Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we dig into the topics germinating in readers’ thoughts, then root around in our library to suggest some books that will leaf you breathless.
We just passed the first day of spring (at least we did in the northern hemisphere), and though – depending on where you live – the weather may be less than spring-like, we’re now in the season when nature begins its rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, and regrowth.
To celebrate, we’re recommending books about gardens, flowers, vegetables, trees – these are books all about growing. And not in that character development way. These are books literally about plant growth, from picture books to YA. Read on and reap what we sow!
Where most rainforests are located, it’s actually fall right now, but we’re going to start our list with Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal, anyway. Readers are invited to join Zonia, an Asháninka girl, as she plays in the lush Amazonian rain forest, and one can’t help but be reminded of springtime.
Though cherry blossom season usually isn’t until the end of April, we think Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston and Misa Saburi is another great inclusion on this list. Ostensibly about a girl missing home but making new friends after she moves from Japan, it’s also about blossoming cherry trees in the spring – famous in Japan, but also found in some neighborhoods of North America, too!
The Golden Glow by Benjamin Flouw indulges in the simple joys of the quest to find a rare and mysterious plant. Fox hikes through hills and mountains, observing many flora (and some fauna) on his way, all in an effort to catch a glimpse of a special flower: the titular golden glow.
Speaking of flowers, Welcome, Flower Child by Brigette Barrager is a picture book for the very youngest readers, as it’s all about the magic of your birth flower. Whether your birth flower is a larkspur or jonquil, this book celebrates the personality traits of individuals born in each month (through their accompanying flower) and demonstrates we need all the flowers together to make a wonderful garden.
For less subjective information about different flowers, young readers should track down Rachel Ignotofsky’s What’s Inside a Flower?, a nonfiction picture book that beautifully illustrates the answers to all your flowering questions, from seeds to roots to blooms.
But if you want your floral facts with a side of strange, Flowers Are Pretty … Weird by Rosemary Mosco and Jacob Souva is for you. Inside the book, a knowledgeable bee reveals just how bizarre flowers can be: some only bloom in the nighttime, some look like ghosts, and some smell like rotting meat. Spring is in the air!
When you’re talking spring, you’re talking trees – especially deciduous ones – and that’s exactly the kind featured in This Is the Tree We Planted by Kate McMullan and Alison Friend. The book, House-That-Jack-Built-style, recounts how one class plants a tree in a playground, then watches it grow and create a home to more and more animals as it does.
Another such tree is the focus of The Forever Tree by Tereasa Surratt and Donna Lukas, illustrated by Nicola Slater. Based on real tree in Wisconsin, the book is about the special connection a tree can have to a community – of people and animals – and how people can work together when that tree’s existence is threatened.
Zee Grows a Tree by Elizabeth Rusch and Will Hillenbrand, on the other hand, is all about an evergreen tree. In fact, it is about a girl (Zee Cooper) and a Douglas fir born on the very same day, and the parallel milestones they reach together as their lives intersect.
The tree in Corinna Luyken’s The Tree in Me is neither deciduous nor coniferous. It’s more metaphorical, as the text describes the tree-like strength within each of us and our connections to nature. That natural connection is strengthened by the illustrations of kids frolicking in the outdoors. (When was the last time you had a good frolic?)
Likewise, Only a Tree Knows How to Be a Tree by Mary Murphy is not as much about a tree as you would think. The book is about trees, as well as birds, and fish, and all sorts of living things, but it is also a book about the concept of self and how every thing (and person) is unique, and are the only ones who really know how to be themselves.
Those books are great if you appreciate tree quality, but what if you’re all about tree quantity? Enter One Million Trees: A True Story by Kristen Balouch. The book is the true story of the author’s family, who planted 1,000,000 trees (!) to fight deforestation in British Columbia. That is a tree-mendous undertaking!
Springtime is also all about planting, so we need to include a few books about gardens. Let’s start with My Baba’s Garden from acclaimed Canadian picture book duo Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith. Inspired by Scott’s childhood, the book follows a kid as he helps his grandmother tend her garden, immersing himself in the sights, sounds, smells – and worms, too!
A gardening book that many readers might find themselves in is Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw. Lola is inspired by a book of garden poems to start her own garden, so she and her mommy check out some books from the library, do a little plant research, and start gardening in no time! Libraries and gardens: two great places that go great together.
The book that could have inspired Lola is Behold Our Magical Garden by Allan Wolf and Daniel Duncan, as the book is filled with witty and playful poems about a school garden and the budding young gardeners who keep it growing.
We’ve already told you about a class of kids growing a tree. A different class of kids – these ones in a busy city – start their own rooftop garden in In Our Garden by Pat Zietlow Miller and Melissa Crowton. Inspired by new student Millie, who moved to the city from across the ocean, the entire classroom embarks on a project to develop green thumbs.
