Jayden’s Impossible Garden

Illustrated by Ken Daley

“The magic of nature was all around them—right there in the middle of the city.”

Jayden is a young boy who loves being outdoors despite his mother’s insistence that “there’s no nature here in the middle of the city.” Undeterred, Jayden finds an ally in Mr. Curtis, an older man who lives in his building and loves being outdoors as much as Jayden does. Though Jayden’s mother is skeptical and insists there’s no point playing outside, she allows him to spend time with Mr. Curtis after school. Together, Jayden and Mr. Curtis explore the neighborhood, share nature notices and personal stories. “They compared nature collections. They searched for anthills” and “they planted mystery seeds in old containers.” Eventually, Jayden and Mr. Curtis build a “magical secret fort garden” in the courtyard of their apartment building. They plant flowers and beans in recycled containers, creating homes for local wildlife—spiders, caterpillars, and birds. One summer day, the other tenants in the building stumble across the garden: its hummingbirds, butterflies, and plants. “Everyone soaked in the beauty that surrounded them.” Jayden’s mother realizes that she’s been wrong all along. There is nature everywhere, even in the middle of the city. The last two openings of the book include a note on insects, animals, and plants in urban spaces and a detailed guide on how to create Jayden’s upcycled planters, so that readers can follow in his footsteps. The activity is clearly laid out and extremely accessible, requiring minimal materials easily scavenged from outdoors or collected from the recycling.

Jayden’s Impossible Garden teaches an invaluable lesson for children and adults alike: nature is everywhere, even in urban spaces. The story helps spark reflection on nearby nature, pollinator gardens, biodiversity, upcycling and the commons: shared spaces for human and nonhuman communities. Through Jayden’s mother’s insistence that there is no nature in the city—also shared by Mr. Curtis’ daughter—the book confronts a common misconception that nature exists only in wilderness or rural environments: an anthropocentric belief that humans and nature are separate entities. However, Jayden’s and Mr. Curtis’ curiosity towards the outside world demonstrates that humans are part of nature (see ecocentrism, kinship care, Earth care). The story shows that nature perseveres in urban environments: a crocus blooming in the yard, anthills pushing up through concrete. Jayden’s and Mr. Curtis’ actions show ways in which local biodiversity can be supported and encouraged (see conservation, urban gardens). For example, Jayden and Mr. Curtis upcycle old coffee and milk containers into planters and bird feeders, growing flowers and local food while supporting local wildlife. As Jayden and Mr. Curtis bring more life to the courtyard of their apartment building, their individual actions inspire other members of their community to appreciate the beauty of nature, including Jayden’s once-skeptical mother. Though not explicitly focused on climate change, this book would serve as an excellent stepping stone to bring conversations around nature into the home or classroom, especially for young children living in urban environments. The narrative is inspiring and uplifting. It offers plentiful opportunities to discuss with children ways in which they, too, can bring nature closer to home.

©2024 ClimateLit (Cayleigh Hickey)

Online read aloud accessible at: https://school.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=29193

Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing, 2021

Pages: 30

ISBN: 978-1-63198-590-4

Audience: Little People (4-7), Questers (8-13), Sprouts (0-3)

Format: Picturebooks

Topics: Biodiversity, Commons, Conservation, Earth Care, Ecocentrism, Individual Action, Kinship Care, Local Food, Nature, Nearby Nature, Pollinator Gardens, Recycling, Rooftop Garden, Upcycling, Urban Environments, Urban Garden, Wildlife