María Acevedo-Aquino, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, San Antonio, TX and Dorea Kleker, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Recently we witnessed the largest global climate strike in history. With more than 2,500 events in over 163 countries on all seven continents, there have been estimates of up to 4 million participants worldwide. The massive numbers are inspiring. The fact that youth were at the center of planning and organizing these events gives hope in a time when things often feel hopeless. With the future of our planet at the forefront of discussions, debates and protests, María Acevedo and Dorea Kleker discuss five books this month for our youngest citizens that are smaller but no less important; and they examine ways that children can make both local and global connections to the earth and act in ways that support their families, communities and the planet.
MARIA: It is your birthday and you wanted a robot dog, a drone or a remote control car, but your grandma surprised you with a lemon tree. According to Lola, you need to act surprised and say thank you. You cannot drop the lemon tree off a bridge and you certainly cannot play ding dong ditch with the tree. Instead, you need to water your lemon tree, protect it from the cold weather and wait until it grows green and strong. Until it grows lemons that you can make into a lemonade, which you can sell to buy, guess what? More trees! Trees that you can plant, care for, and share with others.
When I think about gardening, I often imagine one individual caring for plants. My mind does not automatically imagine a collective experience. However, all these books view gardening as an opportunity for growing not only plants but relationships and community. For example, the lemon tree brings Lola and her grandmother closer, and encourages Lola to play with other children in the neighborhood. For the first time, the children put down their phones and headphones to notice the sounds, smells, colors, and potential friends in the garden.
DOREA: During my first read of this book, I was so caught up in chuckling out loud at Lola’s transformation from hatred to fierce protection of her unexpected birthday present, I didn’t notice the strong presence of technology throughout the story. It was through a subsequent reading and more careful observations of the illustrations that I saw all the many parallels to the frustrations I often overhear parents and teachers sharing as they struggle to shift children’s attention away from technology. This story suggests that perhaps it isn’t a strong enough deterrent to simply be exposed to nature. It is only when Lola feels responsible for her small plant’s survival that she begins to pay close attention and take action in order to adapt her care as the seasons change. I wonder how we might use stories like these to help students think about what taking action can look like in different environmental contexts.
MARIA: I keep thinking about your distinction between being exposed to versus feeling responsible for and I wonder how we can support children in feeling responsible for the seeds and plants around them. I also wonder how we can help them see the connections or perhaps the contributions they make to the larger society when they take care of their seeds and lemon trees. I think it is easy to oversee or ignore the larger consequences of small actions, particularly when one’s life does not seem to be directly affected on a daily basis. I appreciate that the grandmother encouraged the child to care, and to assume responsibilities for the tree, herself and for the kids in the neighborhood.
Title: When Grandma Gives you a Lemon Tree
Author: Jamie L.B. Deenihan
Illustrator: Lorraine Rocha
Publisher: March 5, 2019
Date Published: Sterling Publishing
Throughout October 2019, María and Dorea give their take on books focused on youth taking action. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!