I’ve been reading gardening books these last few weeks. Gardening books found in the kids’ section, that is. Not how-to gardening books so much as gardening stories. They’ve kept me entertained and inspired while the temperatures warm in my own garden so that I can begin planting the flats of flowers I have under lights in my laundry room.
Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden by Edith Pattou, illustrated by Tricia Tusa, is a favorite of mine from when my kids were little. I found it at the library this week and I realized I probably haven’t read it in fifteen years, so I snatched it up.
Ms. Pattou wrote the book as a gift for her daughter’s kindergarten teacher. The back flap tells us that the real Mrs. Spitzer’s “watchful, nurturing spirit reminded [the author] of a gardener tending her garden.”
Mrs. Spitzer is a wise teacher. She knows many things — gardens and children being only two. She knows how to care for and celebrate differences, allowing everyone to flourish. She knows that individual plants and children grow at different rates and need different things, and she knows to keep an eye on pests and weeds. She is the consummate tend-er of growing things, be they tender hearts or fragile stems.
The art in this book is a hoot and it is the art that I have associated with a fun memory of reading this book to Darling Daughter when she was small. On every page there are smiles — the other teachers in the school to begin with, but then as Mrs. Spitzer moves to her garden to plant, the smiles are found on the faces of the insects and birds that come to work alongside Mrs. Spitzer. Page after page, the dragonflies smile, the birds and butterflies grin.
Darling Daughter’s brow furrowed. “Why do they have faces?” she said pointing to the army of cheerful pollinators descending on Mrs. Spitzer and her garden. “Why are they smiling?” she asked, perturbed suspicion in her tone. I said something like “They’re so happy to be helping Mrs. Spitzer make her garden grow!”
She frowned. Darling Daughter was frustrated sometimes with what she called “pretend things” that weren’t convincing to her (especially if she hadn’t come up with them.) She loved imaginative play, but sometimes tripped on her own realism — yes, even at three.
I kept reading. Eventually there is a delightful spread of smiling flowers growing in all of their diversity, stretching up toward the sun. A smile replaced Darling Daughter’s discontented frown.
I said, “See, the flowers smile, too.”
“Yes,” she said with an approving nod. “Flowers always smile.”
Which is how I think of my garden’s flowers to this day — there they are, smiling away! Especially the early ones in spring — the tulips and daffodils positively grin in these crisp days of spring, don’t they?
Do you have a favorite gardening book for kids? There are so many wonderful ones. I haven’t done a gardening storytime in awhile, but I have a nice little pile sitting on a bench in my office right now — must find some kids!