Wednesday, June 20, 2012



Today is Summer Solstice. It seems like a perfect day for a book about gardening, and FIRST PEAS TO THE TABLE. FIRST PEAS is a book for gardeners, scientists, writers, and lovers of history! 

As the book opens, Maya's teacher is announcing that the class will be having a "First Peas to the Table" Contest,  Each child will receive twenty pea seeds. The winner of the contest will be the first child who can fill a bowl with peas for the class to eat. The book follows Maya as she researches how to plant and care for peas, starts her peas in inside cups, restarts her peas after she overwaters, transplants them to an outside garden, and finally eats the first delicious offerings from her garden. The book includes lots of information that would be helpful to a child starting a garden. It would also make a great read aloud in a unit on plants.

This book, however, is much more than a simple book about a child's gardening efforts. Maya's teacher, Ms. Garcia, has based the "First Peas" contest on a similar contest held by Thomas Jefferson and his neighbors each spring. According to the author's notes, Jefferson was an avid gardener:
Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence, architect, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia. But his most delightful work, he wrote in 1811, was to garden. His five-thousand-acre plantation in Monticello, his home in Virginia, included a thousand-foot-long vegetable garden. From 1766 to 1824, he recorded notes in a journal, called his Garden Book. In his neighbor's contest, the winner served his peas at a dinner for other gardeners.
There are tidbits of history threaded throughout the book. Did you know, for instance, that Jefferson invented a garden plow? (And yes, I recognize that Thomas Jefferson is a controversial figure. I guess I think most people, even famous ones, are controversial figures, with some good and some bad; and we, as adults, have to decide how much controversy kids can accept or understand).

As a teacher and a writer, another thing I really, really love about FIRST PEAS is the emphasis on writing.  Children in Maya's class record their data in Science Journals, and there are some terrific illustrations of theses journals, including plant life cycles, tables of seeds' growth, etc. My fourth graders kept science journals all last year (many of my kids did their best writing in these journals) and I would have loved to have this book as an example to share.

FIRST PEAS TO THE TABLE is a terrific new addition to a plant book collection, or a collection about Thomas Jefferson, or a collection about writing. Highly recommended!

Review copy provided by publisher.

1 comment:

Linda B said...

Okay, it looks great, but you really sold me with the part about the journaling. Since our school does so much recording in journals from the youngest up, this looks like a terrific addition to our library. Also, I think you can take a virtual tour of Monticello. Tara (A Teaching Life) wrote about it. Thanks, Carol!