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.”
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.