You wouldn’t guess that it’s spring here in Boston given the snow we’ve been getting in April! Still, I am dreaming of spring and getting my little garden going.
These are my favorite picture books for garden inspiration. These books demonstrate that gardens can transform an environment, bring neighbors closer, and even become a political touchpoint. Ideas for Earth Day include starting a compost pile, planting a tree, or even just germinate seeds.
What are your favorite spring picture books? Are you planting a garden this year of any size? Please share!
Top 10: Best Picture Books for Planting a Garden
10. The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrations by David Small
It’s the Great Depression and Lydia Grace Finch is sent to live with her uncle in the city. Times are tough and his bakery is barely making it. She misses her family back on the farm but has found a way to stay connected though the seeds that she packed. Little by little, Lydia’s plants transform the bakery and business starts to pick up. She has a special surprise for her uncle on the roof, a garden oasis. It will be a reminder of her for him since she’s able to return home. This is one of my favorite picture books of all time. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
9. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
A little boy named Liam discovers a neglected garden and helps to bring it back. It has a life and mind of its own, it seems. Bit by bit, with Liam’s help, the garden spreads and transforms a drab metropolis into a paradise of greenery. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
8. Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole
Using a spin-off of the Mother Goose rhyme “This is the house that Jack built,” this picture book shows the flora, fauna, and life cycle of the garden that Jack builds. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
7. A Seed is Sleepy by
Even if you don’t plant your garden with seeds but take the short cut route with seedlings like I do, learn about seeds in this beautiful and informative nonfiction picture book that reads like poetry. The watercolor illustrations illuminate the sheer diversity of shapes and colors of seeds as each page unlocks a few secrets of the mystery of seeds.
This picture book series will convert a child who doesn’t like nonfiction into a fan, as well as show nonfiction readers the beauty of poetry. Honestly, I don’t think any child would not like this series. It’s pretty spot-on perfect. [nonfiction picture book, ages 4 and up]
6. Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
Ehlert’s glorious, vibrant collage illustrations are reason alone to read this picture book. It also does double duty both to teach kids about colors of the rainbow and understand how to plant bulbs, seeds, and seedlings, and nurture their growth. There is also a nice feature where some interior pages are cut shorter within the book to show a rainbow of colorful plants and flowers. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
5. The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin
Choosing what to plant can also be a challenge. A little Chinese American girl helps her mother with the garden and notices that theirs is much different from their neighbors’ gardens. Her garden requires deeper digging, and produces dark green ugly plants instead of sweet-smelling flowers. She’s sad that her garden isn’t as nice until it’s time to harvest her ugly vegetables. Her mother makes the most aromatic and delicious soup with them, and when the neighbors come to investigate that wonderful smell, she realizes that her garden is pretty special too. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
4. Seeds of Change: Wangari’s Gift to the World by Jen Cullerton Johnson
There are a few wonderful picture book about Wangari Maathai. Seeds of Change is great because it come with lesson plans. I’ve included four picture book biographies on Wangari Maathai as each tells another facet of the her story.
Wangari learned to respect and love trees from her mother in Kenya. Although it was unusual for girls to get an education, Wangari went ever further, studying at college to become a scientist in the United States. When she returned, the landscape was much different. Trees were cut down for timber and coffee plantations but the ecosystem suffered. She decided to plant trees, and worked tirelessly with other women to create a transformation. Her efforts were noticed by those who wanted to stop her and she was arrested, but that still didn’t stop her. In 2004, she won the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as lead her people as Kenya’s Minster of the Environment. [biography picture book, ages 6 and up]
3. Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
This picture book about Wangari Maathai shows how she affected the lives of poor women in Kenya. She gave them tree seedlings to plant as a solution to the poverty that they faced. The miburi muiru provided edible fruits; the mukinduri was excellent for firewood; the muheregendi leaves make good animal fodder; the murigono’s branches made great stakes for training yam vines; and the murigoya leaves would ripen bananas. Finally, the muringa, the giant sacred fig, acts as nature’s filter to clean streams. Wangari’s training as a biologist and her desire to help her people of Kenya transformed her country, seedling by seedling.
2. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
This classic picture book tells the true story of The Lupine Lady, Alice Rumphius, who after adventuring around the world, returns home and scatters lupine seeds along the coast of Maine, leaving a blooming legacy for generations to enjoy.
Still, it’s important to note that lupines are an invasive non-native species that quickly fill up an area and exclude other plants, especially plants that emerge relatively late such as native milkweed in Maine, This is important because it could impact the migratory monarch butterfly. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
1. And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
I can relate the young boy who is trying to turn the brown around him into green with some seeds, rain and a lot of worry. The wonder (and worry) of planting a garden is captured in this endearing picture book. [picture book, age 4 and up]
A Few More Great Picture Books for Spring
Badger’s Perfect Garden by Marsha Diane Arnold, illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki
As a gardener waiting for spring, I can relate to Badger’s desire to plant the perfect garden, having dreamed about it all winter. Badger and his friends work hard to plant the garden with neat rows in a specific pattern. When heavy rain hits, the garden is washed away. Badger is sad but when spring arrives, it turns out that nature had its own plan for Badger’s garden! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Anywhere Farm by Phillis Root, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
How perfect is it that the author’s last name is “root?!” This charming picture book encourages readers to create a farm anywhere, using household objects even like an old shoe or bucket. If spring is giving you an itch for creating a garden but you don’t have the luxury of a yard, use this picture book for inspiration to create a neighborhood garden. You just need the will and a seed. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by
I have never composted before and it makes me nervous. I might start off trying Mama Smiles urban blender compost recipe or get inspiration from Compost Stew.
In rollicking rhyme, this picture book teaches the ABCs of composting. Each letter suggests items that can be used for making compost. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Frank Prévot, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty
Kenya is a colony of Britain and it is the British who grow richer by cutting trees to plant tea. Wangari is one of a few African girls to get an education, studying in the United States during the time of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s John F. Kennedy who makes her education possible; he invites six hundred young Kenyans to study in the U.S. including Wangari. When Wangari returns home, Kenya is not longer a colony of Britain but the trees continue to get cut down, decimating the wildlife, and eroding the soil. Fighting to replant the trees, Wangari receives death threats and endures imprisonment, but she perseveres. The backnotes include photos of Wangari and a timeline of her achievements. [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]
Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter
This picture book focuses on the genesis of Wangari’s tree planting endeavor, starting with just nine seedlings. She convinces the village women that these trees embody seeds of hope. Wangari pays each woman a small amount for each seedling still living after three months — their first earnings ever. These seedlings eventually reach a count of 30 million and grow into tall trees. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
When The Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Kim La Fave
It’s time to plant rice in Sri Lanka and Malini is excited to help for the first time. Their oxcart is loaded up with seedlings, and the rice they plant will bring food and fortune to her village. When the fierce rain comes the water rises around her, her parents tell her to get to the barn. Instead, she decides to get the cart to higher ground so that the rice seedlings are not swept away. Her bravery saves the rice crop! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
An Activity Book to Celebrate Gardens
A Year in the Secret Garden by Valarie Budayr and Marilyn Scott-Waters
This book is based on The Secret Garden but it’s also a companion guide of activities, recipes and games to bring that classic to life. It’s a beautifully illustrated book of fun for parents and kids to enjoy all year long! [activity book, ages 4 and up]
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.