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In our increasingly sterile and antibiotic-filled world, it is easy to forget the importance of microorganisms and the process of decomposition to soil quality. The picture book Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices by David M. Schwartz and with photographs by Dwight Kuhn takes you down and dirty with close-ups of molds, slime molds and yeasts, as well as other organisms, to show how nutrients get recycled and organic matter added to the soil.

Rotten-pumpkin

I'll let you know right up front that this book is not for the highly squeamish. If the thought of fly vomit makes you quiver, then you might not find the book as delightful as I did. Photographer Kuhn spares nothing as he follows the decomposition meltdown of a carved Halloween pumpkin. Remember that kids, however, might enjoy all that goo and ooze. Plus, the team of David M. Schwartz and Dwight Kuhn have worked on a number of projects together and their expertise shows.

I found this short time-lapse video that will give you an inkling of what to expect:

David Schwartz tells the story of 15 decomposing organisms from the first person point of view, bringing the reader right in. I don't think it will be too much of a "spoiler" to let you know the cycle ends on an upbeat note with a pumpkin seed sprouting in the resulting compost.

Rotten Pumpkin will be highlighted at Halloween because of the pumpkin, but it deserves a place on the shelf all year around because of the universal processes it explores.

Related activities:

Experiencing compost and the process of decomposition first hand can be a life-changing lesson for children. Don't be afraid to get dirty!

1. The suggestions for classroom investigations using pumpkins in the back of the book are excellent ones, for example looking at how temperature changes the decomposition process.

Compost.bin

(Photograph of compost bin in public domain at Wikipedia)

2. Composting

My sister and I consider ourselves lucky because our mother was composting back in the 1960s when we were growing up. Our mother was way ahead of her time, but we got to learn how it worked at an early age.

As we moved around the country we realized composting is one of those processes that varies a bit from place to place and situation to situation. Therefore, I recommend that before you launch a big project that you find a local class or the advice of a local gardening expert if you can. The Internet is also filled with basic information, such as website and videos. Here are just a few examples:

Michigan Kids has kid-friendly instructions about composting to get you started.

The Texas Agricultural Extension Service has a Composting for Kids slide show.

Hamilton County Recycles has a fun, upbeat video on how to get started with backyard composting:

Once you have compost going, Cornell University has a bunch of information and excellent experiment ideas at The Science and Engineering of Composting.

3. Composting with earthworms

If you don't have room for a full-fledged compost bin, you might want to investigate a worm bin. Our family's worm composting adventure was definitely a memorable and worthwhile experience. We also shared our worm bin with students in my son's classes. See the Weekend Science Fun: Earthworms for more details (worm composting is towards the bottom of the post) and an instruction video.

Have doubts? Think composting might be smelly or icky? Yes, it might be those things on occasion, but experimenting with compost also will yield a much deeper understanding of our world.

Age Range: 4 - 12 years
Grade Level: Preschool - 7
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Creston Books (July 23, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1939547032
ISBN-13: 978-1939547033

Thank you for visiting us during Children's Garden Week. If you have children's gardening resources you would like to include, please feel free to leave a comment.

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Disclosures: This book was provided for review by Creston Books. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

In a previous post on theme gardens for children, I promised to dig up (ugh!) some relevant books. I finally got a chance to put them together.

Here are two of our favorite gardening books:

Jack's Garden by Henry Cole

This lovely book is a retelling of the nursery rhyme “This is the House that Jack Built,” using a gardening theme. It starts with tools a gardener would use, then critters you would find in the soil, all the way to a mature garden with birds and butterflies. Even though it is a picture book with few words, the illustrations are so rich it can be used with almost any age. Wonderful book!

Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson, Shmuel Thaler (Photographer)

When I lent this one to someone and never got it back, I knew I had to go out and buy another copy. This book is really one of a kind. The photographs are exceptional. (Although they do have a flower fly identified as a honey bee. This is a common mistake.) The website has good information, too.

