Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

“Down in the dirt is a whole busy world of earthworms and insects, digging and building and stirring up soil. They’re already working down in the dirt.”

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt follows a young girl and her Nana as they tend to their garden through the entire growing season. The girl is curious to learn more about what’s under the soil and Nana explains about earthworms and insects. The story shows insects performing their work above ground and in the soil, communicating the message that “plants can’t thrive without the help of all those smaller gardeners down in the dirt.” Some of the animals and insects mentioned include honeybees, bumblebees, earthworms, pill bugs, tomato hornworms, cutworms, orb weavers, spiders, ladybugs, robins, bats, and skunks. Human gardeners, animals, and insects all work together to create a thriving garden. Nana’s wisdom about growing healthy plants is shared in specific contexts of garden work. The girl and her Nana begin by preparing the soil and cleaning up last year’s remains. They wait for the spring sun and warmer air to dry up the dirt, plant the seeds, water the seeds and sprouts, harvest fruit and vegetables, enjoy and share the harvest, and prepare the garden for winter to come again. The story moves through the seasons, showcasing produce best grown in the late springtime and late summertime: carrots, pea blossoms, cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, basil, pumpkins, corn, and sunflowers. The book ends with the girl and Nana returning to the cottage in late fall, as the soil creatures hunker down to wait for spring and “a whole new garden sleeps down in the dirt.”

Part of Kate Messner’s award-winning Over and Under series, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt helps open up climate literacy conversations about organic gardening, permaculture, sustainability, biodiversity, soil, insects, plants, composting, seasonal produce, and local food. Tying them all is the overarching message about the rich abundance and interconnectedness of all life: “A healthy organic garden isn’t a garden without bugs—it’s packed with lots and lots of living things, all working together with the human gardeners to nurture healthy plants.” The girl asks Nana questions about the garden which encourages readers to ask questions that help them gain a greater understanding and appreciation of nature. This book can help spark conversations about bugs and gardening, but also about spark research into plant life cycles, plant needs, food webs, and how seasonal changes impact plants and gardening.

Featuring exuberant, realistic illustrations that are sure to engage young people, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is perfect to aid young learners in gaining more knowledge about the natural world. Many animals mentioned in the text are concisely defined in the glossary, including a picture and description of the role of the animal in gardens. Additionally, the front and back pastedown pages include labeled illustrations of plants and gardening implements. These elements allow readers to develop vocabulary and background knowledge related to gardening. Less a story and more a series of mini poems, the text flows through many repeated phrases, especially “Up in the garden” and “Down in the dirt” which provide predictable structure for young readers. Overall, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is a terrific book for climate literacy education with multiple uses for teaching students about the natural world through noticing and asking questions.

©2023 ClimateLit (Laurel Hettinger)

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Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2015

Pages: 52

ISBN: 978-1452161365

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

Format: Picturebooks

Topics: Animals, Biodiversity, Bugs, Composting, Food Webs, Fruit, Gardening, Harvest, Insects, Interconnectedness, Local Food, Nature, Organic Gardening, Permaculture, Plant Life Cycle, Plant Needs, Plants, Seasonal Produce, Seasons, Soil, Sustainability, Vegetables