As a children’s book author and a gardener, I’ve learned that cultivating a vegetable garden – or pumpkin patch – and writing a book are alike in many ways. Vegetable gardens don’t plant themselves. And books never write themselves! But how do you go from bare soil to a big orange pumpkin? From a blank page to a book?
Cultivating a garden and writing a book are two activities that have a lot more in common than you might think, as I discovered when I wrote Pumpkin Time!, a book about a little girl who grows pumpkins so she can invite all her friends to a pumpkin celebration come harvest time. Growing your own story is a good analogy for making both a garden and a book.
In the garden, you first prepare the soil and plant seeds. When your baby plants appear, you water them, mulch them, feed them, and encourage them to grow. Perhaps you get others to help with the weeding and watering, like my friend, pumpkin gardener Tim Donoghue. Then, when the time is right and the pumpkins are ripe…it’s harvest time!
Writing a book is much the same: First you have to prepare the groundwork (what/where/when/why), then you plant the seeds (start writing) and spread mulch (pondering and rewriting). Next comes watering and weeding (more editing and rewriting). Then the illustrations are created, with the help of artists like Doug Cushman, who drew the pictures for the book.
At the end of the gardening season we have a bountiful harvest – pumpkins to carve for Halloween Jack-o-lanterns or make into delicious pies for the Thanksgiving table. And when a book is published we get to read a story and share the story with our friends!
Here are some ideas to help you Grow Your Own Story on paper:
Ask yourself, who is your story about? What do your characters want or need? What’s stopping them from getting what they want? How will they get what they wants or needs?
Here’s an example from our book,Pumpkin Time!. Evy and Turkey want to invite their friends to a home-made harvest celebration. But the cupboards are bare! Evy and Turkey look at the calendar. They have six months to prepare their feast. Evy and Turkey plant pumpkin seeds. They water and weed. Oh, no! The snails are trying to eat the baby plants! Evy herds the snails away from the pumpkin. Turkey invites all their friends to the party and Evy bakes a big pumpkin pie for everyone to share. Sheep likes his with whipped cream. Yum!
Here’s some planting how-to’s to help you Grow Your Own Story in the garden:
- Miniature Jack Be Little pumpkins are a good variety choice. Select a spot in full sun with rich, well-drained soil. Be sure each vine has about 4 square feet of growing space.
- Wait until 2–3 weeks after the last spring frost date to plant seeds when the soil is warm. Plant 4–6 pumpkin seeds 1 inch deep in the middle of a small mound.
- When the plants are 2–3 inches tall, remove all but to 2 of the healthiest plants. Snip off the extra plants at the soil line with a small pair of scissors.
- Keep the soil moist by watering moderately, but try to avoid getting the leaves wet. Spread a layer of mulch around the base of the plants to help keep weeds down.
- Each plant will produce 8–10 miniature pumpkins that will be ready to harvest around 95 days after planting.
About the Authors:
Erzsi Deak is a member of the Educator Advisory Panel of Kidsgardening.org and a writer, an editor, and a literary agent at Hen&ink Literary Studio; she lives in the South of France. Doug Cushman is an author-illustrator of more than 100 books and a self-avowed foodie who lives in Brittany, France. Tim Donoghue is an artist and was on the stage in London and at the Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence, RI, for many years; when not gardening or in his art studio, Tim is writing a middle-grade novel at home in the Alpes of Haute Provence.
Portait photo by: Basil Glew-Galloway
All other photos provided by: Erzsi Deak