Sweet Pea Summer by Hazel Mitchell

Sweet Pea Summer

Hazel Mitchell, Author & Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Family, Gardening, Nature, Intergenerational relationships, Separation, Health 

Opening: “Mom had to go into the hospital, so Dad was taking me to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for summer vacation.”

Publisher’s Synopsis

A young girl must stay with her grandparents while her mother is in the hospital. At first, it’s hard at first to focus on anything but missing and worrying about her mom. But then Grandpa suggests that she help out in his garden. And what a garden it is! There are rows and rows of vegetables and all kinds of flowers, but the most beautiful of all are Grandpa’s sweet peas. Maybe, Grandpa suggests, she can take care of them over the summer and enter them into the flower show.

Nothing seems to go right with the sweet peas. No matter what she does, the flowers keep dying. Until finally, the mystery is solved—but will the sweet peas bloom in time for the show? If only her mother were there . . .

With warm, child-friendly illustrations and a simple narration, author-illustrator Hazel Mitchell tells a timeless story about holding on to hope in hard times and finding the strength and determination to see it through. A brief author’s note at the end offers a bit of history and a few details about sweet peas for aspiring gardeners.

What’s to love about this story

Hazel Mitchell has written and illustrated a book that is full of heart and joy. It is a timeless story about a girl finding hope during a challenging time in her life. Readers aren’t told what is wrong with her mother, so it leaves this story wide-open for discussion about short parent-child separations.  

The intergenerational relationship between the girl and her grandfather shines. He puts her in charge of the sweet pea garden and shows her how to remove old seedpods, tie stems to canes, weed and water the plants with his secret formula. The girl takes pride in her work.

When there is a problem with the sweet peas, it is the girl who researches gardening books, wraps the plants with blankets, and shades the plants from the sun with her Grandma’s umbrellas. When nothing makes a difference, she puts on her thinking cap and discovers why the blooms are fulling off and dying.

Mitchell’s warm and happy illustrations capture an English countryside with cottages surrounded by low stonewalls, friendly neighbors chatting, and children walking dogs. And grandpa’s garden is a wonder to behold for any child eager to help. Mitchell’s artwork is plump with details that kids will enjoy. This book is a perfect gift book and summer read.  

Resources: Encourage kids to help in the flower or vegetable garden, if you have one. If you don’t have a garden, pick out some flower pots and grow tomatoes plants or flowers, including sweet peas. Make sure they know all about what they are planting and put them in charge of watering and weeding.  At the end of the book, Mitchell includes a special note about Sweet Peas. 

Hazel Mitchell is the author-illustrator of Toby, as well as the illustrator of numerous books for children. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Maine.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.
*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.


Toby by Hazel Mitchell


Hazel Mitchell, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-6

Themes: Rescue Dogs, Boy, Animals, Moving

Opening: “Hey, bud! Can you help me unpack? Sure. Dad…could we get a dog?”

Synopsis: A boy and his father move into a new house. The boy convinces his father that they should get a dog. They visit a local animal rescue center and the boy immediately likes a dog named Toby.  Toby is shy and overwhelmed in his new home. He doesn’t want to play and eat his food. He hides under tables, curls up in a ball, and leaves some doggy puddles. Toby is having a difficult time adjusting. But the boy is patient, persistent and hopeful that Toby will settle into his new home.

Why I like this book:

Author-illustrator Hazel Mitchell’s heartwarming story about Toby will both tug at your heart and put a smile on your face. Toby is adorable even though he has a tough time adjusting to the boy and his new forever home. The boy really wants to connect with his new dog. He understands Toby better than anyone because he has moved into a new home and neighborhood. That’s why the boys wants to adopt a new best friend. I can’t think of a better match!

The boy narrates the story. The text is spare and reveals a kind-hearted and sensitive boy who eagerly wants to bond with Toby. The boy expresses so much tenderness towards Toby, even when he chews a pair of glasses and tramples his father’s garden. The ending is endearing.  Mitchell’s illustrations are rendered in soft pastels. They are expressive and lively. Make sure you check out the end pages in the book. They set the stage for the story and wrap it up quite nicely. Verdict: Toby is a winner! I can’t wait to give Toby to my great-grandson for Christmas! He loves dogs.

Resources: Make sure you read the author’s note at the end of the book about Mitchell’s own pet rescue experience with her white poodle — the real Toby — who inspired this book.  If you are interested in learning more about adopting a pet from a rescue shelter, visit your local shelter with your parents.

Hazel Mitchell has illustrated numerous books for children, including Imani’s Moon. Toby is her author-illustrator debut. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Maine with her husband and a brave rescue poodle named Toby, whose eight-day disappearance drew national attention when the story was shared across social media. Visit Hazel Mitchell on her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Book Fridays (PPBF) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.