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Lily's Victory Garden Review by Susan K. Marlow

Helen L. Wilbur
IllustratorRobert Gantt Steele
Sleeping Bear Press
310 North Main St., Ste 300
Chelsea, MI 48118

When I receive a book to review from Sleeping Bear Press, I always get excited. I've especially enjoyed their Tales of Young Americans series, and Lily's Victory Garden, set during World War II, is another excellent addition to that series. The illustrations by Robert Gantt Steele are exceptionally well done and give readers a realistic picture of the times.

Young Lily loves gardening. She lives in a small apartment and has only a window box for her flowers. When she learns the community is offering "Victory Garden" plots to help the war effort at home, she quickly lines up to apply. She is disappointed to learn she is not old enough to get a plot in town, but this news does not stop Lily from pursuing her dream of growing a Victory Garden. She remembers the large Bishop place, where a family who has lost a son in the war lives. The Bishop's old garden lies fallow. Mr. Bishop gives Lily grudging permission to grow a garden, so long as she never bothers the heart-broken Mrs. Bishop, who rarely leaves the house.

Lily's Victory Garden is a "victory" in more ways then she ever expected. Through Lily's hard work and diligence, the garden springs to life. Then Lily discovers little surprises: a straw hat left out for her, the garden watered, and the sudden appearance of Mrs. Bishop, whose heart has begun to spring back to life as well.

This 32-page, full-color, hardcover book is a wonderful read for ages 4-10. It dovetails nicely with a study of World War II, and it emphasizes what Americans of all ages were called upon to do in order to help the war effort. Victory Gardens grew nearly 50% of all the vegetables consumed by civilians in the U.S. during that time. I learned this on the two-page spread at the end of the book, which gives interesting tidbits about "World War II and the Home Front," along with an old photograph of a real family and their Victory Garden harvest. I love it when historical fiction books give me a "peek into the past."

An added bonus, and one I appreciate as a homeschooling parent, is the free "Teacher Guide" that Sleeping Bear Press provides on their website. The pdf download for Lily's Victory Garden includes 24 pages of creative enrichment activities for varying age levels. Playing a rationing game, graphing vegetables in a garden, creating a timeline, and growing seeds for a mini "Victory Garden" help children get a sense of what the book is all about. These are great activities for a unit study on the American home front during the war.

I highly recommend this delightful book and the curriculum activities for your homeschool. I would also recommend checking out the other titles from the Tales of Young Americans series.

Product review by Susan K. Marlow, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2010