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. – My Feelings, My Choices

Arrow, Emily. My Feelings, My Choices. Cantata Learning, 2020. $25.49 each. $101.96 set of 4. 24 p. Grades K-2.

Trying Again. 978-1-684-10407-9.
Checking In. 978-1-684-10404-8.
Making It Happen. 978-1-684-10405-5.
Taking A Spin. 978-1-684-10406-2. 

This reviewer read Trying Again in the My Feelings, My Choices series. This series from Cantata Learning is as much a book as a song. Each book is meant to be sung, with music accessible on the Cantata website as well in the back of the book. Trying Again is about a young girl learning to take care of her plant. While she makes many mistakes in caring for her plant, instead of giving up, she adopts the Growth Mindset thinking of not being able to care for her plant yet.

THOUGHTS: This is a cute series for those interested in Growth Mindset and teaching kids not to give up after a mistake. Also would be excellent for those who teach by singing.

155.4 Childhood                  Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

Elem. – Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies

Oliver, Carmen. Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies. Capstone Editions, 2020. 978-1-684-46081-6. 32 p. $17.95. Grades K-4. 

When Adelaide notices that her friend Theo is struggling during writing time, she decides to pass him a note of encouragement and enlists Bear to help Theo find his unique story. Bear is a comforting figure, full of tips about proper spacing and adding sensory details. Bear also helps Theo learn to “forage for new ideas” or take a break to regroup when writing isn’t easy. Leo learns about drafting and revision with Bear’s motto “rebuild, reimagine, rework.” By the end of the story, Theo is confidently writing with his classmates while Adelaide hints at a sequel. Brightly colored illustrations fill the pages with imaginary scenes of the trio fishing for new ideas, flying in hot air balloons, and hard at working writing. Diversity among characters is represented among the primary and secondary characters. Theo and teacher Mrs. Fitz-Pea are Black; Adelaide is white. Diversity is also depicted among their classmates with a two-page spread that shows children of various gender, ability and race holding up individualized heart artwork beneath the text “There’s nothing you can’t say when it comes from your heart. Because your voice is your voice – no two are the same.” This artwork is also beautifully replicated on the end pages.

THOUGHTS: This book is a thoughtful, positive introduction to the writing process for elementary students. Bear simultaneously empowers students to find, share and hone their individual writers’ voice while also modeling desirable writing buddy behavior. This book will make a fun engaging read aloud with plenty of opportunities to discuss writing with students.

808.02 Writing          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD
Picture Book