The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton

Values: Imagination, Community, Determination and Patience.

The Extraordinary Gardener is an uplifting, beautiful book about the power of imagination, the merits of determination and the importance of creativity. It was shortlisted for the Klaus Flugge Prize (2019) and longlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal (2019). Both highly-acclaimed book awards and I'm not surprised it featured on their lists.

This book is suitable for children from Early Years and could be used throughout primary school to varying degrees of complexity. It could be used as a starting point for Values of Community, Friendship, Imagination, Curiosity or Hope. It could also be used as a stimulus for Earth Day or National Plant A Flower Day! There are lots of cross-curricular links that you can make too, but this blog entry focuses on Values and how the book could be used in classes, with individuals or in assemblies.

The story is about a little boy called Joe who dreams of a world where plants and animals are free to grow wildly and freely. One day, Joe has the idea to plant an apple seed. He patiently waits and waits for it to sprout, but nothing appears to be happening. Joe goes back to reading and dreaming. Suddenly though, Joe catches a glimpse of something - a beautiful plant has grown! Joe cares for it and soon begins planting all kinds of seeds. As the plants grow, so does his neighbours' curiosity and joy. Joe notices this and begins giving people plants as presents; this transforms the community and the whole environment brightens as a result. It is a beautifully-illustrated book that would inspire much artwork in itself.

The first Value you could focus on is Imagination. (Not many schools have Imagination as a Value, but I believe it is as important as Respect, Kindness, Compassion, Pride, Empathy etc.) The book begins with showing the block of flats where Joe is living. The reader will instantly notice that Sam Boughton has shown a very grey environment where the people in their flats are either completing household jobs or are sitting doing sedentary activities such as watching television. Apart from Joe, who is a little pocket of colour on the page, as his imagination helps him create a world of colour, vibrancy and animals/plants (some of which are fantastical). Throughout the book, as Joe grows his plants and begins spreading happiness, the colour and vibrancy fills each page. This is reflecting in the people's behaviour and facial expressions. The book is a wonderful example of how the power of imagination can spark ideas that go on to change other people's lives. Asking children if they know anybody who has had an idea that has changed other people's lives for the better can be a really powerful discussion and could link to various topics. It could also be a good way of talking about the healing and mental-wellbeing power of plants!

Secondly, I think this book is a really good example of the Values of Patience and Determination for younger children. Joe has to wait and wait for his apple seed to grow. Once it has grown, he has to carefully tend to it and learn about how to best look after plants. It goes without saying that an activity that goes alongside this book is planting seeds. Teaching the Values of patience and determination will really be brought to life this way. A really fun activity I did with Years 3 and 4 (a mixed class) last year was giving them all a pot, some soil and a seed and telling them they had eight weeks to grow a plant. I didn't tell them how to do this; they needed to use their knowledge of plants from KS1. They took the responsibility of caring for their plant (watering, moving its position, comparing plants and asking each other for advice, singing to it...!) very seriously and it was one of the best activities I have done for teaching these two Values.

Thirdly, I would talk to children about the Value of Community. It can be tricky to find books that show the power of a community coming together and learning from / benefiting from each other. The kindness Joe shows his community appears to have the effect of bringing people out of their flats and into the open air. It appears to have the impact of people talking to each other more, and waving to each other from their balconies. Asking the children why communities (home, school, clubs) are important is interesting. I would guess most humans crave a sense of belonging, and children develop their understanding of this as they learn about navigating friendships and social scenarios. What makes a community? What makes a global community? Can one person pull a community together? There are lots of Philosophy 4 Children style questions that can be explored using the book as a starting point.

If you are looking for more curriculum ideas to explore using this book, I know Isobel Smith, a student at Oxford Brookes University, has made an amazing video based on her ideas for a reading corner display and you can find it here. Her video is supplemented by really detailed planning that she has created and can be found on Mat Tobin's padlet (an extraordinary resource that I go to all the time!).

If you want to buy your own copy of the book, try a local bookshop. Jon Biddle has created a map of independent booksellers that you can find on his blog. You can follow the author/illustrator on Twitter - @Samillustrates. You can click on these hashtags to find books on the blog that focus on the same Values: