Summer in the Garden: Picture Books for Ages 4-8
Today we welcome Melissa LaSalle, author of the blog What to Read to Your Kids, to share her top picture books for summer. Stay tuned for her favorite chapter books for older kids later this month.
One of the best things I’ve done as a parent is to plant a butterfly garden on the side of our house. In full disclosure, I initially had professional help, but the kids and I are now going at it alone, choosing new plants, transplanting others, and filling in remaining gaps with seeds. But the most fun comes from observing the changing blooms and insects.
Some of the older perennials have grown over my five year old’s head, and she likes to weave in and out of the maze, addressing the bees and butterflies and welcoming them to our garden.
Each day there is something new to behold, and most of the time my kids spot it before me. I hope my list of garden-themed picture books, some new and some older favorites, will inspire your own children to seek out beauty and get their hands dirty.
Diana’s White House Garden
By Elisa Carbone, illus. Jen Hill (2016)
I don’t know who was more fascinated—me or my kids—to read this true story about the first Victory Garden, created during World War II on the front lawn of the White House, as an inspiration for the estimated 20 million family gardens planted across the country as part of President Roosevelt’s plan to feed American civilians during the war.
As it turns out, this first Victory Garden was the work of a young child named Diana Hopkins, daughter of Roosevelt’s chief advisor, who worked daily alongside the First Lady to plant and tend the tomatoes and carrots (and keep them safe from pesky rabbits).
Diana’s feisty spirit, as the only child in the White House, and her desire to be useful in time of war would charm the pants off anyone. But perhaps most gratifying is the way Diana trades in her proper collared dresses for a pair of sturdy overalls.
Stories from Bug Garden
By Lisa Moser, illus. Gwen Millward (2016)
This new collection of mini, largely conversational stories is equal parts poetic beauty and silly banter, as a dozen different insects move into an “old and forgotten” garden and attempt to make it Home. Seen through the itty bitty eyes of this quirky cast of personalities, blooming flowers become fireworks shows and overgrown grasses become places to reinvent yourself.
The colorful ink and watercolor illustrations—bursting with whimsy —may even inspire your little readers to take their paint boxes outside.
By Sarah Stewart & David Small (1997)
You don’t need a backyard to have a garden! Years before I had kids, this was my favorite children’s book, so I secretly rejoiced when my eight year old teared up and my five year old started jumping up and down shouting, “Read it again!”
Told through a series of letters that a young girl sends home, during the difficult year that she is sent to live with her cantankerous uncle above his city bakery, this Depression-era story is a poignant example of the transformative power of beauty.
A country girl at heart, Lydia Grace brings to the city a love of gardening, and she uses her passion, not only to fill every inch of the barren landscape with flowers, but to warm her way into her uncle’s heart.
Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest
By Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (2015)
If you’ve read my blog, you’ve likely noticed an obsession with children’s books about trees (like this and this and this). When I moved to Northern Virginia six years ago, I felt like I was seeing trees for the first time—I simply could not get over the depth and breadth of the foliage around me.
My awe must be contagious, because my kids regularly point out trees they like; and when my son sits to read with his back against the sweet gum in our front yard, it melts my heart.
It takes a certain crazy to become an actual tree sitter, and yet I deeply appreciate these heroes—especially when that tree is an ancient redwood named Luna, like in this true story of a 23-year-old activist, who lived at the top of said tree for two whole years as part of a peaceful protest in California.
My kids’ minds were totally blown at the idea of a girl constructing a tent in the branches of a tree, sleeping under a “tapestry of starlight,” and exploring ecosystems nestled inside the tree’s trunk. The delightful mixed-media illustrations, childlike in accessibility yet grandiose in emotion, are printed on paper from FSC sources (responsibly managed forests).
Miss Maple’s Seeds
By Eliza Wheeler (2013)
There are some books you never get tired of reading, and this is one. The sing-song prose, describing this Mother Earth-type character, who houses orphaned seeds until they are strong enough to go out into the world on their own, is pure loveliness.
My daughter would add that the notion of caring for seeds as if they were babies is positively adorable, too. We always pause on one page that diagrams twenty different species of seeds, each one miraculously unique in size and shape.
But my favorite part is Miss Maple’s recurring refrain to the young seeds: Take care, my little ones, for the world is big and you are small. But never forget…even the grandest of trees once had to grow up from the smallest of seeds.
Check out WhatToReadToYourKids.com for more recommendations all through the summer.