Today I am so thrilled to bring you an interview with one of Imagine Childhood's favorite authors, Sharon Lovejoy. As a kid I grew up with her wonderful Sunflower Houses in our backyard, so to get to ask her a few questions and learn about her new and exciting projects was just a treat.
Q. You studied art, and you carry the wisdom of plants from your grandmother, what made you apply the two to children and gardening?
A. I realized that my grandmother had things right. She was a teacher and school principal who knew that the way to teach was by sharing an experience, not by preaching. She never told me to work, but always said, "Let's go outdoors and see what is going on." Or she would make a problem a challenge and a project.
I was EAGER to learn when I worked with her. I lost that enthusiasm during school years, but remembered it when I began to teach nature classes through a local museum. It didn't matter whether the "child" was 8 or 80–enthusiasm, a quest for hidden secrets, and satisfaction with a project well done were reward enough.
Q. What, in your experience, does gardening do for children and their families?
A. Gardening teaches children about the miracles to be found in nature. What could be more magical than a seed sprouting? What could be more magical than sticking a piece of grape vine into the ground and watching it grow, stretch, and finally produce fruit that can be harvested and eaten?
Gardening introduces children to the full circle of life, from that first spark of awakening to the final days of a plant's time on earth. But the joy is that the plant can be tossed onto a compost pile and decompose, only to become part of the earth and a plant yet again.
Q. It's still early spring, what should families be doing right now to get the garden ready?
Sprouting seeds is such an exciting activity for kids. Start some seeds in egg cartons and tuck them onto a windowsill or under a Gro-light. For pennies, you can produce enough plants to fill a good-sized garden, oh, and speaking about size, KEEP IT SMALL so that kids don't feel overwhelmed by chores. Situate a child's garden close to where it can be easily seen from the house and close to a hose bib.
Buy some small gardening tools (including a kid-sized watering can).
Start children with a small plot or large pot, like a half-barrel, which is big enough to grow even a giant pumpkin.
Invest in good, bagged potting soil for container gardens.
Plant some containers in a heavily trafficked area, like a path from home to garage or the kitchen to the back yard. Fill pots with tiny, bite-sized producing plants, like strawberries or mini-tomatoes such as golden pear or cherry. Kids will investigate and begin to eat these little treats as snacks.
Q. What aspect of working in the garden do you love most?
A. EVERYTHING, even weeding. It is all about the process of gardening and never about what I get from the garden. If a child loves the process, then the joy of gardening will come naturally.
It doesn't matter what time of day you visit your garden, you will ALWAYS see magical things happening. Even if you go outdoors in the middle of the night and focus your flashlight on a blooming sunflower, you'll see magical moths and other critters feasting on the flower.
In "Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars," I have an entire two page section that highlights the different colors you can discover at night when you flash a beam of light into the yard or onto a plant.
I love the harvest of fruits and veggies and the activity of engaging children in the process of cooking the things they've grown.
My grandson Asher, age 11, relishes the "chore" of going outside with the colander and clipping herbs and veggies for our shared meal. He is really becoming quite a chef.
My grandson Moses, age 5, loves harvesting things, especially berries and fruit, oh, and his new passion is learning about edible flower blossoms. He is fascinated by how I use them in salads, etc. and he KNOWS never to eat anything not okayed by me or his parents. I think he is as fascinated by the scary aspect of poisonous things as by the exciting aspect of eating fresh from the garden.
Q. What is the best piece of gardening advice you've ever received?
A. Forget about the rules laid down by experts. Make your own rules, but always tend to the basic needs of a plant, and NEVER, NEVER use any poisons in a garden.
Q. What is your favorite activity to do with your grandchildren?
A. Explore!!! Whether it is along the creek with a viewer, wading into the water to catch and look at water bugs, out in the garden studying butterflies and birds, in the kitchen cooking, on the floor playing games, or out in the studio painting–I love it all!
Q. What is new for you? Any new projects we should know about?
A. I just finished writing and illustrating "My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder," which includes a bio-degradable, plastic feeder that mounts on a window and can be viewed from indoors. (Release date is Fall 2012.) This brings birds up close to children and introduces them to a few dozen easy-to-attract visitors to a feeder.
I loved writing the book in a child-friendly style that I've used with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of kids. I tried to include fun and odd facts, which kids love to learn, and I included whimsical, yet fact-filled, spreads such as "Splat!! The Story of Bird Poop." This shows kids what to look for in poop so they know what a bird eats.
The book is heavily illustrated. I know kids love to see pictures on each page.
Q. What is your favorite vegetable?
A. YIKES! I love so many. Artichokes, carrots, onions, tomatillos, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, kale, radishes, bell peppers (but only the colorful ones), asparagus, oh, how could you ask me such a question????
Thank you Sharon for a great interview!
We have leaned so much from Sharon over the years, we think it's only right to pass her wonderful and inspiring knowledge on to one of you! Which is why we are giving away one copy of the Sharon Lovejoy book of your choice and a lovely ceramic Toad House for the garden too!
For a chance to win a copy of the Sharon Lovejoy book of your choice and a ceramic Toad House, simply leave a comment on this post by 8am MST Thursday May 31st . The winner will be chosen by random number and announced later that day.
Good luck everyone!
*Last time in Books and Stories: Story Hunting