Liz: I like to imagine we’re together in an actual garden – dirt underneath our fingernails and a bunch of seed packets newly emptied into the ground.
Tricia: Oh, yes! Is anything more hopeful than planting a seed? When I was seven or eight, I grew two straight lines of zinnias. The magic of watching a small, shrivel-y pod send up a green shoot, leaves, a bud, a flower! I couldn’t – still can’t – get over it.
Liz: I fell in love with gardens as a child, too – my grandmothers’ flowers, my family’s veggies.
One of the first things my now-husband and I did when we were dating was dig out a little bed together. Gardening is so much more than the resultant blooms and berries. It’s the co-creation of them!
Tricia: I grow flowers here at my house and vegetables in a community plot just like the one in your wonderful book. Sometimes I have success, and sometimes, like my book’s poor Mr. Hagerty, abysmal failure. (As I write, my annual battle with the ravenous deer has begun).
That’s what we need now, right? To believe that even when things feel dark and dormant, there are better, brighter, blossoming days to come? And what we do can help!
Tricia: That’s one of my all-time favorite picture books, too. Remember how everyone tells the little gardener, I’m afraid it won’t come up?
Liz: And yet, it does! I write a lot of “outside books,” about trees and canyons and wolves and worms. I always ask myself how I might bring young readers close enough to get to know and love and, eventually, advocate for these wild things.
Gardens are the perfect response, right? They invite us in! I love that the settings of both our books are as human as they are pastoral. Gardens can be anywhere, and can be made accessible to all kids.
Tricia: Exactly. Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures, illustrated by Elaheh Taherian (Candlewick, May 26, 2020) is an ode to discovering the treasures in our neighborhood, in our backyard, under our own feet.
While Mr. Hagerty gardens, Khalil finds cool rocks and interesting insects. Khalil, a newcomer to this country, is learning new words, while old Mr. Hagerty is forgetting some of his. The two connect through language and their love for the yard they share.
Tricia: The seed for my story was planted by my friend Nicki, a gardener and children’s librarian.
Sometimes, when she gardened, the little boy next door would come and dig too. She thought he was playing until he confided that he was looking for buried treasure. That very night, Nicki buried a treasure for him. I tried and failed many times to turn it into a book, but it wasn’t till I had the idea of the child also burying a surprise that the little seed grew and bloomed.
Liz: I love thinking about ideas as seeds, requiring all the hard work of gardening to bring them to fruition, and also, all of the patience. When kids see our finished books, it’s hard for them to imagine the process behind the books, and to relate that to their own work. The garden metaphor helps.
Tricia: Yes, writing has so much in common with gardening – the planting, the tending, the weeding and pruning and at last, if we’re lucky, the sharing of the bounty.
Liz: Tell me a little more about that process for your book.
Tricia: I based Khalil on a young friend of mine – he and his family are refugees, and the book is dedicated to them.
Mr. Hagerty is based on my grandfather, a somewhat grumpy man who was at his happiest in our backyard (usually with a Budweiser in his hand – I left that part out). The genius illustrator Elaheh Taherian made the characters and setting even more alive.
What about you?
Liz: I drafted Thank You, Garden in 2012. (It took a long time to grow!) I pictured it taking place in different gardens all over the world. When the fabulous Simone Shin began illustrating it as a community plot, I made some edits to that effect. I love that a shared urban garden can feel as wild and varied as many different ones.
Tricia: Don’t all gardens – and all stories – offer solace and promise in equal measure?
Liz: Mmm, yes. Exactly. Thank you.
Tricia: Thank you, too. And happy gardening!
Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including:
- the highly-acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2009);
- her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2015);
- Another Way to Climb a Tree, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2017);
- In the Canyon, illustrated by Ashley Wolff (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2015);
- Bob, Not Bob, co-authored with Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Disney/Hyperion, 2017), and several others.
Liz serves on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.
Tricia Springstubb is the author of:
- Phoebe and Digger, illustrated by Jeff Newman (Candlewick, 2013);
- the Cody series, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (Candlewick 2015 – 2017);
- Mo Wren, Lost and Found (HarperCollins, 2011);
- and Every Single Second, illustrated by Diana Sudyka (HarperCollins, 2016).
She is a former children’s librarian at a public library in Ohio.