Review: Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

I’m beginning to wonder if it will ever be spring in my corner of the world, but those of you who live in milder climes know that gardening season is upon us. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, is just the thing to get children ready to get their hands dirty.

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This book is part fact and part fiction. It unfolds the sweet story of a girl and her Nana as they tend their garden throughout the year. Combining the girl’s observations with her grandmother’s wisdom, the book vividly chronicles the activities that take place up in the garden (planting seeds, picking tomatoes) and down in the dirt (earthworms tunneling, roots spreading) over the course of a growing season. The descriptions capture not only the fun and loving relationship between the multi-generational gardeners, but also what really happens to make a garden grow.

There is so much to love about this book. Over the better part of a year we see an active grandmother investing lots of quality time into both a productive garden and her eager helper. She doesn’t just tell her granddaughter how to garden; she shows her. They dig and water and weed diligently through the different seasons, but always make time for those special moments: spraying each other with the hose or snuggling up for a story. And together they work with nature to cultivate their bountiful garden.

But the humans are not the only ones working in the garden. There are insects and arachnids, invertebrates and rodents, birds and reptiles all doing their part to care for the earth. Of course, sometimes that means eating one another or looking a bit weird as they burrow in the soil; but our narrator and her grandmother know that a garden is a living thing, and everyone has a role. The words and the text bring colorful insight to this lively interaction, and at the end is a detailed glossary of all the creatures that are mentioned.

This book is a fresh version of the yearly cycle of seasons and growth. The words are bursting with meaning and the pictures are simple but rich. If you hope to inspire a young gardener to grow their own food, or even just help them understand the balance of the natural world, this is an excellent choice. Smaller children will enjoy the detail of the words and pictures, and school-age kids will soak up facts without even knowing it. Happy gardening!

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Aston

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