Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Image of Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt: (Nature Book for Kids, Gardening and Vegetable Planting, Outdoor Nature Book)
Release Date: 
March 3, 2015
Chronicle Books
Reviewed by: 

“this book may be the trigger to inspire a child to learn more.”

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt introduces children to the amazing world of organisms both above and below ground that are vital to a healthy, environmentally balanced garden.

Author Kate Messner’s language flows like poetry: “Up in the garden, I stand and plan—my hands full of seeds and my head full of dreams. . . . 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.”

As the book flows gently through the seasons, we learn about the roly-poly pill bugs that eat dead leaves, contributing to the composting process. Less beneficial are the tomato hornworm pupae that incubate underground until they emerge as five-spotted hawk moths that lay their eggs on tomato plants. Within two to five days those eggs hatch, revealing the big, green, horned caterpillars that gobble up these plants.

Above ground the grandmother and granddaughter prepare the raised beds for sowing seeds. “‘Give them a drink,’ Nana says. We pat them [the seeds] down to snuggle in the dark.”

The seeds sprout and the blossoms attract pollinators such as wasps and bees. A cross section illustration by award-winning artist Christopher Silas Neal shows carrot roots probing deep into the soil amid earthworms that are active in their tunnels, while above ground we see carrot shoots and the pollinators sipping nectar from the pea blossoms.

The summer heat makes the young girl envious of the earthworms in “their cool, damp, dark.” Relief comes when Nana turns the hose on her granddaughter who flees with laughter to hide behind the cucumber vines.

Ladybugs feast on aphids, the people feast on freshly harvested green beans and sun-warmed tomatoes.

When the season cycles to autumn, Nana ties the tall sunflower stalks together to create a hideaway house. Pumpkins add to the mellow ripeness of the scene. An orb spider spins a web, ready to catch moths for tonight’s dinner.

The weather gets colder and the grandmother and girl put the garden to bed for the winter. Down in the dirt, ants also prepare for the cold months, storing their food in their network of tunnels. While the people put their winter blankets on their beds, the beetles, ants, and earthworms burrow deeper into the soil and wait, biding their time for the next growing season.

The final pages are a list of some of the creatures mentioned in the book with more detailed information about their life cycle and habits. For example, “Ants may not be welcome at your harvest picnic, but they can be beneficial in the garden. Ants often crawl from plant to plant looking for nectar, so they can help pollinate plants. Like earthworms, they also help to bring air into the soil with their tunnels so plant roots can grow down more easily.”

This book is a gentle, basic introduction to the vital world of activity that goes on underground in a garden. At times I wished the information were more detailed as there are a wealth of child-friendly facts about the symbiosis between creatures of the soil and plants, but the author wisely kept her focus on the simplicity and rhythm of her story, and this book may be the trigger to inspire a child to learn more.