Venetta’s debut children’s book conveys the thrill of growing one’s own food.
Lexi Williams and her brother Jason lack their mother’s passion for gardening until they find out about a kids’ contest. Suddenly, they both want to grow potatoes, carrots, and broccoli in order to win a prize of two tickets to the fall festival and $100. Lexi dreams of taking her best friend, Amy Atkins, to the festival, while Jason longs to spend the cash prize on new soccer shoes. The suspense builds as Lexi, Jason, and their mother plant tiny seeds, ward off caterpillars that threaten to devour their vegetables, and try to train the family’s youngest child, Timmy, to pull up weeds. Venetta credibly captures the children’s voices; for example, Lexi keeps a list of the many ways in which siblings are annoying. “Reason number seven hundred and thirty-two not to like brothers: They’re downers,” she thinks, after Jason frets that their vegetables are too small. Parents will recognize themselves, too: when Jason’s mother tells him to be careful with kitchen cutlery, Venetta writes, “Jason doubted the knife his mom used to spread peanut butter on his sandwiches was going to cut off his finger, but nodded anyway.” The book is also a worthy guide for parents and caregivers aiming to cultivate children’s interest in gardening. The author extols the virtues of worm feces as plant food, touts peppermint to deter ants, and points out that worker bees are female. Still, readers may find it difficult to sustain their interest for the book’s 260 pages, which include recipes and gardening lessons; there’s just enough suspense to make readers want to read to the end, but Venetta probably could have achieved her goals in two-thirds of the space. Some of the dialogue is mundane, and the book repeats points as it alternates between the narrative and the children’s journal entries. The book is also slightly prone to gender stereotypes; for instance, the girls make corn-cob dolls while Jason builds a box for a beehive with his father. However, Motz’s (What Shall We Dream, 2016, etc.) vivid color illustrations re-create both the contemplative and exhilarating feelings of being in a garden. They convey the kids’ expressions of wonderment and further the author’s goal of interesting children in gardening.
A productive, if overlong, mix of storytelling and gardening tips.