CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 12. . . .November 19, 2010.
The Good Garden: How One Family Went From Hunger to Having Enough. (CitizenKid).
Katie Smith Milway. Illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2010.
32 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Food security-Honduras-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.
Review by Gail Hamilton.
Don Pedro mixes rich compost into the soil, then pokes holes in the terraces and plants his seeds. The campesinos nod and whisper but fall silent when the maestro plants marigolds in rows beside the seeds. Has he gone loco, they wonder? "It may look crazy," laughs Don Pedro, "but the marigolds will keep the insects away."
Over the next few days, more and more families come to watch and learn. Some ask Don Pedro how to make terraces. Others ask María Luz how to make compost. Still others admire the marigolds, which Don Pedro calls the smiles of the soil. Everyone is wondering the same thing- could these new ideas help their gardens, too?
Part of the "CitizenKid" series which is designed to inspire children to become better global citizens, The Good Garden tells the story of how a poor Honduran family helped to influence entire communities by demonstrating sustainable farming practices. Eleven-year-old María Luz Duarte lives with her parents and younger brother on a small plot of land on which they grow corn, beans and winter crops, such as tomatoes, chilies and onions. Over time, the soil has become depleted of nutrients, and the crop yield is poor. Without enough food, the family might have to eat the seeds that were destined to be planted next season or buy seeds from the "coyote", a middleman whose grossly inflated prices will put the family into debt. While Father goes to the highlands to find work, María plants the winter crops. In the meantime, a new teacher, Don Pedro Morales, arrives at school. He teaches the children how to compost and to make terraces on the hill for planting, and he shows them how marigolds act as natural insect repellents for the crops. At home, María implements the farming practices she has learned from her teacher. Soon other neighbours follow suit, and their crops flourish. Don Pedro tells the villagers that, instead of selling their produce to the coyote, they should take the vegetables to market to sell and get a fair price. María and her father make the trip to market where she gets three times the amount of money that the coyote would have paid her for her radishes, and her father finds seeds at a fraction of the coyote's cost. Sadly, Don Pedro will be transferring to a new school in another village for the next school year, but the legacy he leaves behind is one of hope and renewal. The family's new planting methods not only influence their small village, but also villages in surrounding areas so that crops and soil quality are vastly improved and the people can afford medicine, school supplies and home improvements.
Based on a true story of farmer-trainer Elías Sanchez who helped tens of thousands of families throughout Honduras- including the Duartes- to increase their food production, The Good Garden encourages readers to get involved by creating a school or classroom garden, volunteering at a food bank or community garden, and organizing fundraisers and letter writing campaigns.
The text of the primary story is written in the present tense and adds an ethnic flavour with the inclusion of Spanish words. The story has several chapters, each with its own heading and consisting of a double-page spread. On one side of the page is the text and on the other, a full-size colour illustration. There are plenty of extra little details to notice in the illustrations, adding to the charm and authenticity of the Honduran landscape and culture and enhancing the text. The use of colour to convey mood also contributes to the story, with some examples being the various shades of blue and mauve in the dream sequence, the bright greens and yellows of the fields, and the vibrant colours of the lively farmer's market.
At the back of the book, a glossary of Spanish words is provided along with some information about four international organizations that are making a difference in people's lives by helping developing countries to become "food secure". Also listed is an interactive web site, www.thegoodgarden.org, where readers can learn more about the topic, play three different levels of a comprehension game related to the book, and find out about people in different parts of the world.
Informative, inspirational and timely.
Gail Hamilton is a retired teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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