Books with green fingers for the growing season

A collection of illustrated books about plants, gardens and the power of the natural world

With every title you’ll find discussion starters, together with suggestions for creative activities. 

What will you share? What will you grow?

Some of these picturebooks have even wider appeal when used as starting points for cross-curricular learning, so you may find that our age-ranges differ from those given on other sites. You know your audience and how you expect to share these books, so please use your own best judgment - and let us know how it goes, we always love to hear from you! 




The Extraordinary Gardener 
written and illustrated by Sam Boughton, Tate Publishing

One day Joe plants an apple pip and waits for it to grow. For a long time, nothing happens. Then, just as he’s given up hope, Joe notices that the tiny seed has become a tree. Excited, he decides to grow more plants - and then more, and more, until his garden becomes too big for his balcony and cascades down the grey walls of his city apartment block. Luckily for Joe, his neighbours are enchanted by the leaves and blossoms and colours and scents. Could they, too, grow a garden? And if they work together, how much more will they achieve?

The message at the heart of this book – that of personal responsibility and communal action – is powerful. Joe’s story is one of warmth and hope and offers many opportunities for creative activities, but it’s the illustrations that really take centre stage. The grey cityscape – created using techniques including washes, resist work, splatters and collage – forms a visually accommodating backdrop for Boughton’s detailed pencil drawings of its diverse community. And once the colour begins to escape from Joe’s imagination and onto the streets, the transformation cannot be stopped.

Exploring this book with children

Have you ever planted a seed? What happened? What do seeds and plants need to be able to grow and thrive? 

Where are the green areas and gardens in your neighbourhood? Mark them on a map and go on an expedition to visit one of them.

Inspired by Sam Boughton’s artwork, create large-scale painted and printed cityscapes, then add tiny characters using sharp pencils. Create character profiles and backstories for the characters in your picture (or those you can see in the book) and write about them.

What do you think the people in this book are thinking and saying? Add post-its to individual spreads to record your ideas, then bring one of the scenes to life using freezeframe and roleplay. 

Plant some seeds! Make careful notes and drawings about the changes you observe.

Suggested age range: 3-8 years

 

The Green Giant
written and illustrated by Katie Cottle, published by Pavilion 

When Bea’s dog chases a cat into a neighbouring greenhouse, Bea is astonished to discover an enormous leafy-green giant. They become friends and the giant shares the sad story of how he came to be hiding in the greenhouse. When Bea has to return home, the giant gives her a special gift -  a handful of sparkling seeds, which Bea sprinkles from her city window. Very soon, things start to change… maybe the Green Giant will come back to the city once the plants return? 

Katie Cottle’s text is direct, appealing and accessible and her illustrations are full of energy and fun. This book makes a great introduction to a theme that’s explored further in Lob by Linda Newbery and Pam Smy, and The Greenling by Levi Pinfold (see below.)  

Exploring this book with children

Why is the giant hiding? How long do you think he’s been in the greenhouse? Who lives there with him?

Are seeds really magic? What do they need in order to grow? 

Use a magnifying glass to look closely at seeds from a variety of plants. What shapes and textures can you see? Draw them. Then plant some seeds and watch them grow!

Work together to paint or print lots of leafy shapes. Collage them together to create a green giant of your own.

What could you do to help the world’s green giants feel more comfortable? Plant a tree, pick up litter, use a cloth shopping bag, recycle something…

Suggested age range: 3-6 years

 

Greenling
written and illustrated by Levi Pinfold, published by Templar

“What is this growing on Barleycorn land?”

A farmer discovers a strange, green baby among the wildflowers and takes it home to his wife. She isn’t at all keen on keeping it but her husband plants the baby on top of a pile of soil in the kitchen and the Greenling begins to work its magic. Gaining size rapidly, the child causes everything around him to sprout and grow, and before long the farmhouse is covered in leaves and shoots and flowers. Even the train taking passengers to work gets caught up in the vines! The Greenling has spoken - an old word long forgotten - and so begins the longest summer and biggest harvest anyone has ever known.

Drawing on folk stories about changelings, ancient beliefs in spirits of the Harvest and legends of the Green Man, Levi Pinfold’s rhyming text and atmospheric artwork wil challenge and inspire readers and encourage close observation and discussion. Themes explored include the power of nature, prejudice and fear of the unknown. 

