BookDragon Books for the Multi-Culti Reader

The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault

Good GardenMaría Luz’s family is in trouble. Their land in the hills of Honduras, which provides them with the corn and beans they need to live, has “lost its goodness.” In order for the family to survive, María Luz’s father must leave home and find work. He must make enough money to pay for next season’s seeds; otherwise, the family will be at the mercy of the coyote, the grain buyer who also makes exorbitant loans and then takes the land when poor farmers cannot make payments. While he is gone, Papa entrusts his daughter to “care for our land,” and plant the winter crops.

Three months have passed, and María Luz returns to school … and meets the new teacher. Don Pedro Morales knows quite a bit about the land, about how to “feed the soil and make it good again.” With his guidance, villagers learn  about composting to renew the soil, terracing to make flat surfaces that will keep plants from washing downhill, and planting marigolds – “the smiles of the soil” – as natural pest repellents.

By the time her father finally returns, María Luz’s garden is thriving. As her radishes grow, the coyotes come calling, offering too-low prices for her harvest. Again, Don Pedro intervenes, encouraging the villagers to go to the markets themselves to sell their bounty. Again, the families profit from their sales, but also save by buying their seeds directly from the merchants. With the help of one man’s vision, María Luz’s family and their fellow villagers break the cycle of abusive dependence on the coyotes.

Happy beginnings are that much more joyful when they turn out to be true stories. María Luz’s family is based on a real family that avoided a food crisis with the assistance of the real-life Don Pedro Morelos, a Honduran teacher named Don Elías Sanchez. For decades, Don Elías helped tens of thousands of families like María Luz’s to reclaim the land; he also taught poor farmers to invest in medicines and education for their children. Although he passed away in 2000, his legacy continues, led by Honduran agronomist Milton Flores.

Author Katie Smith Milway writes from personal experience, having coordinated community development programs in Latin American and Africa. Illustrator Sylvie Daigneault brings Milway’s vision to gorgeous life on overflowing full-page panels filled with uncertain fears, hopeful activity, and future promise.

The Good Garden is both visual testimony as well as a life-affirming story of humanity. Helping one family at a time can save a whole village and far beyond … that one action can and will multiply the bounty of the good garden again and again. And true stories like this prove that there’s hope yet for our human race …

Readers: Children, Middle Grade

Published: 2010