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Master Gardener Journal  


B O O K   R E V I E W



Stories to Delight Young Gardeners

by Nikol M. Price,
Master Gardener Intern


The holiday season is just around the corner, and it's time to start thinking about what to get the little gardeners in our lives. Stories touch our lives like nothing else. Children, especially, identify with their favorite characters and emulate the qualities they like. Two of the best gardening stories I enjoy sharing with children are Scarlette Beane and Weslandia.

Scarlette Beane, written by Karen Wallace, is a delightful story for younger (five and under) gardeners. Scarlette is a magical child who is born with a face as red as a beet and green- tipped fingers. As soon as she is born, her parents know that she will grow to be tall and strong and do something wonderful.

The Beanes live in a tiny house, so they spend all of their time in their beloved garden. On her fifth birthday, Scarlette's family provides her with her very own garden space and the tools to work it. She works in her new garden all day. When she goes to bed that night, her fingers glow with green light, and in the morning her garden is filled with gigantic vegetables that have to be pulled up with forklifts! The entire community comes to help harvest the garden, and Scarlette's mother uses the vegetables to make soup for everyone using a cement mixer.

Jon Berkeley's illustrations really shine at this point. H e shows us an incredibly diverse community filled with priests, tattooed bikers, people in the traditional clothing of India, older people, younger people, hippies, and homeless. All are welcome to the table. After her parents tuck her into bed that night, Scarlette dreams of doing something wonderful. She tiptoes out of her room, takes her trowel and her extra seeds to a meadow, and plants them with the magic in her fingers. In the morning, the meadow is graced with a castle made of vegetables. It is the house of their dreams. Scarlette's mother kisses her and whispers, "I knew you'd do something wonderful."

This book is really inspirational for little ones. We all want to do something wonderful, and Scarlette Beane shows that a garden is one way to accomplish this. Children can spend time poring over the detailed illustrations naming vegetables and garden tools. It is also nice to see such a small gardener being so hugely successful. Surely if five-yearold Scarlette can grow veggies, your five-year-old can too. Scarlette Beane will warm your heart and connect you to the magic of gardening. Share it with your child, grandchild, or the kindergartener down the street and make some magic of your own.

Weslandia, by Paul Fleischman, is a garden story for older readers who have started school. Wesley is a boy who moves to the beat of a different drummer. He doesn't enjoy the food, fashion, or football of his peers. In fact, "He had no friend s, but plenty of tormentors. Fleeing them was the only sport he was good at. "At the end of the school year, Wesley is looking for a summer project to work on during his vacation. He has learned in class that each great civilization had a staple food product. As he is telling his mother what he learned in school, an idea strikes him. Wesley can grow his own staple food crop and found a civilization of his own! The next morning, Wesley turns over a patch of earth in his yard, and then waits for the wind to bring some seed. In no time at all, he has some seedlings and he bends his scientific mind towards learning everything about them. As they grow, he eats their fruit, makes cups from their rinds, cooks their roots, weaves fabric from their soft inner fibers, and creates almost everything a person could want for the basic necessities of life. By the end of the summer, all of the kids from school have ventured into "Weslandia" and enjoyed the fruits of Wesley's inventive mind. The illustrations of Kevin Hawkes add richness and depth to this incredible story. You can see Wesley's vision shining through each page, as he discovers the myriad qualities of his unique plant.

This book provides so much food for thought and discussion. What is a staple crop and what is our staple crop? Of course, the answer to that question could be different in different households throughout the United States. Is it corn? Wheat? Potatoes? Twinkies? (Hopefully not!) In our industrialized society, so far removed from agricultural reality, it is important to remember how many people's lives revolve around the food that they can grow and harvest. I really like the way this book illustrates how many other products can come from a staple food. It could be a fun exercise just to try to list all of the products currently in yo u r house that come from corn. A reviewer from Amazon.com wrote, "I read this book to my 2 children and we loved it! It inspired us to make our own Weslandia in our backyard. We had a great time there, all thanks to this book!" Use this book to get childre n excited about growing things. Allow them to be creative and to think of uses for that thick pumpkin vine or a watermelon rind. Maybe they could make ink like Wesley does using juice and a little soot. The craft possibilities are endless.

I hope you pick up Scarlette Beane and Weslandia. Books make wonderful gifts, and these stories are a great way to share your love of gardening. They are both available at local bookstores and can also be ordered online. Give them to the young people in your life, or read them for your own pleasure.



Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated January 25, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopa-hort@ag.arizona.edu 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092