Elem. – Garlic and the Vampire

Paulsen, Bree. Garlic and the Vampire. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-062-99509-4. 160 p. $22.99. Grades 2-5.

Garlic has overslept again, and she’s late for her shift at Witch Agnes’s Market Day, where all of the local fruits and vegetables sell their harvest. Meanwhile, smoke drifts from the chimney of a distant castle, alerting the garden helpers that the spooky house isn’t vacant anymore. Witch Agnes reluctantly admits that the castle’s new resident is very likely a vampire. Pointing out that garlic wards off vampires, Celery nominates timid Garlic to visit the castle, and even Carrot (her father figure) agrees that she’s the best one for the job. Hoping to prove her bravery – especially to herself – Garlic agrees to confront the vampire, and in the process discovers the beauty of an unexpected friendship. Author/illustrator Bree Paulsen’s digital artwork is rendered in earthy, woodsy tones that match the story’s setting. Each garden helper’s characteristics are delightfully distinctive: smug Celery, paternal Carrot, and endearingly nervous Garlic.

THOUGHTS: This is a fun graphic novel for young readers who like their spooky stories with plenty of depth and heart.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood

Hillery, Tony, and Jessie Hartland. Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood. Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-40231-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Food deserts are real inner city problems for some, but a food oasis can grow with opportunity and effort. Such is the case in Harlem, where a run down and empty lot across from PS 175 elementary school became something more. With the author, Tony Hillery’s inspiration, volunteers helped clear the land, create a garden space, and grow a community closer together. With some learning and further developing the space, they created a rainbow of vegetables, fruits, and herbs which could be harvested and used by the local families. The story is simple and true, with easy to read aloud text and colorful gouache illustrations to keep youngsters attention. With endnotes and extra resources, this meaningful dream became reality to those who needed to see something good grown in an urban farm.

THOUGHTS: The process and steps from farm to table are quickly taken for granted by many, in both urban and rural areas. Researching where food comes from and travels to reach a market is a valuable citizenship lesson. This book could inspire many other community gardens to grow!

635 Agriculture          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Young Naveah attends school at PS 175 in Harlem, across from an abandoned lot so filled with clutter that she thinks of it as “the haunted garden.” Mr. Tony volunteers at the school and decides to make a change which will impact the lot, the kids, and the community. Mr. Tony invites Naveah along with other students to participate in the building, planting, and tending of a youth garden. Together, they plant four hundred seedlings to represent each of the children who help. Things get off to a good start until Naveah notices her plants wilting. With a growth mindset attitude, Mr. Tony helps the community try again, this time building raised beds. Finally, locally grown produce makes its way to the family dinner table. Gouache illustrations throughout add vibrance to the story, particularly with spreads showing the transformation from a littered gray lot to bustling green space. Both of the main characters are Brown-skinned and wear glasses. While Navaeh styles her hair in braids with a variety of bows and barrettes, Mr. Tony is bald except for his beard. Neighborhood scenes depict a diverse array of community members. Based on the true story of  Harlem Grown, a farm which has provided thousands of pounds of food to youth and families in Harlem without charge. Backmatter includes a letter from the author and Founder Tony Hillery, a step-by-step guide to starting a garden, and a list of additional resources.

THOUGHTS: A nice read aloud introduction to community gardening and overview of Harlem Grown for young learners.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD
635 Agriculture         

Elem. – The Bear’s Garden

Colleen, Marcie. The Bear’s Garden. Imprint, 2020. 978-1-250-31481-9. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK- 2.

Where most people in the city see an empty lot, one little girl sees potential. She imagines what the lot could be–a beautiful place to grow and play. She begins to care for the delicate seedlings that grow in the lot. When the girl has to leave the city, she decides to leave her stuffed bear behind to care for the garden. Amazingly, with a little help from the community, her dreams begin to come to life, and the little lot becomes everything she imagined it could be. An inspirational story about the power of dreams, dedication, and community, this book will inspire readers to find beauty in the most ordinary places.

THOUGHTS: Because this book was inspired by the true story of a community garden in Brooklyn, New York, there are many extension activities that could be done with it. Students could research and/or take a virtual field trip to the Brooklyn Bear’s Pacific Street Community Garden. They could brainstorm projects that might be done in their own community to beautify a particular area. The book could be paired with other gardening books for a unit on gardening, or paired with Sydney Smith’s Small in the City (2019) for a display about life in the city.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member