(If you are in the mood for more books about apples and pumpkins for fall, check this list of fall-inspired books from the MissRumphiusEffect Blog.)

Books on Theme Gardening with Children by Categories

1. ABC Gardens:

Garden Books with Alphabet Themes

A Cottage Garden Alphabet by Andrea Wisnewski

Centered on a garden, the book goes through the alphabet: A is represented by an arbor; C is a cottage; I is iris; Z is zucchini. The pictures, which look like woodcuts, are actually hand-colored paper cuts and the author discusses how she makes them.

Alphabet Garden by Laura Jane Coats

A Gardener's Alphabet by Mary Azarian

Patty's Pumpkin Patch by Teri Sloat

Follow the progress of a pumpkin patch through the seasons while finding items from the alphabet. For example, in the field where the pumpkins are being planted, “a” is for ant and “b” is for beetle.

2. Rainbow Gardens:

Blue Potatoes, Orange Tomatoes by Rosalind Creasy, Ruth Heller (Illustrator)

If you are interested in planting a rainbow garden this book could be a helpful resource. Ruth Heller is definitely one of our favorite authors and illustrators.

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert

This beautiful book lists many flowers of different colors.

3. Animal Gardens

Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert
I already mentioned this one in the butterfly/moth book post, but it is definitely worth mentioning again here. This is a lovely book, full of good information.

Bird and Wildlife Garden Books for Adults

The Bird-Lover's Garden: Creating a Backyard Haven for Songbirds and Hummingbirds by Margaret MacAvoy, and Pat Kite

The Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher: Birdfeeders and Bird Gardens by Robert Burton and Stephen Kress

The Wildlife Gardener's Guide (Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide) by Janet Marinelli, Steve Buchanan (Illustrator)

4. Food Themes

Grow Your Own Pizza: Gardening Plans and Recipes for Kids by Constance Hardesty, Jeff McClung (Illustrator)

The title says it all for this fun book.

Gardening with Children by Beth Richardson

Tells how to grow a pizza garden, among other things.

5. Story Books

Linnea in Monet's Garden by Cristina Bjork, Lena Anderson (Illustrator), Joan Sandin (Translator)

If you are interested in art, artists, Monet, nature, gardening or traveling to Paris, this is the book for you. Definitely inspires me to want to grow a “Monet Garden” of my own. Beautiful, sweet, and informative, I keep our copy with the art books, but it wants to be with the nature and gardening books, too.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Tasha Tudor (Illustrator)

6. Heritage/Cultures

Corn Is Maize by Aliki

This book is part of the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series. It has a wealth of information about many aspects of corn, including how it was first domesticated by Native Americans.

For Adults:

Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden: Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians by Gilbert L. Wilson

Amazon review (edited): This book is rich with useful gardening lore, including tools and structures, and detailed descriptions of the different kinds of beans, corn, and squash that the Indians grew. Plus, there are native recipes you can try. Okay, I put this on the list so I will remember to get it ☺

7. Forts/Huts

Sunflower House (Books for Young Readers) by Eve Bunting (Author), Kathryn Hewitt (Illustrator)

A young boy plants the seeds in a large circle to grow a sunflower house. When the plants are tall enough, he invites his friends over to play in it. The text is written in rhyme.

Adult nonfiction books for gardening with children:

Gardening Wizardry for Kids by L. Patricia Kite and Yvette Santiago Banek

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy

This is the classic book on gardening with children. As you can tell from the title, Lovejoy has many fun and creative ideas about gardening.

A Child's Garden: 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children by Molly Dannenmaier

The hardcover copy I have says “Enchanting Outdoor Spaces for Children and Parents.” Enchanting is the right word. Mixed with informative text about how children play and how important it is for them to play outdoors, are photos of fairytale settings for children to play in. On pages 158-159 is a photo and list of the plants in the George Washington River farm alphabet garden.