SEEDLINGS: THE GROWING POWER OF CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
With what we put into our heads – with words, tones of voice, visualizations verbally painted, melodic mnemonics deployed - we learn the world around us, at deep cellular levels from the moment we’re receiving energetic information in the womb to the moment we pass from this existence, as far as we know.
We also know from anecdotal and personal experiences, that many gardeners in the world are born of early childhood experiences, at the knees of parents, grandparents, neighbors and neighboring plants and places.
While I can’t get every child outside with me, I can’t hand them all fresh carrots with the clean dirt just brushed off, I can’t point to the earthworm or the hummingbird as we hike across a meadow - but with mind over matter, I can conjure all of these things almost as powerfully. I can metaphorically emotionally feed children, sing to them, and take them on a field trip through the power of reading to them of all of these wonders and their immeasurable value complexity and beauty… this week we explore the Growing Power of Children’s Literature to prepare our seedlings of today for their values and actions of tomorrow.
We’re joined in this by two students of and advocates for the importance of Children’s Literature – Heather Altfeld, poet, essayist, and faculty member in the Honors Program and the Comparative Religion and Humanities Department at California State University, Chico, as well as by Theresa Carrio, Supervisor and Instructor in the School of Education at California State University, Chico.
Theresa received her Master of Arts: Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults from the University of San Francisco; she has served as a high school teacher and as the Butte County Library Children's Spanish Storytime Leader. The selections she shared with us today were La Mariposa by Francisco Jiménez, illlustrated by Simón Silva (2000) as well as On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole, illustrated by Henry Cole (2007).
Heather's second book of poems, "Post-Mortem," which earned the 2019 Orison Prize, is forthcoming in Spring of 2020. Her first book, "The Disappearing Theatre" won the 2015 Poets at Work Prize. She is the 2017 recipient of the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America and the 2015 recipient of the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Conjunctions Magazine, Aeon, Orion Magazine, Narrative, ZYZZYVA, Poetry Northwest, and others.
Her research and areas of interest include Children’s Literature, Anthropology and Poetry, Waldorf Education for K-12, and things that have vanished. She shared with us from "Tucker's Countryside" by George Selden.
Join us again next year as we welcome the New Year and the New Decade by considering the lilies with Joe Joe Clark outdoor educator and lover of lilies – especially the native lilies of the Western US.
Until then – may the New Year bring your growth and joy, solace and celebration in equal measure and as needed.
Ever greenly from me to you - there are soooooo many ways people engage in and grow from the cultivation of their places.
Thinking out Loud this week...
I like book round ups at the end of the year, many people do. This year I thought, let's sow some seeds for the future and the coming decade – an intention setting for the universe.
When Theresa Carrio, a woman I essentially did not know, called me out of the blue a month or more ago to share her experience with On Meadowview Street, and her sensation that it embodied so much of what she enjoyed about Cultivating Place, it felt like a nudge from the universe.
It also re-minded me that several years ago, another bright woman, Heather Altfeld and I had entertained a back and forth about the power and resource of Children’s Literature to share forward with the youngest gardeners and nature lovers among us a cultural literacy of care – for one another and for the generous planet and planet mates with whom we make this journey. In addition to Heather, Theresa and my favorite books, I put a call out to you all listeners and readers and Instagram community for YOUR favorite books and this topic clearly touched a heartstring in all of you because the input from you all was heartfelt and abundant – book titles, stories of childhood, of children, of grandparents, grandchildren, of classrooms and libraries. Thank you.
With a hat-tip of gratitude and hell yes to Greta Thunberg, a reminder that excellent Children’s Literature enlightening and informing the natural and cultural literacy of our world can also be found through some of the esteemed awards in this field – including:
Honors the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
Honors the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Given to an American publisher for a children's book published outside the United States, and subsequently translated into English.
Recognizing an African American Illustrator and Author of outstanding books for children
Honors a Latino/Latina illustrator whose works best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.
First Nations.org also has a recommended Children’s Literature reading list that includes:
For young readers/listeners: Wild Berries by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis) (Simply Read Books, 2013); SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (Ojibwe) (Kids Can Press, 2000)
And for older ages to middle school aged: Hidden Roots by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) (Scholastic, 2004) & The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) (Hyperion Book
Finally – if you’re not familiar with the work of Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings.org, she does an annual round up of Children’s Literature generally and it is always a treat – she re-reads The Little Prince every year as a ritual of meaning and memory. “Once a year, every year, I reread The Little Prince and manage to find in it new layers of loveliness and wisdom each time, always seemingly written to allay whatever my greatest struggle at that moment is. It is a special book, yes, but it is not singular in being a testament to something I have long believed: that great children’s books transcend both age and time. They are exquisite distillations of philosophies for living, addressing in the language of children — which is the language of absolute sincerity, so countercultural in our age of cynicism — the deepest, most eternal truths about what it means to live a meaningful, beautiful, inspired, noble life" – and I would add: in the garden and on the trail with our plant and wildlife friends and family.
Here's to sowing so many more generative seeds in 2020.
