“No beets!” –Barack Obama
“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.” –Thomas Jefferson
This month we roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, feel the sun on our faces and taste the sweetness of food we’ve grown in our own gardens. This harvest of vibrant, healthy and delicious books includes recipes and projects for kids and adults, and goes from the beautiful White House Kitchen Garden to funky planters made from old shoes. You’ll find something pretty, fun or tasty for everyone, even for those who (like President Obama) really hate beets.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s gorgeous American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America is a celebration of American family, American history and American community, and illustrates the transformative power of even a small container garden. The White House Kitchen Garden demonstrates why a kitchen garden is especially important for children. Besides the nutritious and fresh herbs and vegetables such a garden produces, a kitchen garden give kids outdoor exercise and creates important family time. This rich, complete narrative covers the First Lady’s childhood, the planning and planting of the White House Kitchen Garden, a history of American gardens, and seasonal recipes and garden plans, and tips for bringing gardens to schools and urban areas. Proceeds from the sale of the book go to the National Park Foundation and fund programs that promote gardening, healthy eating, outdoor activity and the White House Garden. I love the Corn Soup with Summer Vegetable recipe from White House Chef Sam Kass—just fresh corn, fresh thyme, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and grilled vegetables. This useful but coffee-table-book-beautiful guide contains many resources on all aspects of nutrition, gardening, seeds, school gardens and fitness and other topics. A treasure.
First Garden, written and illustrated with glorious watercolors by Robbin Gourley offers a brief history of the White House gardens and White House children, covering First Lady Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden from its inception to its production of over 1000 pounds of vegetables and fruits and 34 pounds of honey during its first year. Included are instructions for starting and maintaining a simple home garden and recipes designed for kids. The book, which includes a list of resources on U.S. history, the White House and gardening for children, will inform and engage 6 to 9 year olds and their families.
A White House Garden Cookbook: Healthy Ideas from the First Family to Your Family by Clara Silverstein is a cookbook organized around seasonal garden ingredients and includes many colorful photographs of children gardening and cooking. Recipes are inspired by the White House Kitchen garden and community gardens around the U.S. I like the recipes for no-cream “creamed” spinach, Thomas Jefferson’s Pea Soup, Martha Washington’s “Great Cake,” and the mostly vegetable based and delectable offerings. This is a book for adults to share with the kids they love.
Gail Gibbons’s The Vegetables We Eat is a colorful and informative introduction to veggies. Perennials, annuals, and the eight kinds of vegetables (leaf, bulb, flower bud, root, tuber, stem, fruit and seed) are presented bright and joyful paintings. Farming and nutrition are also covered. 5 and up.
Project Garden: A Month-By-Month Guide to Planting, Growing, and Enjoying All Your Back Yard Has to Offer by Stacy Tornio is a project-by-project seasonal guide designed for the whole family. What I like the best is that each month includes gardening recommendations, garden designs, recipes, and project ideas. Plants are projects are rated for difficulty. I especially like the night garden and the salsa garden projects. For adults to share with kids.
Grow, Cook, Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening including 50 Recipes, Plus Harvesting and Storage Tips by Willi Galloway is a book for adults that children can share. Jim Henkens’s stunning photographs of herbs, greens, legumes, squash, cabbages, and fruits and dishes prepared from garden fresh ingredients will get parents outside, and their kids with them. I like the simplicity and completeness of this guide which covers everything from soil to storage.
Cool down after a day in your garden with Top Pops: 55 All Natural Frozen Treats to Make At Home by Emily Zaiden of L.A.’s Popshop. Top Pops offers fresh and inventive low sugar pop recipes suitable for kids, with sophisticated pops that will appeal to adults. Zaiden uses local flavors in irresistible and simple combinations. Sections include creamcicles and pudding pops––among them the appealing apricot honey yogurt, Mexican fudgesicle, and avocado vanilla pops––“fruity and fresh” pops including the delectable pomegranate orange rose, blackberry lime verbena, and brown sugar ruby grapefruit; coffee and tea pops and international pops like pineapple Thai basil, Horchata, Provence lavender, Halva, rosemary grape and strawberry balsamic. There’s a special section on pops for kids, on holiday pops and “tipsy pops” for grown ups. The natural ingredients, simple instructions and glorious results will get even finicky kids eating fresh fruits and herbs. A book for the whole family.
Jo Perry has a Ph.D. in English, taught literature and writing, and worked as a college administrator and as a television writer and producer. She is a reviewer for BookBrowse.com and is an ongoing contributor to kidsLA Magazine for which she writes about the city, children’s books, and conducts interviews. For two years she wrote the Kids’ Book Club column for the L.A. Times’ Kids’ Reading Room page.