When I was growing up, both sets of my grandparents were gardeners. I enjoyed listening to my grandfathers compare their respective gardens during the summer and especially enjoyed grabbing a fresh tomato or two off the vine and eating it on the walk back to my granddaddy's house. Both grandfathers really seemed to cherish their land, the food that they were able to grow and the time they were able to spend in their gardens. So naturally, when I had the space of my own, I started gardening myself. However, I wish that I had read The Veggie Patch Bandits by Riya Aarini before I started gardening, because it may have saved me some headaches.

In this cute picture book illustrated by Maria Andrieieva, Mr. Bagban has grown an amazing garden that he is very proud of and cannot wait to start harvesting. However, there are a variety of unwelcome bandits that keep coming into his garden and eating his fruit, vegetables and even his flowers. Full of frustration, Mr. Bagban comes up with idea after idea of different ways to keep these bandits out of his garden. With each barrier that he builds, somehow, some way, these pesky animals keep getting into and destroying his garden. The experience is so disheartening to our main character (and I don't blame him), that he doesn't even want to plant a new garden the next year. Finally, the animal bandits sort of feel bad and give Mr. Bagban a peace offering, which inspires him to come up with a plan to make everyone happy and with full bellies. It is a plan I wish would work for my backyard, but to find out what that is, you'll have to read the book yourself.

Riya Aarini, an Illinois author, released The Veggie Patch Bandits last year, but she has written other books, and you can find out more at riyapresents.com.

Another nice read about gardening is The Ugly Vegetables, written and illustrated by Grace Lin. In this story, a young girl and her mother are planting their garden, just like the rest of the neighborhood. However, as things start to grow and bloom, the young girl notices that at their house they are not growing beautiful flowers like the neighbors, but rather vegetables that the girl decides are "ugly." Her mother tries to explain to her that the food that they are growing are vegetables traditional to China, but that doesn't ease the young girl's apprehension about feeling different. However, once mom makes a dish with the "ugly vegetables" and the neighbors get a whiff of the tasty aroma, the girl's thoughts start to change. Although this book is about gardening, it also teaches a nice lesson about appreciating differences.

Gardening is a great family activity, and whether you are just starting out or you've been growing food and flowers for a long time, these books are great titles to read with your kids to start to develop their green thumb.

Deane Metzke is a literacy coach at a Springfield elementary school and mom of two. For more children's book recommendations, follower her on Twitter @DMetzke or visit her blog at http://raisingreaders.site.

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