Hazel Mitchell: Sweet Pea Summer

Illustrated by the author

Published by Candlewick Press, 2021

I have come to love the garden later in my life. These days I am happiest when I am outside in my pink gumboots, with grubby overalls on, and tending to the myriad of plants that are growing in the good brown earth.

I love flowers the most and sweet peas are one of my favourites. In Melbourne, sweet pea seeds are best planted in March and with some tender care, rain, sunshine, and compost, you should be rewarded with scented flowers by November. So much about gardening is waiting and watching. This year, the sweet peas in the garden are growing up the brickwork of our chimney and in June they are almost 3 feet high.

So, it was with some joy that I picked up this picture book with that wonderful title and read about a young girl staying with her grandparents for the summer holidays while her mum is in hospital. It’s a sad beginning, because even when we are young, we are already learning that life is not all about honey and crumpets. Some days are hard, there is much uncertainty, and we have to figure out how to keep going.

Luckily for this young girl, her grandparents live in a cosy home on a large block of land not too far away. Very soon, she is in the garden and her grandpa thinks it might be a good idea if his grand-daughter looks after the sweet peas. He even suggests that she could enter some blooms in the upcoming flower show.

There is a lot to learn: how to tie up the growing tendrils, how to remove old seedpods, how much to feed and when to water, how much sun and how much shade, and lots of waiting and watching. But even with all that care and attention, the sweet peas fail to thrive. What could be the problem?

Grandpa’s watering technique needs some tweaking it seems and with that mystery solved, the sweet peas begin to thrive and flower. The hard-to-grow blue sweet peas are picked and put in a vase for the flower show. Will mum be there to see her display? Will her blue sweet peas win a prize?

This is a lovely story developing the ideas of perseverance, holding on to hope, and finding your inner strength. The illustrations are bright and colourful and filled with the sense of all that is good about family and the bonds that keep us connected and motivated.

At the end of the book there is more information about the beautiful sweet pea, its history from humble beginnings in Italy, its introduction into England during the late 17th century and competitions which celebrate its current diversity in form, colour and fragrance. If you haven’t grown these gorgeous flowers before, grab a packet of seeds and give it a go, you will be rewarded by bunches of sweet smelling flowers in just a few months.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the themes of gardening, gardens and growing plants:

In the Garden by Emma Giuliani

We are the Gardeners
by Joanna Gaines and kids Illustrated by Julianna Swaney

Up in the Garden and
Down in the Dirt
by Kate Messner
Illustrated by
Christopher Silas Neal

A Seed is Sleepy
by Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long

My Garden by Kevin Henkes

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert

And then it’s Spring
by Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Isabella’s Garden
by Glenda Millard
Illustrated by Rebecca Cool

Yucky Worms by Vivian French Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg

Florette by Anna Walker

Emily’s Green Garden
by Penny Harrison
Illustrated by Megan Forward

A child’s garden: a story of hope
by Michael Foreman

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

The Garden of Hope
by Isabel Otter
Illustrated by Katie Rewse

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!
by Candace Fleming
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Sunflower House by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt

And the Good Brown Earth
by Kathy Henderson

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

Bumpety Bump! by Pat Hutchins

Errol’s Garden by Gillian Hibbs

Plant the Tiny Seed
by Christie Matheson

The Last Garden by Rachel Ip Illustrated by Anneli Bray

Maisy Grows a Garden
by Lucy Cousins

The Selfish Giant
by Oscar Wilde
Illustrated and abridged
by Alexis Deacon

Grandpa Loves You
by Anna Pignataro

Matt Goodfellow: Shu Lin’s Grandpa

Illustrated by Yu Rong

Published by Otter-Barry Books, Great Britain, 2021

Language is so important for communication. If I can’t understand what you are saying to me, then we have to find other pathways to make a connection. That was my experience growing up in an Italian family. I mostly understood the language I was hearing but had difficulty with conversation. My father’s parents did not speak English. I spoke very little Italian. How did we engage with one another? A lot of smiling, a lot of cheeks being pinched, a lot of food being eaten and a lot of card games at the kitchen table. Somehow, we found a way. This picture book has taken me back to my childhood and my relationship with my grandparents.

Shu Lin doesn’t speak English very well and has started school. Not being confident or fluent with the language, Shu Lin finds it hard to make friends and join in the playground games. The other children are not sure about her either, because she’s not talking much and her lunch time food looks different from what they are having for lunch.

One day, the classroom teacher tells her students that Shu Lin’s grandfather would be coming to school to show his paintings. When he comes to the classroom, he does not speak, but he holds everyone’s attention as he reveals a scroll of Chinese painting. In the picture book, the reader also opens up a double page spread, replete with mountains, trees, a river, fields and an awe-inspiring dragon in the clouds. No words are needed. The art itself has transcended the need for verbal communication.

After Shu Lin’s grandfather leaves, the students make their own pictures, inspired by what they have seen and Shu Lin finds a way to communicate without words too, as she expertly holds her brush and draws her own images.

This is a wonderful story about empathy, imagination and the power of art as a medium of expression without the need for words. I can highly recommend it for children 5-8 years and below are more picture books about great artists, art and its potential to cross all boundaries:

Portrait of an Artist: Claude Monet by Lucy Brownridge
Illustrated by
Caroline Bonne-Muller

Who’s in the Picture?
by Susie Brooks

A Canter Through Art History:
Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum
by Dr Seuss

My Name is Georgia
by Jeanette Winter

Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh
Illustrated by Wendell Minor

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle

Beatrix Potter and Her Paintbox
by David McPhail

Degas and the Little Dancer
by Laurence Anholt

Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look Illustrated by Meilo So

A Splash of Red: The Life & Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse
by Patricia MacLachan
Illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Emily’s Blue Period
by Cathleen Daly
Illustrations by Lisa Brown

It Looked Like Spilt Milk
by Charles G. Shaw

Portrait of an Artist: Frida Khalo
by Lucy Brownridge
Illustrated by Sandra Diekmann

Meet…Sidney Nolan
by Yvonne Mes
Illustrated by Sandra Eterovic

The World is not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid
by Jeanette Winter

Willy’s Pictures by Anthony Browne

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Katie and the Sunflowers
by James Mayhew