 

Exploring this book with children

What do you think the Greenling represents? What magic can he work? 

What does Mrs Barleycorn think about the Greenling? When - and why - does she change her mind? 

Look carefully at the pictures. How many different plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables can you identify? List them. Which have you eaten and which are new to you? Bring some of the vegetables and fruits into your setting for children to draw, measure, write about and paint. Cut some of them open so children can work from cross-sections, too! Display your work alongside this book. Can you grow some of these vegetable yourself?

How many Harvest-themed myths and traditions can you discover from different cultures around the world? Write about what you discover, or make a presentation. Plan a special celebration for Harvest and invite friends and family.

Using clay, natural objects (such as leaves and twigs) and other materials, create models of the Greenling. Plant flowers in pots and display your models in and around them. As the plants grow, your Greenlings will peep through the foliage. Take photographs to record changes (your Greenlings won’t have the same power to speed growth!) then draw your plants/models from life to create Greenling artwork of your own.

Suggested age range: 6 – 12+ years

 

Lob
by Linda Newbery, illustrated by Pam Smy, published by David Fickling Books

Lucy loves to help Grandpa Will in his garden. He tells her stories about Lob, a powerful (and very shy) creature who is older than aanyone can imagine and looks after Grandpa’s plants. Grandpa says it’s almost impossible to see Lob, but one day Lucy catches a glimpse of him. Then something dreadful happens – Grandpa Will dies and his cottage is sold. Back home, Lucy despairs of seeing Lob again, but Lob makes a long and tiring journey to find Lucy at the city allotments where she has found friendship and a refuge.

This beautiful novel intersperses pacy, down-to-earth story chapters with gently poetic interludes told from Lob’s perspective. It’s fully illustrated throughout with Pam Smy’s evocative black and white line drawings and is a vivid and memorable book – one to cherish and share.

Exploring this book with children

Why can Lucy and Grandpa see Lob when no-one else can?
Do you know anyone who has an allotment? What do they grow?

Draw a diagram or sketchmap showing Lob’s journey to find Lucy.

Lob is an elemental creature who experiences the world through his senses and uses evocative words to describe what he sees and feels. Go outside and use all your senses to experience the growing world. Collect words to describe what you can see, hear, smell, feel, taste and touch. Write each word on a leaf-shaped card and use to make a word-vine for your setting. How big will your vine grow? How many leaves can you add? Use the words on your vine to help you write descriptively or poetically about your experiences outdoors. 

Pam Smy’s illustrations were inspired by the sketchbook drawings she made in gardens and allotments. To take a look, visit her blog here  (scroll down through 2009 to find Pam’s Lob sketches)  

Look closely at Pam’s sketchbook and talk about what you can see. Draw garden objects from life – watering cans, trowels, pots – then have a go at sketching ‘on location’ in a park, allotment or garden.

Suggested age range: 7-10 years

 

A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope
written and illustrated by Michael Foreman, published by Walker Books

In a pile of rubble beside a barbed-wire fence, a tiny seedling struggles to survive. A boy shelters the plant from the searing heat of the sun and gives it a trickle of water. Little by little, the plant grows up and along the fence until it becomes a beautiful vine. Soldiers arrive to rip it up - but in the Spring, new seedlings appear. How children on both sides of the fence nurture the vine – and the hope it gives them for a better future - makes this a memorable and uplifting read.

This sensitive and affecting picturebook about human conflict and the power of nature shows us that small actions matter when we all work together.

Exploring this book with children

Why do you think there is a barbed-wire fence separating these two communities? What do you think happened here before this picturebook begins?

Why do the soldiers destroy the vine? Do you think they wanted to? 

Is there something big or important you want to achieve? What’s the first step to achieving it? 

Plant a creeper or vine and watch it grow up and over a wall or fence. Keep a weekly diary with observations, measurements and photographs.

Suggested age range: 5-8 years

 

Grandpa Green
written and illustrated by Lane Smith, published by Macmillan

In this lovely picturebook a little boy is telling the story of his Grandpa’s life using the topiary figures that Grandpa  cuts into the trees and bushes in his garden. These days, Granpda’s memory isn’t as good as it used to be, but as the final fold-out shows, the things we have created (and poured our hearts into) remember us. 


