MTYT: Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden

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.

MTYT Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden

DOREA: Sometimes plain old dirt balls are filled with surprises and sometimes people and places are too. When Vincent finds himself unexpectedly spending the summer at his beloved Aunt Mimi’s house, he isn’t convinced his summer in this gray concrete neighborhood will be much fun.

A mysterious box of dirt balls given to Mimi by a friend puzzles them both. When Vincent sees a neighborhood boy throwing a ball against a brick wall, he uses the dirt balls–and an invitation to throw them into a vacant dirt lot–as a way to introduce himself. A friendship quickly forms built on Vincent and Toma’s shared love of comics and ice cream. It isn’t long before summer rains reveal that the dirt balls were full of seeds and a garden full of surprises begins to sprout.

María, as you pointed out, all of our books show the ways that caring for seeds, plants, trees and gardens grow relationships and create community. What this book also made me think about are the ways that these acts of care provide opportunities from which rich and diverse bodies of knowledge and expertise are revealed. The grouchy looking neighbor on the upstairs balcony–or “Mr. Grumpypants” as Vincent and Toma call him–turns out to be an expert on plants. Without the garden to care for, he would have remained a grouchy old man to be avoided. Instead, he becomes a mentor, a rich source of knowledge about the plants that are sprouting and the best way to care for them.

MARIA: For me, this book was about surprises: dirt balls holding seeds waiting to be planted; a forgotten concrete lot growing crimson clover, snapdragon, poppy, lemon mint, black–eyed Susan, and even some milkweed; a grumpy Mr. Grumpypants, who isn’t so grumpy after all, teaching the children about gardens and flowers; an ordinary summer day developing into an inquisitive summer around the question of what else can we grow? A gray neighborhood (did you notice how the colors change throughout the story?) journeying into a rainbow of possibilities.

DOREA: Each of our five books this month look at the every–day ways children interact with and care for the Earth. Through this care taking children develop community, make new connections and strengthen relationships with friends, family and their local environments. They begin to understand that each of these is connected, that each action ripples outward in ways (both positive and negative) that are not always visible at first glance. It can take days, months, years, and even lifetimes for the effects to be felt. I find myself thinking about the way nature is often positioned or talked about as a “gift,” the beauty of a sunrise, the sound of waves crashing on a beach, the sweet taste of a freshly picked piece of fruit. What if we started talking to and teaching our youngest learners about being reciprocal gift givers? Where might that lead them, their communities and our Earth?

Title: Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden
Author: Andrew Larsen
Illustrator: Anne Villeneuve
ISBN: 9781771389174
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Date Published: May 7, 2019

Throughout October 2019, María and Dorea give their take on books focused on youth taking action. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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