Grow: A Novel in Verse written by Juanita Havill and illustrated by Stanislawa Kodman is a delightful book that pushes the boundaries of middle reader fiction. First of all, Grow is written in appealing verse, which leaves much of the page open for whimsical illustrations and gives it a lighter, more delicate feel. Secondly, it is filled with strong, and realistic adult characters, which are often left out of children’s and young adult’s fiction.
Kate, a twelve-year-old girl, is the main character. She helps her neighbor, a large woman named Berneetha, to start a garden in an abandoned lot. At first all the neighbors seem skeptical, but soon they are drawn in by the lure of growing plants and Berneetha’s welcoming spirit. Along with the plants, a sense of community develops as well.
That is not to say this is a light-hearted story, it does have depth. Early on a vehicle hits one of Berneetha’s cats, killing it. Later the garden is threatened when the lot changes ownership. Harlan, a boy that has been working on the garden, is accused of stealing a truck. And underlying is a message about female body image and weight, as Kate struggles with both.
Grow is a book you want to share and discuss. It would be perfect for a literature circle or book club, because it doesn’t take long to read and yet it offers a wealth of material to think and talk about. Reluctant readers would find it appealing because the action is fast paced. Think about how fun it would be to start a garden, or grow some plants, as a supplementary activity. At the very least, this book should be accompanied with a bouquet of fresh flowers and a tray of garden vegetables for a snack.
Juanita Havill, a gardener herself, knows the therapeutic value of mucking around in the soil. Spend some time with this great little book and you will too.
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (April 1, 2008)
Edit: Book Review Blog Carnival #24 is now up at Inkweaver Review.