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

Elizabeth Honey: That’s not a daffodil!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Allen and Unwin, NSW, 2011

Daffodils are the great heralders of spring. Like soft, yellow, downy chickens they speak of new life and hope. How something so colourful and beautiful can grow from an unassuming flaky brown bulb is one of the wonderful mysteries of life.

When Mr Yilmaz from next door gives young Tom his very first daffodil bulb, Tom thinks it is an onion. From a certain point of view, he could be quite right.

With the daffodil in the pot, every stage of its growth can be witnessed. For a long time, nothing happens. Tom is uncertain that anything will happen. With water and a bit of sunshine, a small green shoot eventually appears. To Tom, it resembles a green beak. As it grows, it starts to look more like a hand with five fingers waving in the breeze. After a few more weeks, it appears like a yellow streetlight. After months of waiting, a glorious golden yellow trumpet finally emerges.

There are so many lessons to take away from this simple story.

There is the constant friendship of Mr Yilmaz next door. He gives the gift of patience and steadfastness to young Tom when he hands over the daffodil. Patience for waiting; it takes time to grow something. Steadfastness in friendship; being there in times of doubt and growth.

There is the idea that what you and I see when we look at same thing together will not always be the same. Mr Yilmaz saw a bulb, young Tom saw an onion. Sometimes it is a gift to share a tried and true experience with someone who has never had it. Your perspective can be altered and enriched by someone else’s point of view.

There is the idea of nurturing. Plants grow with earth, water, light and time. People grow with love, encouragement and friendship. But we also need the earth, water, light and time. These are wonderful truths for young readers to contemplate.

I highly recommend this picture book for children 3-8 years.

For further reading I have chosen titles that explore the concept of perception, seeing a part of something and seeing the whole of something can make a world of difference!

Seven Blind Mice
by Ed Young
I See , I See by
Robert Henderson
I am NOT an Elephant
by Karl Newson
Illustrated by
Ross Collins
Brenda is a Sheep
by Morag Hood
They All Saw a Cat
by Brendan Wenzel
The Black Rabbit by
Philippa Leathers
I am a Tiger by
Karl Newson
Illustrated by
Ross Collins

Laura Knowles: It Starts with a Seed

Illustrated by Jennie Webber

See the source image

Published by Words and Pictures, US, 2017

There are many books on the market that explore the theme of plant growth from seed to tree, but I have chosen this book because of its simple yet concise language and the expressive drawings that accompany the text. Each page explores the development of one seed with gentle rhyme and observation, helping the reader to understand how one tree can become home and habitat to many creatures, big and small. As well, the author explores the idea that a tree, grown from a seed, can throw its own seeds and that they can begin life all over again, an everlasting circle of life. The tree described in this picture book is a sycamore tree and at the end of the book, its life cycle is illustrated, with annotated facts, on a large pull out page.

Whilst many of us wouldn’t plant a sycamore tree in our backyard (they can grow to over 100 feet), there are many seeds that you can plant for almost instant pleasure. So, grab your little person and head off to the nursery, pick up a packet of sunflower seeds for a splash of colour or spinach seedlings for adding to your plate, some potting mix, a few containers, a watering can, some liquid plant food and watch the amazing transformation…and don’t forget to keep watering!

This book would be suitable for children 2-8 years old and if you would like to read more about seeds, here are some of my favorites:

A Seed is Sleepy
by Dianna Aston,
illustrated by Sylvia Long
See the source image
Seeds Move! by
Robin Page
See the source image
The Tiny Seed by
Eric Carle