Author: Katie Smith Milway
Illustrator: Sylvie Daigneault
Publisher: Kids Can Press (September 1, 2010)
Audience: Ages 8-12 (grades 3-7)
Summary: Maria Luz and her family are poor farmers who live in the hills of Honduras. Each day Maria works beside her father in tending the garden that provides food for their family. When growing conditions worsen and the garden stops producing, Maria’s father must leave home to find work in another city, leaving her to tend the garden and deal with the local coyote who serves as an unscrupulous middle man to the local farmers. When a new teacher arrives at Maria’s school, he teaches the children and their families about sustainable farming practices that will change their gardens and ultimately their lives. With patience and hard work, gardens start to thrive and produce bountiful harvests and a community is transformed.
Literary elements at work in the story: This book is based on the lives and stories of real families living in the hills of Honduras. Written in the present tense, this story is one that could be repeated throughout the world as families with food insecurities struggle to survive. In juxtaposition to the harshness of the storyline, the lush artwork brings life and hope to the story in some very clever and intricate ways. One example is the depiction of the coyote who is drawn as a man’s body with an animal head.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story: The Good Garden is a simple story about a big issue: food insecurity. Though set in the hills of Honduras, this story is replicated around the world as farmers struggle to grow enough food to feed their families. This is a story that has little to do with race and much to do with the social injustice of our food distribution systems throughout the world. To that end, the author provides two pages at the end of the book with background on “Tending our Global Garden” and adds several inspiring ways to make a difference in your local community. Links to global ministries such as World Vision and Heifer International provide readers with connecting points to the food insecurity issues that are worldwide and the mission agencies working on the front lines to combat these issues.
Theological Conversation Partners: Jesus had much to say about feeding the hungry and treating the poor with respect and fairness. He was moved with compassion on the hillside when he told his disciples to find food to feed the 5,000 gathered there (Matthew 14:13-21) and drove home his point about caring for others in Matthew 25:35-30 when he said, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Perhaps the pinnacle of Jesus’ views on the poor comes in Luke 4:16-30 when Jesus reads the words from Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus then proceeds to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
If we take the words and actions of Jesus seriously, we cannot turn a blind eye to the needs of those living around us who are living with food insecurity and injustice. As followers of Christ, caring for others should come as second nature – filled with joy and hope for all that can be accomplished with a little perseverance and dedication.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Maria worked alongside her father in caring for the family garden. Have you ever cared for a garden? If so, what did your garden grow? Was it enough to feed your family? Who helped you tend the garden?
- Maria’s family depended on their garden to produce enough food to feed their family. Imagine you lived in a family like Maria’s. How much food would you have to grow in a garden to feed your family? How much land would it take? Who would do the work required to tend the soil and help the garden grow? How long could your family “live off the land” before having to look elsewhere for food?
- There are many people living in the world who don’t have enough food to feed their families and they depend on the kindness of others to help them survive. How are the food insecure families cared for in your community?
- What can you do to follow the teaching of Jesus to “feed the hungry and help the poor?” Talk with your family about ways you can help others in your community and learn more about the organizations who are reaching out to feed hungry people around the world.
This review is written by regular contributor Krista Lovell.