Title: Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Author: Kate Messner

Illustrator: Christopher Silas Neal

Publisher: San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2015

Genre: Picture book, fiction (with facts strewn through it like seeds sprinkled on dirt)

Audience Age: 4 to 8

Topics: Gardening, time with Nana, what’s under the ground, ecology

Opening Sentences: Up in the garden, I stand and plan – my hands full of seeds and my head full of dreams.

Synopsis: The main character and her grandmother (Nana) experience Nana’s garden through the seasons, the girl seeing first what’s up above ground, readily visible, while Nana tells her about all the creatures and processes that are at work under the ground.

Christopher Silas Neal’s illustrations reminded me of the illustrations in some picture books of my childhood (and indeed, some reviewers mention the retro illustration style). They are like a cross-section that shows us up in the garden and down in the dirt simultaneously, increasing our understanding of all that is happening through the seasons in the garden.

In the back matter, Kate Messner says something that particularly resonated with me: “Every garden is a community garden. Do you know why? You may work hard planting seeds and pulling weeds, but plants can’t thrive without the help of all those smaller gardeners down in the dirt.”

What a great reminder that both up and under are symbiotic – working together in unity to create something very special. This can even make us look further at other things in life: first at what we see on the surface of an event, or a person, or a book, play or movie, for example, and then we look more deeply, under the surface, for greater meaning. And it all works together in unity to enhance our understanding.

In an earlier book, Kate explored life Over and Under the Snow. In her most recent picture book, released in March 2017, she and Christopher Silas Neal have teamed up again for Over and Under the Pond.

The Publishers Weekly review for the first book expressed it so well, saying that the book straddles “the informative and the evocative.” The same is true for Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt (and I’m sure for Over and Under the Pond as well.)

These fascinating looks at UP and UNDER are great ways to teach in an unobtrusive way, and will certainly add to kids’ understanding of the natural world around us.

Activities/Resources: My friend Darshana reviewed this book on her blog Flowering Minds a couple of years ago, when it first came out, and there are links to activities there.

The Nature Families website also reviewed this book and included activities in the review. The website itself seems an unending supply of nature-related activities.

And be sure to check out Kate Messner’s website and Christopher Silas Neal’s website as well.

Availability: Readily available. Check with your local independent bookstore.

U is for Up, as we look at what we can see on the surface of things. It is also for Under and Underneath, as we delve down to Uncover what is below the surface. It is for the way these things work together in Unity, and for the greater Understanding we can gain, sometimes from Unexpected sources.

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