July 30, 2014

Welcoming a bloom in winter

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‘Books in Bloom,’ which helps parents, caregivers and educators connect their children with nature and biology in great children’s books, is now available for pre-order. (Observer courtesy photo).

‘Books in Bloom,’ which helps parents, caregivers and educators connect their children with nature and biology in great children’s books, is now available for pre-order. (Observer courtesy photo).

New resource helps educators connect books with nature

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

January 9th, 2014

Just when a large percentage of Vermonters may be questioning why they decided to live in this frigid state, educators and students alike can curl up with a new resource that reminds them of warmer temperatures, spring blossoms and green grass.

The Williston-based National Gardening Association last week announced the upcoming publication of “Books in Bloom,” a new book that invites children in kindergarten through grade four to learn about science and nature in the pages of great children’s stories.

Written by St. Michael’s College education professor Valerie Bang-Jensen and biology professor Mark Lubkowitz, the book guides readers and educators through 17 children’s books—from beloved classics like “Blueberries for Sal” to notable new works like “Grandpa Greens.”

“Each of them was selected because it’s just a stellar children’s picture book, but also has some really accurate biology that is embedded in the text,” Bang-Jensen said. “We wanted to present books that would offer a really rich literary experience, but also convey science or biology in an accessible way.”

Each book had to gain the approval of Bang-Jensen’s literary eye, as well as Lubkowitz’s biology expertise.

“That’s where we worked together the best,” Bang-Jensen said. “They have to pass my list of criteria for an excellent children’s book… then Mark had to look at them to see if they were something that was worthwhile from a plant biology perspective. It took both of our lenses to determine which books we thought would provide really engaging and powerful and delightful experiences for parents and teachers and children.”

Mike Metallo, CEO of the National Gardening Association, said approximately 60 people have already pre-ordered the book, and educators across the country have expressed their excitement.

“The reaction has been amazing,” he said. “I think this has been long-needed.”

Each chapter focuses on a book, providing talking points, in-depth lecture materials, project ideas, related books at different levels, and how the book aligns with Common Core educational standards.

“The intended audience really is anyone who loves children’s books and/or works with children in school libraries, any kind of gardening program, homeschool situation, summer programs,” Bang-Jensen said.

Fittingly, “Books in Bloom” started as a garden.

“Mark and I arrived at St. Michael’s College at the same time,” Bang-Jensen said. “Right away, we both tried to find a way my education students and his plant biology students would benefit from working together.”

The pair developed a teaching garden as a joint project, using the garden to express literary and geographic themes. The garden includes an international garden, a native garden, a word garden and a garden entitled “Books in Bloom.” That garden features plants that show up in children’s books, from a privet hedge “Harry Potter” fans will recognize, to the thistle favored by Eeyore to the lupines sown by Miss Rumphius.

When Metallo visited their garden, he knew it would work hand in hand with part of the National Gardening Association’s mission.

“We work with school gardens and with teachers and community leaders who want to work with young people in a garden setting using the garden as a teaching tool,” he said.

When he visited the St. Michael’s garden, he immediately had a vision of a teaching tool, similar to the association’s  best-selling resource, “Math in the Garden.”

“They were so excited about what they were doing as I listened to it I realized this is ‘Math in Garden’ but for books,” he said.

He invited them to turn their teaching garden concept into what became “Books in Bloom.”

“Gardens are so hands-on,” Metallo said. “They hit home. They go much further than just reading a book and being told what it means.”

Bang-Jensen encouraged anyone who loves gardening or children’s literature to check out the book. Lubkowitz is currently on an international biology research trip and was not available for comment

“It was really a lot of fun to write it. I hope people find it and it enhances their gardening experience,” Bang-Jensen said.

“Books in Bloom” is available online for $24.95 at www.gardeningwithkids.org/books-in-bloom.html.

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