Sunday, April 17, 2011

Poetry in the Classroom - In the Garden

The plant sale at our local botanical garden is 12 days away. While I am not a gardener, I love to go to see what's blooming and what interesting varieties folks will be planting. This seems like a good time to share some favorite poetry books that touch on gardens.
Farmer's Garden: Rhymes for Two Voices, written by David Harrison and illustrated by Arden Johnson-Petrov - In this book, Farmer's dog converses with some of the animals and plants he meets in the garden. The 15 poems are short, generally two-to-four lines per stanza, and are printed in two fonts that clearly show where the lines alternate between the two speakers. Here's an example.

Beetle, Beetle,
why so fast?

                              Out of my way!
                              I must get past!

Beetle, Beetle,
where do you run?

                              Away from the lizard
                              and out of the sun.

Beetle, Beetle
what will you do?

                              I'll drink a drop
                              of morning dew.

Poem © David Harrison. All rights reserved.
I Heard it From Alice Zucchini: Poems About the Garden, written by Juanita Havill and illustrated by Christine Davenier, is a collection of poems by turns both whimsical and scientific, Juanita's first poetry book (though far from her first published work!) is a magical collection about growing things. Here's the poem that opens the book.
When I Grow Up

In the still chill of a winter night
seeds on the gardener's bench
rattle their packets
with chattering.

"When I grow up,
I'm going to be . . . "

"The biggest watermelon."
"Greenest spinach."
"Toughest kale."
"A rutabaga round as the world."
"An everywhere zucchini vine."
"Cornstalk so tall I touch the sky."

Little seeds
with big plans,
chittering, chattering,
except for one,
not a murmur from his packet.

Hey, little seed,
what about you?
What will you be
when you grow up?

In the still chill of the winter night:
"I'm going to be FIRST!"

And the radish is right.

Poem © Juanita Havill. All rights reserved.
Given that seeds and plants "talk" in this collection, readers will find all manner of garden gossip, and what fun it is! However, I'm still quite fond of this very simple poem.

Plant seeds early in the spring
when the ground is warm,
two inches deep in well-tilled soil
where they'll be safe from harm.

Let the sun and rain pour down.
Be careful where you hoe.
A miracle is taking place:
Seeds split and start to grow.

Poem © Juanita Havill. All rights reserved.
Juanita followed this book of poetry with Grow: A Novel in Verse. It is the story of Kate Sibley, a twelve-year old girl and Berneetha, a teacher who decides to plant a community garden on a vacant lot that has long been neglected and is strewn with trash. While folks at first just watch Kate and Berneetha work in the garden, soon they join in to help. Just as the garden begins to take shape, Randall Conn, the owner of the lot dies, and troubles ensue when his son decides to turn the lot into a parking garage. Will the garden survive?

The story is deftly told in a series of poems that allows readers to watch both the characters and the garden grow. But more importantly, readers really get to know these characters inside and out. They are well drawn and utterly human. Here's an excerpt from the poem "About Berneetha."
She does things:
sizzling, stirring,
zapping, rocking,
purring, jumping,
dancing things.
With Berneetha
everything happens
big time
even the quiet things
like sitting still
and staring at frost
on the window in winter
or counting cricket chirps
when the summer sun sets (p. 13)
Here's another excerpt, this time from the poem "Harlan's Favorite Flower."
Once he asked Berneetha
how a whole plant
can sprout and grow and flower
all from a sliver of seed.
What was it
in that seed
that made it grow
in the dirt
and bloom yellow, white,
purple, orange, maroon,
like a conjure man had spoken
a spell over it?

Berneetha said
we all start as seeds--
each of us different,
each of us beautiful. (pp. 58-59)

Poems © Juanita Havill. All rights reserved.
In Our Backyard Garden, written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Marcy Ramsey - Set in the garden and around garden events, this is a collection of poems all about family that is filled with love and laughs.

September's sun
falls golden
on the garden.
A butterfly
wings past
my baby brother.
Grandad picks
the last of
the zucchini.
Grandmother cuts
a last bouquet
of mint.
Aunt Sissy and I
take one last
hammock ride
to places we have
read about
in books.

Poem © Eileen Spinelli. All rights reserved.
Here are some terrific resources for thinking about gardening with kids.
  • Here is a thematic book list on seeds and growing things.
  • The garden preschool pack has a wealth of resources for teaching with a gardening theme. Most of these materials can be used in K and 1.
  • KidsGardening has FAQs, lesson plans, a school greenhouse guide, newsletter, and more!
  • The School Gardens web site answers many questions and provides ideas for starting and maintaining a school garden.
Have I missed a favorite book of garden poetry or a good gardening web site for kids? If so, please let me know. I'd love the add them to the list.


  1. Thanks for posting Farmer's Garden . Im the illustrator, Arden.
    I used my dog, a bernese mountain dog for the model. I'm working on another book about growing a certain special vegetable. My blogs are: , my site is and my garden blog is:
    I would love to hear from you.
    Arden Johnson-Petrov

  2. Tricia,

    I really like "Busy in the Garden"--which was written by George Shannon and illustrated by Sam Williams. There also Aileen Fisher's book length poem "The Story Goes On"--which was illustrated by Mique Moriuchi.