If You Plant a Seed

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
If You Plant a Seed Book Poster Image
Garden critters offer relatable lesson on kindness, sharing.

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Kids say

age 17+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lessons about seeds and gardening. Shows the value of consulting books to get information.

Positive Messages

Core message about how being kind and cooperative and sharing benefits everyone. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The animals are patient, waiting for their seeds to grow. The mouse shares. The birds help the other animals by spreading seeds when they're in flight. The animals are happier when cooperating. The rabbit is pictured reading a gardening book, modeling reading.

Violence & Scariness

The animals hurl vegetables, and the rabbit sticks out his tongue.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that If You Plant a Seed, by multi-award winner and New Yorker cover artist Kadir Nelson (Baby Bear), has bright, bold illustrations and very little text, perfect for preschoolers. In Nelson's skilled hands, the lesson -- kindness trumps hoarding, yielding benefits for all -- isn't preachy or pat and is delivered in a simple story kids will understand. A rabbit and a mouse plant seeds that grow into food but don't want to share with the birds. A nasty skirmish ensues, and all the animals end up covered in smashed tomato bits, looking spent and unhappy. When the mouse offers the birds a tomato, planting "a seed of kindness," the birds take flight and sow the land with seeds, proving "the fruits of kindness" to be "very, very sweet."

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What's the story?

A rabbit and a mouse plant seeds, and "in time, with love and care," the seeds grow into vegetables. The animals gleefully enjoy their harvest until some birds show up. But the rabbit and mouse don't want to share, planting "a seed of selfishness," which leads to a squawking match and food fight. The mouse then offers the birds a tomato, planting a "seed of kindness," and the birds respond with a kindness of their own -- spreading more seeds as they fly. In the end, the animals enjoy the sweet fruits of cooperation.

Is it any good?

IF YOU PLANT A SEED is a masterful introduction to lessons about kindness, sharing, and cooperation. Animal characters make the lesson fun, and kids will recognize their own playground squabbles and reluctance to share in the conflict between the animals. Author-illustrator Kadir Nelson lets the richly expressive pictures tell much of the story. In a spread with no text, birds stare challengingly out at the reader; the food fight is busily chaotic; and in the aftermath of the fight, all the animals look subdued and reflective, creating a meaningful turning point.

The spare text also is choice. When the animals refuse to share, they're planting "a seed of selfishness." When the mouse offers the birds a tomato as truce, it's "a seed of kindness." The gardening metaphor is set up beautifully and pays off with a happy harvest at the end.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about sharing. Do you always feel like sharing? How do you feel when other kids don't share with you? Have you ever started a fight and felt bad afterward?

  • How is planting actual seeds like planting seeds of kindness? Why do you think the author compared them?

  • How do real birds spread seeds? 

Book details

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