Grow: A Novel in Verse


Everything about Berneetha is big—her mouth, her size, and especially her dreams. And when Berneetha decides to create a community garden on a vacant lot, twelve-year-old Kate Sibley's just got to help make that dream a reality. At first the neighbors think Kate and Berneetha are crazy, but slowly they begin to come around. "Graffiti gangster" Harlan turns out to be pretty good with a rented tiller. Dr. Chitra Arockiasamy is willing to be in charge of tomatoes. Hank Glover would like to grow corn. And unsmiling ...
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Everything about Berneetha is big—her mouth, her size, and especially her dreams. And when Berneetha decides to create a community garden on a vacant lot, twelve-year-old Kate Sibley's just got to help make that dream a reality. At first the neighbors think Kate and Berneetha are crazy, but slowly they begin to come around. "Graffiti gangster" Harlan turns out to be pretty good with a rented tiller. Dr. Chitra Arockiasamy is willing to be in charge of tomatoes. Hank Glover would like to grow corn. And unsmiling Jacob Wasserman somehow manages to get some manure. Slowly, a community begins to grow, just as the garden does.

But just as the garden and Kate are both beginning to bloom, a sign goes up; a parking garage will be built on the lot. Can Kate and Berneetha and their friends keep the garden and the dream alive?

Award-winning author Juanita Havill's story of a community garden in an urban neighborhood and the mismatched people who carefully tend it is told through the eyes of an impressionable girl in a series of richly detailed prose poems. The result is an affecting, lasting portrait of community life and the power of shared commitment and hope.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Reminiscent of Paul Fleischman's Seedfolks, this novel in verse shows how an inner-city community garden brings neighbors together. A series of poems written from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl, Kate, traces the evolution of a littered vacant lot into the pride of the neighborhood. The transformation requires hard work, mostly from Berneetha, a retired teacher and dedicated gardener ("She's big./ She's round./ There's a lot of her" and she shows up to reclaim the plot "looking like the Fourth of July/ and it barely being May"). Others, touched by Barneetha's efforts, help, too, among them Harlan (at first Kate sees him as a "graffiti gangsta"), whose abusive father almost runs him down in his low-rider truck (and hits Berneetha's cat instead); Dr. Arockiasamy from the neighborhood clinic (" 'Call me Chitra,' she says,/ surprising me, but why?/ Did I think her first name was 'doctor'?"), and a firefighter who comes up with a solution when the land is designated to become a parking garage. While the trajectory of Havill's (Jamaica's Find) plot is familiar, the target audience will hear the freshness in Kate's voice as she delivers a message of hope and resilience. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 14.

Twelve-year-old Kate Sibley tells her what-I-did-last-summer story in a series of charming poems that capture the spirit of Berneetha, a larger-than-life adult friend and laid-off special education teacher, who decides to plant a community garden on a vacant urban lot. Berneetha involves Kate and Harlan, a "Graffiti gangster," to help her. Kate learns about social action, friendship, self-acceptance, and tolerance, as well as about plants, while the colorful, enthusiastic, and too-big Berneetha uses their garden to grow neighborhood unity, cooperation, and kindness among people of various ages, mental abilities, professions, economic means, and attitudes. By the end of the story, Harlan, betrayed by his abusive father and greatly missed by Kate, lives with his grandmother in Chicago; Berneetha's classroom receives renewed funding; and Kate starts the school year, looks forward to next summer's garden, and finds that Berneetha is her inspiration for writing poetry. Havill uses an appealing narrator to describe the neighborhood project and people. Whimsical illustrations, fast-moving narrative, and extensive white space make it a good choice for middle school female reluctant readers, but the story will appeal to motivated readers as well. Like the more sophisticated, multiview Seedfolks (HarperCollins, 1997), it drives home the importance of positive personal action in effecting community change. Reviewer: Lucy Schall
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)

School Library Journal

Gr 4-6- Crazy Berneetha believes that she can turn a garbage-strewn vacant lot into a garden and she exudes so much excitement that 12-year-old Kate joins her in her quest. Although the neighbors look askance at the project in the beginning, slowly they are drawn in-graffiti painter Harlan works the tiller, Dr. Arockiasamy from the clinic tends the tomatoes, grumpy Mr. Wasserman provides some manure, and the young Simpson brothers water the plants. As the garden grows, so do the friendships, but trouble lies ahead: the plot has been rezoned and will be turned into a parking garage. Although the neighbors join together, they are unsuccessful in their attempt to stop progress. Just when it looks like all is lost, firefighter Tony offers the empty lot next to the station and the whole community helps to transplant the flowers and vegetables. This short novel in verse is beautifully written with pleasing alliteration and flowing lines. Havill creates real characters with depth even though the text is minimal. Emotions ring true: readers feel Kate's anguish over the death of a cat as well as her exuberance when she realizes there's a solution to an overwhelming problem. The verse is filled with meaningful phrases ("...weeds can be anything, even beautiful flowers...") and is a joy to read. Whimsical line drawings add to the heartwarming story.-Anne Knickerbocker, formerly at Cedar Brook Elementary School, Houston, TX

Kirkus Reviews
With school out and time on her hands, Berneetha, a generous and colorful special-needs educator whose job was just cut, decides to take an unused plot of land and turn it into a community garden. Her enormous and enormously inviting spirit draws people together, including narrator Kate, a 12-year-old who appears to enjoy chocolate cake more than her mother likes, and Harlan, a stray-cat kind of boy. Eventually, the gardeners are told to get off the land, which is slated to be developed into an office tower. Mercifully, the author avoids a heavy, protracted courtroom battle, and the agreeable characters manage to relocate the garden, transplanting the flowers and vegetables-even Berneetha's deceased cat, buried in the garden by Kate and Harlan, is disinterred and reburied. Kodman's pencil illustrations add touches of whimsy and charm to the story, and designate it a work for a young audience. Much of the language is prosaic and structurally simple, punctuated by an occasional burst of poetic language. However, it's a nice read, and it would partner well with Paul Fleischman's much more challenging Seedfolks (1997). (Fiction/poetry. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781561455751
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, Ltd.
  • Publication date: 4/28/2011
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 1,461,282
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Juanita Havill
Juanita Havill and Anne Sibley O'Brien have collaborated on five previous stories about Jamaica and her friends. Ms. Havill lives in Cave Creek, Arizona, and Ms. O'Brien lives on Peaks Island, Maine.
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