Growing readers in the Irving Bookworm Garden

A book-themed garden at a local elementary school? We can dig it!

Since spring 2019, the Bookworm Garden at Irving Elementary School has been growing pollinator-friendly flowers, fruits, and veggies.

And with a different children’s book featured in each raised bed, this garden also nurtures a lifelong love of reading in the students who work in and visit it.

“Our hope is that each bed will inspire families to go to the library to check out the books,” says Denise Frank, co-chair of Irving’s Garden Club and parent volunteer. “We have also stocked each book in Irving’s library, so that every kid at Irving will have easy access to the books.”

Irving Bookworm Garden beds each feature a different book. Here grows Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham.

Basil, butterflies & books

Nestled among the hollyhock and dill, cabbage and catmint, pumpkin, kale, and tomatoes, are laminated book cover images, plus short summaries and recommended age ranges.

The garden was inspired by one that Frank visited with her family while on vacation in Wisconsin one year.

When she got back, she reached out to Irving teacher-librarian Katie Noonan and children’s librarians at Oak Park Public Library for recommendations for garden-themed books.

“Our goal is to have books for all ages represented in the beds,” Frank says.

This bed offers Ojiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki.
In late June 2022, we watched this black swallowtail butterfly flit between an abundance of dill and catmint.

‘A variety of perspectives, persons, lifestyles, and cultures’

For the past few years, the librarians at Oak Park Public Library “have been instrumental in helping select our books,” Frank says.

“When we were looking for books representing a variety of perspectives, persons, lifestyles, and cultures, the librarians were able to offer up suggestions.”

Books like A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, which Frank says they discovered at the library’s table at Oak Park and River Forest High School’s Japan Fest.

“It aligned with the fourth grade curriculum on the Japanese internment camps. Our teacher, Ms. Heidloff, plants this bed with her kids each year.”

Other titles that were curated by the library include Backyard Fairies, The Tea Dragon Society (“which is planted in our tea garden bed and is a very cool, graphic novel series”), and Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, a young-readers biography of an urban gardening pioneer whose farm you can visit in Milwaukee.

‘Connectedness and coming together’

This spring, Irving Garden Club Co-Chair Alix Strunk reached out to the library for another suggestion.

Children’s Librarian Shelley Harris and Early Childhood Community Engagement Coordinator Jenny Jackson recommended several books, and the one that made the final planting was Dumplings for Lili.

Oak Park librarians suggested Dumplings for Lili for the garden this spring. The Irving Garden Club includes a QR code so families can find a video of the author making the dumplings in the book.

“This book does not take place in a garden,” Harris said. “However, it does display beautiful examples of connectedness and coming together. And there is a big potluck outdoors at the end.”

Strunk points out two other things she loves about Dumplings for Lili: “The author includes her recipe for dumplings in the book, and she even has a video of her making the dumplings,” she says.

“With our garden signs, we provide a QR code to enable multimedia access so our families can enjoy the book and garden on multiple levels.”

We love Book Bike visits!

The library Book Bike visited the Bookworm Garden this past May, when the Garden Club was planting and preparing the beds for the season.

The library’s Book Bike visited in May 2022, as the Irving Garden Club prepared and planted the beds for the season. Photo by Tina Harle Photography.

These Book Bike visits in spring and fall are some of the most well-attended Garden Club events, Frank says.

“Thank you so much for having an incredible team that does such amazing work,” she says. “We are grateful to have this cornerstone of our community so willing to engage and partner with us!”

Irving Garden Club planting the Backyard Fairies bed in May 2022. Photo by Tina Harle Photography.