science, social-emotional, spotlight

Spotlight – Gardens Are For Growing/Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

Gardens Are For Growing (Familus)
Written by Chelsea Tornetto
Illustrated by Hsulynn Pang

For ages: 5-8
This will be a tearjerker for those adults reading it to their little ones. The pictures tell us about a father teaching his daughter about gardening in their backyard. Through the images, each step shows how the garden starts small and blooms into a lush, sprawling growth. However, the little girl is also growing, and we can count the measure of time by watching her and the plants. The father as well, a little gray in his red hair until it’s all white. That’s when the daughter visits home with her spouse and their child, the man’s granddaughter. 

I suspect authors write these sorts of children’s books with child and parent in mind. In the same way Toy Story 3 speaks to the parents of children moving into adulthood, so does Gardens Are For Growing. Life moves faster than we want to admit; when you sit and look back, you realize how quickly it can be overwhelming. So while all children will delight in the beautiful illustrations by Hsulynn Pang, the more aware of them will key in on those more significant concepts, the precious nature of the short times we are given, how we grow the future, and it continues on and on. 


1. For a personal narrative, have students draft and compose a piece on a family member/friend they spend time with. They should write about their activities and why they like doing it with this person.

2. Using family photographs, students could make a “Family Garden” poster/slideshow showing how their family has grown over the years, starting with the oldest photo they have up to the most recent. 

3. If you are in a classroom, growing a small crop of plants is manageable and goes along with the book. However, if you are a parent reading this at home, starting a garden in your backyard or community has many benefits, especially right now, as inflation is driving up produce costs and dropping quality in the stores.

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain (Little Pickle Press)
Written by JoAnn Deak Ph.D
Illustrated by Sarah Ackerley

For ages: 4-8
There isn’t a more critical part of your body than your brain, and it’s never too early for children to begin learning about how their brain works. Author Joann Deak, PhD., can communicate complex information in simple, easy-to-understand terms. This is aided by Sarah Ackerly’s fun cartoonish illustrations, which provide plenty of models of the brain with labels helping us understand what and where these pieces of our brain are. In my own experiences in the classroom, a well-made non-fiction book can grasp students’ imaginations and teach them concepts that won’t work with drier material.

I appreciated how this book conveyed two core brain functions – a way to keep your body working and a place to hold your mind. This means the book can talk both about physical & mental health. Students will learn about the parts of the brain, and their functions, such as how emotions come from the amygdala and our prefrontal cortex helps with decision-making. Because this deceptively simple text holds so much information, it will provide excellent opportunities for jumpstarting writing and creating fun projects to teach others about the brain.


1. Parts of the brain movement quiz. Make sure to have an anchor chart in the room if you do not have copies of the text for every student. Quiz them by naming a part of the brain and having them do a corresponding action. If I said “amygdala,” I would look for students to model emotions. If I said “cerebellum,” I would want to see students moving. This sort of activity gets their bodies working and their brains as well.

2. A day in the life of my brain writing exercise. Have students write about a typical day in their life, except they need to write it from the perspective of their brain. When they describe an activity, they should talk about the part of the brain that is active when it’s done. 

3. Make a model of a human brain. Have students make a model of the brain from whatever materials they choose. The only criteria are that it has to have the parts listed in the text, and there must be labels of some kind. This type of activity will appeal to your artistic and crafty students.

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