A Closer Look at It’s Our Garden
It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden(Candlewick Press, 2013), written and photographed by George Ancona, follows a New Mexico elementary school’s vegetable garden and its gardeners through the seasons. It is a refreshing, charming book that is sure to delight almost anyone with its drawings by the school’s students and its illustrative photography. It is a finalist in the Children’s Picture Book category for the 2014 AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books .
Opening in the spring, the book begins by introducing the school staff and volunteers, who first dreamed up the garden, then created it, and work to keep it flourishing. Ancona shows that caring for the garden requires a collaborative effort of everyone at the school, including the students. For instance, Ancona writes, “It’s spring, and there are lots of chores to be done…. Every day, one student is asked to take a bucket of food scraps from lunches and snacks and dump it into the compost pile.” Students are also tasked in the springtime with deciding which plants to grow, planting the seeds and seedlings, and watering the plants. Ancona illustrates each of these steps through his vibrant photographs.
The book goes beyond just plant life, and explores how the flourishing garden is a habitat for a number of animal species as well: photographs of the wild insects and reptiles that call the garden home show its important role as an ecosystem. Ancona also shows how the students create nesting boxes for bees and release butterflies into the garden that will help pollinate the plants.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the book, however, describes how the garden produces edible vegetables, fruits, and herbs in the summer and fall. Since the way most people purchase their food today is far removed from its actual source, children may not have a good understanding of how their plant food is grown and harvested before it arrives on the grocery store shelf. It’s Our Garden shows the student gardeners not only eating the garden’s raw herbs and vegetables, but also making popcorn and homemade vegetable pizzas from the harvest. This part of the book is where Ancona’s photography is most delightful: the incredible diversity of edible plants that the garden provides really shines through.
It’s Our Garden covers a number of topics between its covers, including botany, biology, ecology, and agriculture, so it could be incorporated into a wide variety of science curricula. Science NetLinks’ The Science of Spring  tool or the Look At Those Seeds Grow!  lesson, for example, would be great ways to teach students more about seeds and the plant life cycle. The Wildflower Garden  lesson plan also would wonderfully complement Ancona’s book, as it has students design and plant their own garden ecosystem. Finally, the Crops 1: Where Does Food Come From?  and Crops 2: What Plants Need to Grow  lessons would be prime candidates for using It’s Our Garden to teach students about food and agriculture.
Though Ancona’s book was written for children, people of all ages who are involved or interested in science education will find something to interest or inspire them in this book. Whether readers wish to learn more about starting a community garden or are simply interested in hands-on science learning, there is something for everyone in It’s Our Garden.
By Maya Inamura, originally posted on Science NetLinks