BOOKS TO GROW YOUNG GARDENERS & NATURE LOVERS BY:
- Two additional titles from Theresa: Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (2017); Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman (1997)
- The folks at Soul Fire Farm sent us in the direction of Medium.com and their "embrace race" children's literature recommendations – including such titles at All the World, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee and recommended for ages 2 to 5;
“Following a circle of family and friends through the course of a day from morning until night, this book affirms the importance of all things great and small in our world, from the tiniest shell on the beach, to the warmth of family connections, to the widest sunset sky.”
Also, Girl of Mine, written by Jabari Asim, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Recommended for ages 1 to 3
“As daddy cradles his baby girl, she is suddenly whisked away on a fantastical adventure, swinging above lush floral gardens under the golden moonlight. The sweet text, inspired by ‘Rock-A-Bye Baby,’ will whisk little ones off to peaceful slumber.” A Different Pond written by Bao Phi and Illustrated by Thi Bui is a 2018 Caldecott Honor Book that Kirkus Reviews calls "a must-read for our times," "A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event - a long-ago fishing trip. Graphic novelist Thi Bui and acclaimed poet Bao Phi deliver a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son - and between cultures, old and new. As a young boy, Bao and his father awoke early, hours before his father's long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao's father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam. Thi Bui's striking, evocative art paired with Phi's expertly crafted prose has earned this powerful picture books six starred reviews and numerous awards."
-Wendy Kiang Spray – writer of The Chinese Kitchen Garden, suggested a book that she love love loves entitled The Empty Pot, written by Demi. "In short, The Empty Pot is about a a bunch of kids who were given the opportunity to succeed the emperor (or something like that). Each got an empty pot (or something like that) and soil and a seed. The kid who grew the most amazing flower would win. On the final day, all brought pots filled with amazing flowers to the emperor. One kid, brought an empty pot. He apologized and said he did his best, nurtured it, but he failed. He was the one chosen as the emperor had COOKED all the seeds. NONE should have grown and the boy was chosen for his honestly and earnestness. I love that book. "
- Lynn Richards wrote: "My favorite is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It is about a 10 year old boy who runs away to live for a year in the woods. He lives in a hemlock tree and gathers plants and fishes for his sustenance. He also befriends a falcon that hunts for him. I read this book each year to my third graders and after I retired, I read it again because it captures my imagination, soothes my soul and makes me smile. I always wanted to live in a tree."
-Tenley Nelson living on a 1 acre mini farm in rural Alaska shared Ox Cart Man written by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney and
Miss Rumphius written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. "Ox Cart Man is my all time favorite. I grew up in Maine across the river from Portsmouth, NH. In this book the family lives 10 days walk from Portsmouth market and the father annually walks to the market to sell the goods the family has grown or created through their hard work during the year. It shows in a simple story a connection to land, a need for little consumerism, and a self sufficient lifestyle." Tenley finishes with: "Another favorite discovered years ago at the local library when my kids were still quite little is: The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small. This book makes me cry every time as I read it. The complicated dynamic of a child being re-homed during time of economic strife and the ability she has to recreate her environment and bring beauty and joy to her surroundings through her love of gardening is inspiring and beautifully portrayed. Thank you for this. I greatly enjoyed thinking about it!
- Abra Lee, of Conquer the Soil sends me one of her favorites: "My Hair is a Garden written and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera is a book that I love!" Abra also pointed me in the direction of Tamara Horne and her Instagram page @cultivatingcuriosities where she curates children's garden books and she gives some excellent recommendations.
-Kelsey Adams also recommends Miss Rumphius - "I called this book "the lupine lady" and it was favorite!
- Ronald Koo, of Berkeley, CA: "My favorite childhood book that dealt with a garden is The Missing Persons League by Frank Bonham. I bought it from Scholastic Books (thankfully my parents paid for the order). In a post-environmental disaster world, the main character illegally grows corn and raises chickens for eggs in his basement. He offers some of his fresh food to his girlfriend, who is absolutely stunned by how good fresh food tastes and cries tears of joy because she has never had it before."
- Kerry Cambell former director of a Montessori school in Marin County, California, sent in a whole list of titles, which they developed to go with their children’s garden, an outdoor classroom in a garden setting, and a greenhouse classroom. The children were primarily age 3-6 years. All the books on this list are kid-tested and kid- approved. Flower arranging has always been part of the Montessori curriculum, even with the 3-6 year olds. Best way to have a steady supply of flowers — grow them in your school garden!
- Judy Cumming says: "I didn’t realize until I reread The Secret Garden as an adult how much this book influenced my life. The themes of human connections, transformation, restoration and beauty have continued throughout my life. There were amazing parallels found in in my relationships and of course in my passion for gardening."
- Peachey Trudell of One Wild Acre wrote to say: "Well. My goodness. The request for children's books in your recent podcast brought me to my knees. I am a former early childhood educator, current cut-flower grower and a grateful mom to two spirited daughters, ages four and six. I immediately thought of one book in particular, one that made me cry the first time I read it when I was in the throes of beginning gardening and participating in a sustainable agriculture certification program. It is The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes and it holds the lines, 'It was a flower. It was alive and wonderful. It gave the gardener hope and it made him work even harder.' It's such a clear summation of my feelings when in my own garden. Plus, the illustrations are lush and joyous. What an exciting and necessary, in my opinion, topic to discuss!"
