The Children’s Book Review Interview with Chelsea Tornetto, author of Gardens Are For Growing
Chelsea Tornetto is a world geography teacher in Jackson, Missouri, and is the author of God Made You Too (Worthy 2022) and Conquering Content Vocabulary (Scholastic 2018). While she is a terrible gardener, her husband, Mike, has a green thumb, and she’s blessed to be able to watch him raise vegetables—and their two children—in their backyard garden all summer long.
Where did the seed of the idea for Gardens Are For Growing first blossom?
I was attending a writer’s retreat at the Highlights Foundation which is on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, surrounded by woods and fields and tons of natural beauty. As a writer, I tend to come up with titles first, and I’m always drawn to rhyme and alliteration. At some point, during that creative weekend, the words “gardens” and “growing” got stuck in my head. By the end of the weekend, I had my rough draft!
Since your husband is considered the green thumb in your home (it’s the same at my house), would it be safe to assume that the father teaching his daughter to garden in your book is him?
Yes! (Although Mike insists he won’t go bald like the dad in the story!) And the little girl is my daughter, Tessa, who’s not so little anymore! She’s 12.
Each spread shows the parallels between the stages of growth in a backyard garden and the stages of childhood. Will you share what readers can expect to take away from your book?
When I was querying agents, I pitched this book as an updated/garden version of the classic, “I’ll Love You Forever,” by Robert Munsch. So I hope readers really feel a sense of nostalgia and recognize the beauty of sharing common experiences across the generations.
I love the parallel drawn between nurturing a garden and watching it blossom to the importance of having a caring parent in a child’s life. Picture books are typically written with younger readers in mind—is it your hope that adults who read this book with the children in their lives will take just as much away from the message?
Absolutely! I think today’s parents are always under a lot of pressure to keep their kids constantly entertained and actively “make memories.” It’s an unrealistic and unnecessary pressure that we tend to put on ourselves. So, I hope parents who read my book are reminded that it’s the simple pleasures their children will remember—not the expensive vacations or gifts.
Many joyful moments and simple pleasures, such as running through sprinklers, are featured. Would you like to talk about why these kinds of special moments are important to you and the telling of this story?
(Ha! I wrote the previous answer before I read this question! Great minds, right?) I think I included so many of those “simple pleasures” because those are the things I remember from my own childhood! Parents, including myself, get so caught up in creating a perfect childhood for their kids, but usually, the moments that stick with us the longest aren’t the ones that are carefully planned and choreographed. They’re the ones that happen naturally in places like gardens—where we can get a little dirty and truly be ourselves.
I find the lovely watercolor artwork by Hsulynn Pang to be very sweet, joyful, and heartwarming. What did you feel when you first saw the pictures created?
Oh goodness, I love the illustrations! For me, picture book illustrations are more about the overall feeling they create, rather than specific details, and I think Hsulynn captured that feeling of nostalgia and simplicity perfectly! When I look at the pictures, I can feel the sunshine on my face!
Do you have a favorite spread?
Well, from a layout and design perspective, I love the way the line “…gardens are for growing” is always a full spread, and with each one, you can see how the garden has grown over the years and seasons. But if I’m honest, my favorite spread is the one with the porch swing! I LOVE sitting on a porch swing on a cool, quiet evening with someone I love.
You are a self-pronounced terrible gardener. Why do you think this is a label you’ve given yourself?
I think something I struggle with as both a gardener and just in life, is that I’m always in a bit of a hurry. When you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to miss the little things… like a colony of ants invading a certain plant or bottom leaves that look a bit dry. And those kinds of details are how nature communicates with us! I need to learn to slow down and be more attentive—not just in the garden, but in my classroom, with my kids, and in other everyday moments. I’m working on it!
Is there a place in your garden that feels the most special to you?
Did I mention how much I love my porch swing? 😉
Before we finish up, is there anything else you think we should know about Gardens Are For Growing, your writing, or yourself?
I am a teacher at heart! Something I’ve found that brings me lots of joy and satisfaction on my writing journey is providing picture book critiques and coaching to fellow authors. If you are a writer looking for some encouraging but constructive feedback, I’d love to help! My website has more information: www.chelseatornetto.com.
Gardens Are For Growing
Written by Chelsea Tornetto
Illustrated by Hsulynn Pang
Familius Publishing | ISBN-13: 9781641706469
In this tender poem, the love between a father and daughter blossoms alongside the seeds they plant together. As the garden grows, the daughter grows from a toddler to a teen and finally to a woman with a child of her own. The cottagecore illustrations beautifully connect the seasons of nature with the seasons of life, where new beginnings abound.
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This interview—Chelsea Tornetto Discusses Gardens Are For Growing—was conducted between Chelsea Tornetto and Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Backyard Books, Books with Life Lessons, Fathers, Gardening, and Picture Book.