Gardens as Main Characters: Some Favorite Picture Books


The Gardener is at the top of my list of favorite picture
books. I gave it to my sister, a Baltimore gardener, for her 50th birthday.

Muncha2Munch! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming. Illustrations by G. Brian Karas. (An Anne Schwartz Book/Atheneum Books for
Young Readers, 2002)

Mr. McGreely, a close relative I’m sure of Mr. McGregor,
finally plants a city garden. The
bunnies, soon referred to as flop-ears, puff-tails, and twitch-whiskers, are
thrilled. Mr. McGreely is not
happy. He digs and hammers and nails
walls and fences and moats all around. But every night, “muncha muncha muncha” three bunnies feast until . . .

Find the solution by following the bunny trails in G. Brian
Karas’ lively and humorous illustrations.

Whose Garden Is It? by Mary Ann Hoberman. Illustrations by Jane Dyer. (Gulliver Books/Harcourt,Whosegarden Inc., 2004)

Mrs. McGee wonders “Whose garden is this?” as she pushes a
toddler in a stroller through a lush watercolor garden drawn by Jane
Dyer. The gardener is sure it is his, just as sure
as the rabbit that nibbles it, the worm that tills it, the honeybee and
butterfly that pollinate it, and all the other animals that contribute
to its
growth. Plants claim it, as do weeds and
trees and sun and soil, and of course the seed. My favorite
illustration is of woman and child, ears to the ground, listening. And
the seed whispers, “’It is mine.’”  Whose garden is it?” Mrs. McGee
continues to ponder as she strolls away.

Mary Ann Hoberman was Highly Commended by the 2005 Charlotte
Zolotow Award Committee for her writing in Whose Garden Is It?

GreenappleOne Green Apple by Eve Bunting. Illustrations by Ted. Lewin. (Clarion Books, 2006) is a relatively new title, published in 2006,
not quite a favorite but growing on me.

“It’s not that I am stupid. It is just that I am lost in this new place.”

feels different – English is not her first language. A dupatta covers
her head and shoulders. Her father has told her “. .. we are not always
liked here. ‘Our home Country and our new one have had difficulties . .
. [b]ut it will be good for us here in time.’”

On a class trip to an apple orchard, Farah picks one
green apple to contribute to the cider making. One boy and a girl tell
her their names. Hay tickles her arms. The boy belches and
everyone laughs. She knows laughter; it is the words that are strange.
Then Farah takes a deep breath and says her “first outside-myself word”
in English. Eve Bunting was Highly Commended by the 2007 Charlotte
Zolotow Award Committee for her writing in One Green Apple.

that’s it for now. I’m a children’s librarian, no longer working in
libraries, who served on the Newbery Award Committee ages ago in 1991,
and now teach A Workshop for Adults who Want to Write Picture Books for Young Children
at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD and elsewhere.  I also lead moms
and toddlers in story and song at The Wise Willow Children’s Book and
Toy Shop in Annapolis, MD.  I got to know Susan decades age at the
Washington Ethical Society and have recently become a fan of GardenRant.


  1. Another excuse for a trip to the bookstore. Yay!

    One of my favorite children’s books is All The Places to Love, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Michael Wimmer. Search for it on Amazon and be sure to look at the illustrations.

    I concede that it’s not really about a garden, unless you broaden the term to encompass a farmstead. Still, it’s a delightful book about a deep connection to the land. And to me, that’s what gardening is all about.

  2. Thanks, Mary. I’ll look for those. “The Secret Garden” is already a favorite of mine.

    I also like “A Child’s Calendar: Poems by John Updike,” illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, which beautifully captures seasonal changes in the garden and in nature. Also, for younger kids, “This Is Your Garden,” by Maggie Smith—a kind of how-to book with colorful, fun illustrations about starting your own garden and the joy you get from it.

  3. Thanks for the lovely post Mary. It makes me nostalgic for the days when I read similar books to my kids–sometimes over and over and over again. I’m convinced that the images children see in those early years are important ones throughout their lives. This is a bit off topic, but your post reminds me of how powerful the outdoor images are in Willa Cather’s novels about immigrants and farms. Cather is one of my all-time favorites, especially for scenes such as this one from O Pioneers:
    “She led them to the northwest corner of the orchard, sheltered on one side by a thick mulberry hedge and bordered on the other by a wheatfield, just beginning to yellow. In this corner the ground dipped a little, and the blue-grass, which the weeds had driven out in the upper part of the orchard, grew thick and luxuriant. Wild roses were flaming in the tufts of bunchgrass along the fence. Under a white mulberry tree there was an old wagon-seat. Beside it lay a book and a workbasket.”

    I want to roll around in that blue-grass!

    And finally, one more off-topic comment about books. On the recommendation of someone who commented on a recent Garden Rant post, I read T.C. Boyle’s “The Tortilla Curtain.” Boyle is another of my all-time favs and although I owned a copy of the book I hadn’t read it yet. I finished it on Saturday and am still fretting over the fate of the characters. It’s a book that won’t fade soon from my memory, so here’s a thanks to the person who suggested it!

  4. Lovely post, Mary. Every time I read “The Gardener” to my kids, I’m so moved by it, I wind up sniffling through the ending–and getting some puzzling glances from them. What is wrong with Mom?

  5. I have a book Zen Of Watering Your Garden, available only on Amazon that has a 145 full color pictures juxtaposed to 70 aphorisms, poems and sayings. It is an easy read but as you will see the written portions have multi level meanings. It is a great winter read for most of the country. There are 20 photographic contributors from all over the world. More information and pictures are at the domain. I would be happy to send one for your review.

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