The best children’s books on gardening as community building

The Books I Picked & Why

The Curious Garden

By Peter Brown

Book cover of The Curious Garden

Why this book?

Out for a walk one day in his dreary urban neighbourhood, Liam stumbles upon a patch of dying plants growing around an abandoned railway track. Although he knows nothing about growing things, he can see the plants need a gardener, so he decides to help them. 

The story of what happens to the garden is charming, but what makes this book a favourite of mine is Liam—a little master of equanimity and confidence. Instead of feeling insecure about his lack of gardening experience and knowledge, he sees a need and gets to work. Rather than fretting about his failed attempts, he keeps trying and finds better ways. Liam embodies the power of starting small and caring for one thing at a time.

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Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

By Jeanette Winter

Book cover of Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

Why this book?

There are many beautiful picture books about environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, but this one expresses so simply and clearly the connection between the health of the land and of the community that depends on it. 

After years away, Wangari Maathai came home to Kenya and was shocked to find barren ground where there had once been trees and crops. Although she was overwhelmed by the loss, she refused to give in to despair. Wangari planted nine seedlings and convinced other women to do the same. My favourite part of this book are the illustrations of rows of women planting tree after tree—undeterred by opposition—in a fierce act of hope.

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Thank You, Garden

By Liz Garton Scanlon, Simone Shin

Book cover of Thank You, Garden

Why this book?

This book is colourful, joyful, and deliciously diverse. The simple rhyme is rollicking but not too sweet, the illustrations are bright and playful, with plenty of fun detail. I love the mixture of people (all ages and colours and abilities) at work in the community garden, and how there is room for different ways of doing things (some plots are neat and proper while others are messy and wild). Best of all is how the story ends with everyone sitting down together to enjoy a garden-grown feast. Community, humour, hospitality, gratitude, and care for the earth—this little story is a cornucopia of good things. 

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The Imaginary Garden

By Andrew Larsen, Irene Luxbacher

Book cover of The Imaginary Garden

Why this book?

My grandmother had an enormous vegetable garden. She spent so much time working in it and filling her pantry with jars of jams, jellies, and preserves, I used to wonder what she would do if she ever had to leave it.  

That is exactly what happens to Poppa, who has to move out of his old house with its yard full of trees and flowers, into a small apartment with only a windy balcony. At first Poppa sinks into grief. But a suggestion from his granddaughter Theo gives him an idea for how they can still share the joy of creating a garden together. 

This is a lovely story about how art enriches our lives, and how resilience and imagination can help people of any age cope with unwelcome change.

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Miss Rumphius

By Barbara Cooney

Book cover of Miss Rumphius

Why this book?

Some of the happiest times of my life have been spent on Prince Edward Island, where lupines grow wild in the ditches. Maybe that’s what first attracted me to this story about Alice Rumphius, who, after fulfilling her lifelong dream of travelling the world, then settling in a house by the sea, turns her attention to one more task: making the world more beautiful. She does this by wandering the Maine coastline, scattering lupine seeds wherever she goes. 

This is activism of a different sort—not an effort to solve a problem, but simply a desire to spread some beauty in whatever way we can, wherever we are.

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