- Sarah LaValley wrote: "I bought this book for my daughter when she was small and we both loved it! It is by a local author so it makes it more special. It is The Lost Flower Children by Janet Taylor Liyle I hope you like it!"
- Tiffany Freeman of Ontario, Canada suggested: "Keepers of the Earth by Joseph Bruchac. It is a nature based “activity" book for children that is a combination of a collection of North American Indigenous stories and activities that help cultivate and strengthen our connection to nature."
- Pamela Pearce of The Walled Garden reminded me of my own love for Elsa Beskow books: "One in particular is The Flower’s Festival which is all about the growing season in a perennial cottage garden...it’s BEAUTIFUL! Then there is Flora’s Feast -A Masque of Flowers by Walter Crane complete with art nouveau drawings and lovely verse going through the year of garden flowers"
- Garden Educator at Billy Mitchell Elementary, Kris Lauritson’s suggestions included: "Diary of a Worm, by Doreen, Plantzilla, by Jerdine Nolen and The Little Hummingbird, by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
- Amy Coutu of Hueful Habitat wrote in with this: "Yes, start them young. Teach the teachers of tomorrow! My outdoor experiences as a child completely shaped the way that I engage with the earth today. I’m so grateful to have grown up in the forests and on the beaches of British Columbia. And I’m so grateful to have some Canadian influence on my little Californians. Her daughter Mackenzie, age 10, recently read Florette, and "is completely smitten with it. It definitely gave me all the feels too."
- Charron Andrews : "I loved reading Walk When the Moon is Full, by Frances Hamerstrom with my children now 34 and 29 were young. Like the characters in the book, we also lived in Wisconsin. Sometimes we would walk out in the full moon too but even when we didn't the stories reminded us to look with wonder at the natural world around us.
- Perla Sofia Curbelo Gardener and Educator in Puerto Rico wrote in with books from Puerto Rican authors, including: "La fiesta de las abejitas. Author: Tere Marichal-Lugo (2013)."
- Emma from Oak Park Illinois shared: "I was listening to your podcast during my evening commute and was thrilled to hear your call for children’s book recommendations. Barbara Cooney’s “Miss Rumphius” made me a gardener. Monica Furlong’s young adult books Juniper and Wise Child also have strong associations with gardens and nature for me (perhaps due to a description of an herb garden in one?). Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairy series. Practically all of Beatrix Potter but especially The Tale of Johnny Town Mouse. And finally, of course, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Always and forever, the Yorkshire moors and the walled rose garden live on in my imagination."
- Misti Little, of the Garden Path Podcast in Houston, TX remembers: "My favorite nature-related early childhood book is The Maggie B., about a girl who wishes one night to go sailing with her baby brother and awakens the next morning on a cute little boat with the most lush garden. She harvests quite a bounty from the garden and the sea and makes a lovely dinner for herself and her brother. The watercolor pictures are beautiful.
Other suggestions from Misti anything by Lois Ehlert or Jan Brett
- I want to share the whole note from listener Sandy Irber:
Dear Jennifer, My first memory of a children’s book is actually a record of a song of The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss. I cherished the record, and played it over and over! Although the story is about a little boy who persevered and had faith that his carrot would grow, I thoroughly identified as the main character, even as a little girl. Gender Identification didn’t matter to me, then or now, what mattered was the act of planting the seed, watering it and pulling the weeds. “Carrots grow from carrot seeds.” All of my siblings knew what Sandy’s favorite song was. It wasn’t until I was an adult and a mother myself that I saw The Carrot Seed book. I was thrilled! And most recently to my delight, I rediscovered the song via google! My children as well as my grandchildren have gardened with me over the years. My theme for my grandchildren is “There are no rules in Grandma’s Garden!” This past May I became a Master Gardener in Nevada County. I retired and moved to Nevada City a year ago May, and was very pleased and proud to check this accomplishment on my bucket list! Little did I realize that my bucket list started when I was 5 years old! I enjoy listening to Cultivating Place and look forward to a new conversation every week. My beloved friend Elsie turned me on to your program several years ago. Sadly she passed away a year ago. When I listen I have Elsie close in my heart, every minute. Thank you, Sandy Irber
- Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek wrote from Oklahoma: "Backyard Fairies by, Phoebe Wahl. More about the fairy world but has a great nature connection theme rolled in. Also, Because of an Acorn by, Lola Schaefer. A great book on the way an oak grows. Good for young children."
And so it goes – this is a living breathing Dynamic list to which I hope we will keep adding in the coming years. I also hope it will inspire you to read and share more of the best Children’s Literature with the most expansive of gardening and growing intentions with your family and friends, with your library, your local school, your local community garden or little library or ….the possibilities for sowing these seeds are pretty much limitless.
Together we ARE more.
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