Grow by Juanita Havill

I admit that I haven’t read a lot of verse novels, but I do enjoy the ones that I have read.  Verse novels always seem slightly deeper than prose novels- maybe it’s the white space on the page that seems to leave more room for thinking.  Or the line breaks that allow you to breathe.

Grow is a beautiful story about a young girl, a retired special ed. teacher, and an urban community garden.  Berneetha is big.  She is round.  And Kate hears how the neighbors comment on her size and weight.  But when Berneetha plants a garden on an empty lot, the neighborhood is slowly brought together.  From Harlan, whose father is less of a father and more of bully, to Hank, the war veteran, the neighborhood and the garden slowly become one.

This is a great book for reluctant readers.  It’s about 120 pages long, so kids won’t think it’s a “baby book”.  But the line breaks and white space leave enough room for struggling readers to breathe.  And while the story is neat and simple on the surface, there is much room for deeper, more critical thinking.  Every character introduced in the story has a background and that background is deep and powerful. This is a book many students will connect with, because everyone has been part of a neighborhood, whether in the city or a quiet suburb.

Stanislawa Kodman’s illustrations are also gorgeous!  The seeds, flowers, and other living things take on a life of their own in the sketches!