Exploring this book with children

Who has cut the trees and bushes into all these shapes? Why? And who is telling this story?

Have you ever seen real-life topiary? Look at pictures online (and visit a garden, if you can…) What kind of topiary figures do gardeners usually cut? How do Grandpa’s differ?

If you were going to make a garden to mark the important events in your life, what shapes and objects would you cut? Which flowers and trees would you plant? What other features would you include?

Use garden and seed catalogues together with other resources to help you plan and design your own garden.

For extra fun and inspiration, read alongside The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers, published by Frances Lincoln (which also features topiary!)

Suggested age range: 3-7 years

 

The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett, illustrated by Lauren Child, published by Puffin

Following her parents’ death in India, Mary Lennox is sent to live with her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, where she learns of a secret locked away behind a wall. When the spoilt and lonely girl finally enters the hidden garden, a transformation begins – one that will see new life and hope for all concerned.

First published in 1911, The Secret Garden is one of the UK’s best-loved children’s books. This edition celebrates the book’s centenary with beautiful illustrations throughout by Lauren Child. 

Exploring this book with children

How can you tell this book was written a long time ago? Look for objects, words and ideas.

If you could make a secret garden, where would it be and what would it look like? 

It isn’t just the garden that’s locked away in this book. What are the characters hiding or ignoring, and how do they change as the story progresses?

Find out about local gardens and parks, and the plants and animals that live there. Make a map to document your discoveries. 

Care for a vegetable garden or grow flowers from seed (and keep a diary!)

What was India like in Mary’s time? How did life there differ from Edwardian Britain? Use what you’ve discovered from the text and your research to make a presentation.

Suggested age range: 8-12 years

 

Oliver’s Vegetables
by Vivian French, illustrated by Alison Bartlett, published by Hodder

Oliver only likes chips, which is a shame as Grandpa has a wonderful vegetable garden. Luckily for Oliver, Grandpa is prepared to strike a bargain. If Oliver can find the potatoes, they’ll eat chips. If not, they must all eat whatever else he’s found. By the time Mum arrives to collect Oliver a week later, he has munched his way through a rainbow of different vegetables - expertly prepared and cooked by his grandparents – and has discovered there are tastier ways to get your five-a-day.

Vivian French’s text is fun to share and is full of opportunities for children to reflect on and talk about their own eating preferences and mealtime habits. Alison Bartlett’s bold, bright illustrations sparkle with warmth and summer sunshine and make Oliver’s vegetables look irresistible! 

Exploring this book with children

How does Grandpa persuade Oliver to try something new? Does his plan work?

What is the dog thinking in these pictures? Could you retell the story from the dog’s point of view?

Which vegetables do you like eating? Which do you dislike? Make two lists. Can you move vegetables into your like list by cooking them in different ways, like Oliver? 

Grow your own vegetables – or go on an expedition to the market or greengrocer to buy some - then write and illustrate a report about what you’ve done.

Alison Bartlett’s vegetables have pride of place in these illustrations and definitely look good enough to eat! Explore a collection of vegetables by touching them, smelling them, weighing them, drawing them and finding good words to describe them. Choose one vegetable and paint a large-scale ‘portrait’ of it using thick paint, pastels and coloured pencils. Vegetable printing is fun, too!

Suggested age range: 3-6 years

 

Flock
written and illustrated by Gemma Koomen, published by Frances Lincoln First Editions

At the edge of the woods stands a great tree. If you keep very still, you’ll see tiny people on its branches. They’re harvesting the fruit, collecting the dew and polishing the buds, because that’s what Treekeepers do. They “nurture and mend, gather and tend,” and they like to work together….

This is the story of Sylvia, a Treekeeper child who discovers the value of friendship when she cares for a fledgling bird. Scruff, in turn, flies Sylvia high on his back above the trees and teaches her that courage brings its own rewards.   

Gemma Koomen’s beautiful illustrations of the natural world invite conversations about how we care for our environment. Sylvia’s games and natural collections provide starting points and prompts for forest-school-style sensory explorations and other learning activities. This lovely book teaches children to respect and care for the natural world and helps equip them to take responsibility.

Exploring this book with children

What do the Treekeepers do to care for the natural world? Why does it need to be looked after? What can we do to help? 