The Wild Garden by Cynthia Cliff demonstrates there’s more than one way to garden. While the village of Mirren has a tidy community garden, carefully organized and tended by the townspeople, it also has a wild patch of land the other side of the garden wall – a place full of trees, mushrooms, and wild vegetables. When the townspeople decide they need a bigger garden, they want to expand into the wild place. Jilly and her grandfather develop a plan, inviting the townspeople to discover a new kind of gardening, in this tribute to biodiversity.
Tending plants becomes an endearing substitute to animal companionship in Gwendolyn’s Pet Garden by Anne Renaud and Rashin Kheiriyeh. Gwendolyn really wants a pet, but her parents – unsure of the idea – give her a box of dirt instead. It takes her a while, but soon Gwendolyn is enthusiastically caring for her “pet” garden, which learns a few fancy tricks of its own.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention all of JaNay Brown-Wood and Samara Hardy’s Where in the Garden? series. Across four books, encompassing Amara’s Farm, Miguel’s Community Garden, Logan’s Greenhouse, and Linh’s Rooftop Garden,readers are introduced to young gardeners and the many different ways kids can engage in horticulture – whether you have many acres or just a tiny spot on a roof at your disposal.
But you can’t grow much without seeds. And Seeds by Carme Lemniscates revels in the potential of seeds – whether they are spread by the wind or carried on the back of a few animals to their destination – and how they can grow into all variety of wonderful vegetation. The book also reminds us humans plant non-vegetable seeds, too (in a way), and with care we can cultivate and nurture wonderful things in the world (including actual plants).
For a more in-depth and close-up view of how a seed becomes a plant, you can read A Seed Grows by Antoinette Portis. The book outlines each step of the growth cycle of a sunflower, from tiny seed to big, bold bloom, in lively (and award-winning) illustrations.
Of course, there’s also the bestselling classic Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons, which outlines the growth process from seed to adult plant, and informs young readers where the plants they see at home and the park, as well as the fruit and vegetables they eat, get their start.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
Older readers interested in all things botanical will gravitate to nature expert Ben Hoare’s The Secret World of Plants. Subtitled Tales of More than 100 Remarkable Flowers, Trees, and Seeds, the treasury includes facts about underwater seagrass, carnivorous Venus flytraps, and expensive tulips, all beautifully illustrated and augmented with information about photosynthesis, pollination, and all the plant essentials.
The lovable Nina Soni tries her hand at horticulture in Kashmira Sheth’s Nina Soni, Master of the Garden. When Nina accompanies her mom, a landscape architect, to work, she picks up a few tips on how to start a garden. But Nina quickly realizes the business potential and turns her (future) vegetable growth into an entrepreneurial enterprise. Many calamities (and hilarities) ensue for the first-time gardener.
Jen, the main character of Stepping Stones, a graphic novel by Lucy Knisley, is not as willing a participant in the vegetable growing business. She’s suddenly living in the country with her step-family, working a farm and selling produce at markets, while having left her city friends behind. Can Jen fit into her new agrarian lifestyle?
Aggie Morton is a girl more about deathstyle than lifestyle. And in Marthe Jocelyn’s Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Dead Man in the Garden, that deathstyle is garden chic. Young detective Aggie and her friend Hector Perot find a body in the garden of a Yorkshire spa, and the two take it upon themselves once again to solve the mystery in this springtime thriller inspired by the life and works of Agatha Christie.
Technically Holler of the Fireflies by David Barclay Moore takes place over the summer, but the book is about Javari, a boy from Brooklyn, who goes to rural Appalachia for a STEM summer camp. Javari, a fish out of water at first, soon learns about the pleasures – both plant-based and otherwise – of the great outdoors.
The Big Sting by Rachelle Delaney is more about insects (bees, to be precise) than plants, but you can’t have many bees without flowers nearby. Eleven-year-old Leo prefers his books and video games to outdoor adventures, but when he visits Grandpa on Heron Island and his late Grandma’s beehives go missing, Leo heads out on an adventure with his little sister to brave the wild and find the missing bees.
While only some of them actually do any plant growing or gardening, all of the 34 young women in Girls Who Green the World by Diana Kapp are dedicated to fighting for biodiversity and renewed plant growth on planet earth. The book profiles environmental changemakers, social entrepreneurs, visionaries, and activists who want to save the planet and make the world turn green.
A book that explores the darker side of plants is Rory Power’s creepy thriller Burn Our Bodies Down, in which teenage Margot returns to her mother’s small-town homestead to uncover some family secrets and things weirder still. (Spoiler alert: there may be cornfields growing clones.)
Okay, so Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen isn’t really about flowers. Violet is just the name of our morally ambiguous hero, a prophet who misleads the royal court with her carefully worded predictions. But when she’s asked to provide a false prophecy for Prince Cyrus, a nemesis she’s strangely attracted to, and his upcoming wedding, Violet awakens a curse and an epic enemies-to-lovers adventure. (And spring is all about new love, too – so there.)