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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Plants and Soil

Great books to support the Grade 3 Plants and Soil Science Unit. 

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.


The following picture books support the Grade 3 Plants and Soil Science unit:

Book Cover Weeds Find a Way

Weeds Find a Way, by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher, is a simple yet memorable picture book about weed seeds. The beautiful language of the text, i.e. “Weeds find a way to be loved, sending up flares of riotous red,” is followed by an endnote outlining weeds’ adaptive qualities and a description of the different soil types.


Book Cover If You Hold a Seed

If You Hold a Seed, by Elly MacKay, follows the growth of a seed as well as the boy who plants it. MacKay’s dreamlike mixed media pictures beautifully illustrate life throughout the seasons, both plant and human. 


Book Cover The Tree Suitcase

David Suzuki, in The Tree Suitcase, illustrated by Yvonne Cathcart, brilliantly narrates how soil, water, sunlight, seeds and DNA all work together to create a plant. On his grandmother’s farm, a boy collects what he needs to grow a tree back in the city. Suzuki makes abstract concepts (i.e. how we breathe the same air the dinosaurs did) relatable to kids, and the illustrations support that. At the back there’s a review of what Peter needed in his “suitcase” and how, exactly, trees are so amazing.


Book Cover Charlie's Dirt Day

Charlie’s Dirt Day, by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli, follows Charlie and his dad as they join a parade of people going to the Mayor’s Annual Dirt Day Giveaway. Even though Charlie doesn't have a garden, he starts with a pot of fresh compost and a seed, and, after a time, is able to contribute his plant to Mr. Martino’s Marvellous Spaghetti Sauce made by the neighbours—herbs, tomatoes, onions all grown on balconies and in city yards. There’s useful info at the back about soil and composting. 

Book Cover Sidewalk Flowers

The wordless picture book, Sidewalk Flowers, by Jon Arno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith, is a kind of meditation on what flowers mean to those living in a city. A little girl walks hand in hand with her dad through a black and white streetscape, punctuated with minimal colour—the protagonist’s red hoodie, a streetcar and tiny wildflowers poking through sidewalk cracks. The colour increases as she heads toward her home, her garden, her family. This book is a good mentor text in terms of big idea, inferences and symbolism. 


Book Cover A Handful of Seeds

A Handful of Seeds, by Monica Hughes, illustrated by Luis Garay, is set in Bolivia, where a group of orphans live at the dump. When Concepcion’s grandma dies, she brings her grandma’s wisdom to the barrio: “save enough seed for the next planting.” 


Book Cover Picture a Tree

Picture a Tree, by Barbara Reid, shows a smorgasbord of trees in all stages of growth and seasons, showing ways in which trees comfort us and echo human activity. It’s a vehicle for making connections—text to self, as well as for introducing visual metaphors/similes (i.e. the trees often look like the people, and vice versa.)

Butterfly Park

Butterfly Park, by Elly McKay, illustrates the necessity of flowers. A girl moves to a new home next to Butterfly Park, expecting to find butterflies. There, she learns the only way to attract them is by planting flowers…which also brings the neighbourhood together. 

Book Cover Bella and Jack Bring Back the Bees

In Bella and Jack Bring Back the Bees, by Paulette Bourgeois, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon, facts about bees and their role in the plant ecosystem are gently woven into the story of two kids determined to find a local beekeeper’s missing bees—a growing problem in urban environments. The positive ending gives kids a solution—planting wildflowers to attract the bees. 


Book Cover Bloom

This is a fun one, more about perseverance than plants, but who can resist the cover bursting with pink flowers? Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, by Kyo McLear, illustrated by Julie Morstad, is a tale of inspiration. In contrast to her sister’s pet name, “Bella,” Elsa is labelled “Brutta” from the get-go, which launches her lifelong quest to discover what beauty is. Captivated by flowers, she plants seeds in her ears, mouth and nose, but instead of blooming, she becomes breathless and sick. This is the journey of Elsa’s ups and downs, and her innovation and resilience in the fashion industry. 


The following nonfiction titles are great for Grade 3. 

Book Cover Tree of Life

The Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth, by Rochelle Strauss, illustrated by Margot Thompson, is a great scaffold for future learning about plants. It’s a kind of graphic organizer, using the tree as a metaphor. The reader is taken through the five kingdoms of living things: bacteria, fungi, algae, plants and animals. It visually shows what portion of the tree consists of that species and how they are interconnected. On the last page, humans make up only one leaf of the entire tree, yet they have the greatest impact on the tree of life. It also addresses species at risk and how we can help. 


Book Cover The Dirt on Dirt

The Dirt on Dirt, by Paulette Bourgeois, illustrated by Martha Newbigging, is everything you need to know about dirt—what it is, dirt homes, how landfill works, fossils, quicksand, mud and famous buried treasures. Simple experiments to demonstrate dirt’s properties (i.e. making a rock sculpture out of ice to show erosion) are scattered throughout, along with true and false quizzes (if you cut a worm in half, it will a grow a new head and tail….false!) and profiles of unearthed cities, such as Oak Island and City of X’in.


Book Cover Micro Life in Soil

The following four titles in a series by Crabtree Pub. Co. are perfect for independent research: Micro Life in Soil, by Natalie Hyde, Soil Erosion and How to Prevent It, by Natalie Hyde, Different Kinds of Soil, by Molly Aloian, How Soil is Made, by Heather L. Montgomery. Concepts are presented in 2-page spreads, with captioned colour photos, fact boxes, subheadings, and bolded vocabulary, glossary and website list, along with a manageable amount of text for Grade 3. 

Book Cover Up We Grow

Up We Grow! A Year in the Life of a Small Local Farm, by Deborah Hodge, photos by Brian Harris, is based on an organic sustainable BC farm, organized by season. Written in story form with beautiful photos and an overview of what happens on the farm, it’s punctuated with questions to engage the reader in text-to self connections. i.e. How do you care for your animals?


Book Cover Deep Roots

Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet, by Nikki Tate. This one is more for the strong Grade 3 reader who isn’t afraid of text and wants an interesting read. Organized in four sections (Earth, Air, Water, Fire) it provides key examples from not only around the world, but also throughout time. Well-chosen photos illustrate the concepts beautifully.


Book Cover Plants That Never Bloom

Two titles by Ruth Heller, Plants that Never Bloom, and The Reason for a Flower, are exactly as their titles say, with poetic sparse language and bright drawings that cover a wide range of concepts and examples of plant life.


The Sunflower, by Robynne Eagan, illustrated by Lindsay Grater, has a minimal amount of text, written like free verse. A child plants a sunflower seeds and watches it grow. But who else is watching? The bug, the bee, the bird and the squirrel.  


On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.



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