Jo MacDonald Had a Garden

By Mary Quattlebaum
Illustrations by Laura J. Bryant

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Jo MacDonald, Old MacDonald’s granddaughter, has her very own garden! In their book Jo MacDonald Had a Garden, Author Mary Quattlebaum and illustrator Laura J. Bryant put a new spin on the familiar song “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and provide a playful introduction to an innovative type of gardening. No cows or sheep here: Jo’s garden embraces the wider community of wild and domesticated plants and animals that can live in a garden.

In this version of the song, Old MacDonald is, well, old. He’s tired and busy with his own farm, but he helps with Jo’s garden, too. It’s clear that Jo is in charge, though, and she’s doing things her way. She plants the familiar lettuce, squash, radishes, and tomatoes, but she also plants native plants, including coneflowers and viburnum, and she welcomes the wild animals that visit her garden, too.

Native plants, for those not already familiar with them, are plants that have lived in a particular place for many thousands of years and are well-integrated into the ecological community. They thrive in the local soil and climate, and they also provide food and shelter for a variety of beautiful insects, birds, and other fascinating creatures. While these plants and animals do not get much attention in the text, the pictures and back matter make it clear that they are as vibrant and vital a part of the garden as the more familiar edible crops Jo grows.

Jo provides food and a lovely habitat for people, too. Jo and her cousin, Mike, harvest vegetables and share a meal made from food they grew while Old MacDonald naps in the shade. Even when Jo and Mike are hard at work digging, planting, and observing the garden, they are clearly having fun. Rain or shine, the garden is depicted as a welcoming place children will want to explore.

The language in Jo MacDonald Had a Garden is simple, repetitious, and familiar; it will appeal equally to kindergarten through second graders. As a read-aloud book in a mixed-age classroom or during family reading time, Jo MacDonald Had a Garden will work well. It will also be a fine addition to a reading unit about school or home gardens and farms.

The back matter provides some information about the various insects and plants shown in the book, including how they are useful in the garden and in the wild. A search for plants and creatures, as well as additional questions provided in the back of the book, encourage children to examine the details of the story.

Although the images in this story provide more detail than the text, both come together as a simple, pleasant book that both girls and boys are likely to enjoy. In a world where many children rarely encounter worms, this book is a good way to show how much fun being outside and getting dirty can be.

Additional resources

  • Jo MacDonald GardenTitle: Jo MacDonald Had a Garden
  • Authors: Mary Quattlebaum
  • Illustrator: Laura J. Bryant
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications
  • Reviewer: Lisa Kahn Schnell
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-165-5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, nature, science

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