevada organic farm.

First captivated by its lushly illustrated cover, I revisit Molly's Organic Farm for its beauty and heartwarming life lessons. Yes, it's a children's book (ages four to ten). Even better, it's a garden book I'm eager to share with everyone.

Another new favorite is Jo MacDonald Had a Garden. Who can resist Old McDonald Had a Farm? For a new take, sing along with young readers while Jo MacDonald makes her garden. E-I-E-I-O. "With a dig-dig here. And a dig-dig there....With a wiggle-wiggle here. And a wiggle-wiggle there."

This is engaging children's literature a la gardening, nature, and science. Editor and co-publisher Glenn Hovermann says Dawn Publications is "all about connecting children with nature. We choose manuscripts that will inspire, entertain, educate. A book that will be appreciated in the classroom as well as in the trade."

"Our books straddle fiction and nonfiction," Hovermann adds. "We present nonfiction in a fictional format for children prekindergarten to fourth grade. It's important to get their attention and keep it. Something fun. Typically, fiction is fun. Molly, a true story, is fun."

Molly's Organic Farm has become a favorite in the Tuckman family. Bailey Tuckman, four-and-a-half, often asks his parents to read it. Four times with dad Ari; eight times with mom Heather; twice with the baby sitter in about two weeks.

"If your kid likes it, you'll read it ten to fifty times," says Ari Tuckman. A parent who reads the same books over and over, this dad appreciates Molly's humor and the rhyme inserts. "It's wise to include something clever to hold the parent's interest through those re-readings," Tuckman notes. One box insert, for example, shows Molly poised to catch a garden pest -- "A pouncing cat means no more rat."

"Bailey enjoys the ideas. He remembers well what's going on in the story," Tuckman tells. "He likes that Molly found a home at the farm and in a farmer's house. He likes to know that things are going well."

"Bailey's big into 'why'," Tuckman adds. "He asks 'Why are some bugs good and others bad? Why are the lady bugs good and the aphid bad? Why are these bugs pests; those bugs helpful?' "

Reading well-crafted books is "a springboard to get your kids thinking and talking about a topic," says Tuckman. Molly sparks discussion about "how things are complicated and connected. The bad bugs kill or weaken the plants. The good bugs eat the pests."

Molly and Jo MacDonald reflect this family's values and interests. "These books reinforce what we do -- gardening, science, animals, insects," says Tuckman. "Bailey enjoys helping us garden. Books become a way to move the discussion along. Last summer his tomatoes did better than ours. He loves watering, spraying the hose everywhere."

The popular melodies of Old MacDonald and Over in The Meadow connect children, parents, teachers with new stories, explains Hovermann. "We're piggybacking on something that's familiar."

Bailey enjoyed Jo MacDonald "after he got accustomed to the different lyrics, says Tuckman. "He liked the new version of the song once he got used to it. When I would purposely leave off a word for him to fill in, he'd happily sing it."

What are YOUR favorite children's gardening books?


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