“Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt” by Kate Messner: an enchanting story your kids will love

It’s all about the soil, I tell my students each and every week.

This is a point beautifully told and illustrated in the book Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal. The publisher recommends the book up to grade three, but when I read the book aloud, the fifth graders were just as mesmerized as the second graders.

The book, narrated by a little girl, tells of how she and her Nana begin to work the garden as spring approaches. In the very first page, they stand looking at the dead plants in the garden boxes, amidst the snow.

She says, “Up in the garden, I stand and plan–my hands full of seeds and my head full of dreams.”

up in the garden at 12.43.31

The beautiful cover in its entirety

But she learns they can’t quite start yet.

Nana says, “Down in the dirt, things need to dry out and warm up.”

The tale unspools lyrically like a dream, but vividly like the garden Silas Neal illustrates. There are closeups of ladybugs and spiders, reliefs of the girl and her Nana walking home at night. There is one surprising page and if you pace and lilt the tone of your reading correctly, your listeners will gasp. 

The back of the book comes with Author’s Notes about beneficial insects and a list of further reading.

Description of the insects appear in the back. Illustrations of plants are labeled on the book’s inside covers. Get a copy today.

Christine Lai

Christine Lai is a UCCE Master Gardener who joined Enrich LA in 2016. She began gardening in California in 2013 when she removed her parents’ lawn and replaced it with water wise landscaping. Today, her interests have widened to include edible and native plant gardening. She keeps a worm bin and misses the open compost pile in her old home terribly.