Picture Book Round-Up #5

This is my garden picture book round up, because I’m in the middle of making a bibliography of books about gardens that feature Black protagonists, and I thought….why do double the work, when I could write about some of those books for this blog too?

Especially with spring eventually going to be coming, why not get ahead on planning a new display?

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta, illustrated by Frank Morrison

This is a biography, but it is SO lushly illustrated. It’s a garden book, how could it not be? The characterizations here are gorgeous–GWC shines on the page, and you want to dive into the garden he curates in secret. This is a very clear-cut biography that isn’t just about “here’s this guy” but looks specifically at his life in relationship to plants and agriculture, and while it includes the less garden-y elements as well, his love for nature and growing and caring is allowed to take center stage.

Our School Garden by Rick Swann, illustrated by Christy Hale

This is the exact kind of book I was thinking of when I started making my bibliography of books about Black kids gardening—a book that includes a diverse cast and a Black protagonist but that is covering modern topics about student development, the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the fun that can be had in a garden. This feels pedantic at times, but the verse poems are fun to break up and use in classes. The illustrations didn’t draw me in, but there was nothing outwardly wrong with them.

My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A Cabrera

What a sweet book! I read this the day after I read Claribel Ortega’s book, Frizzy, so this felt like a perfect pair.This is a book all about a girl who has to learn to take care of her hair after being teased for it, and by going to her neighbor, who is also.a Black woman, she learns not only the basics of wash day, but also about accepting the beauty of her hair, and how her hair is like a garden: she has to care for it, and nourish it, and accept it when it grows and changes and not compare it to other parts of the garden. A great book with strong illustrations, though keep in mind the prose is a little long for young readers–might be best for elementary school.

Jayden’s Impossible Garden by Melina Mangal, illustrated by Ken Daley

A sweet, if some what confusingly illustrated, tale of.an urban Black kid and his neighbor who uses a wheelchair finding bits of nature in the city against his mom’s constant refrain of “there’s no nature in the middle of the city.” This is a sweet book, and a great way to show kids how nature pops up in small ways everywhere, but the illustration style was really confusing. It was like a mid-2000s cartoon fever dream, but extra airy? And the characters were always smiling in a way that didn’t match the story? Confusing, but a cute book overall.

Lenny in the Garden by Ken Wilson-Max

If the pages were a centiment thicker, this would be a board book. Prose wise, it’s definitely more there than in the picture book category. This is a simple, simple story about a Black toddler in the garden in a diaper and t-shirt seeing garden bugs, saying hello to them, etc. Finally, he is called in for lunch by his Asian-presenting mother, and his dog is there the whole time too, obviously. Underwhelming. A good sort of “Black kids should go outside and be allowed to play” book but lacks any oomph.

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