Why does Sylvia play alone at the beginning of this book? What changes, and why? What is Flock telling us about being alone, do you think? 

Go for a walk in the woods or your local park and spend time getting to know the biggest tree you can find. Draw it, measure it, talk about it, hug it… can you spot any Treekeepers at work?!

Like Sylvia, collect stones, twigs, seed pods and other natural objects. How will you display your ‘finds’? What will you tell people about this collection?

To find out more about Flock, including lots more activity suggestions, click here to read our Cast of Thousands book feature 

Suggested age range: 4-8 years

The Promise
by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin, published by Walker Books

In an ugly, grey city lives a young thief who scratches a living stealing from those who have almost as little as she does. One day she tries to rob an old woman of a bag. “If you promise to plant them, I’ll let go,” says the woman. The girl agrees, then finds herself holding a bag of acorns. “I stared at them” she says, “so green, so perfect and so many, and understood the promise I had made.” From then on, the girl spends all her time planting acorns in the rubble. Little by little, the world begins to change, until at last, another young thief fights her for the sack of acorns…

Its spare, poetic text and sophisticated illustrations make this picturebook for older readers really sing. It’s a great way to kickstart discussion about layers of meaning, personal responsibility and change. 


Exploring this book with children

Why does the old woman smile when her bag is stolen? Why do the acorns make the young thief feel “rich beyond her wildest dreams?”

What changes in this book, and why? 

What do Laura Carlin’s illustrations tell us that her text doesn’t? 

Choose one of the spreads and imagine you have stepped into it. What can you see, hear and smell? How do you feel? Discuss, then use the most interesting words you can to write about your imaginary experience.

Look closely at Laura Carlin’s illustrations of the mean and ugly city. Using shades of grey and brown watercolour together with coloured pencils, create a mean and ugly city backdrop of your own. Draw or paint brightly coloured trees, flowers and other plants on a separate sheet of paper, then cut them out. Where will you put the plants to bring your city back to life?

Suggested age range: 6 -12+ years

 

Du Iz Tak?
by Carson Ellis, published by Walker Books

 Du Iz Tak?” asks an insect, looking at a seedling. “What is that?”

The seedling grows into a plant, and the insects build a tiny play-fort in its branches. The plant flowers – unk scrivadelly gladdenboot - and a spider arrives to menace everyone. And so it goes on… will anything survive? 

Gently and with great originality, this book explores the cycle of life from an insect’s perspective. Written in an invented ‘bug language’ but accessible to any curious reader with an open mind, it’s a pleasure to share with older children as well as younger ones.

Exploring this book with children

What helped you understand the bug-language in this book? 

There’s more than one story going on here - look carefully at the twig and the cocoon! What is happening and why?

Why doesn’t the bug on the last page recognize the new seedling, do you think?

Does anyone in your class or family speak more than one language? Find lots of ways of asking du iz tak? – and lots of answers!

Research the role insects play in helping plants grow. Create a display and present your findings to others (at a school assembly, via an online post, in a letter, at an event…)

Find pictures of plants and print them large-scale. Graffiti tiny platforms and forts onto the plants, complete with ladders, shelters and other equipment, then write stories about them.

Suggested age range: 4 – 12+ years

Belonging
by Jeannie Baker, published by Walker Books

In a series of images depicting the changing view from a bedroom window, we watch as a city neighbourhood is transformed over the course of 20+ years by loving care - and plants.

Jeannie Baker works in collage, and it’s fascinating to spot all the details and textures in her pictures. Belonging is great for sparking discussion and ideas, and works well when shared and explored alongside The Green Giant, The Extraordinary Gardner or The Promise, all of which address the transformation of cities (and people) through plants and gardening. 

 

Exploring this book with children

Who occupies this room? How can you tell? What do we know about her? What don’t we know?

How does this neighbourhood change? Who changes it, and why? 

Where are the green spaces and plants in your neighbourhood? Draw a map and make notes. What could you plant that would make a difference?

Make a timeline showing what happens in this book. How long does it take the plants and trees to grow? 

Use collage techniques to create your own picture of a garden.

Suggested age range: 6-12+ years

Copyright: Cast of Thousands 2020 All rights reserved.
This article/information may be printed freely for use in schools and other learning settings but may not be reproduced in any other format without the permission of Cast of Thousands

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