I have great respect for the award-winning author and educator Esmé Raji Codell (I especially loved her book Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year) so I had high expectations for Seed by Seed. Fortunately I was not disappointed!
Codell went to great lengths to find out and specify which parts of the Johnny Appleseed story are legend; fact; or “stories we’re not sure are true.”
What we do know, Codell writes, is:
“…that by doing the same small act of planting seeds every day, Johnny Appleseed changed the landscape of our nation. Seed by seed, deed by deed.”
She organizes his story around five precepts taken from the way Chapman lived:
Use what you have
Share what you have
Try to make peace when there is war
You can reach your destination by taking small steps
For each precept, she includes illustrative episodes from John Chapman’s life.
At the end of the book, Codell suggests that readers make a “Johnny Appleseed pledge”:
“Similar to a New Year’s resolution, this is a promise to do one small deed every day that can change our country for the better.”
She also provides a recipe for apple pie, and the lyrics to “the Johnny Appleseed song,” based on a traditional hymn by Emanuel Swedenborg, the theologian who influenced Chapman:
“Oh, the Lord is good to me,
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun and the rain and the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me! Amen!
[Codell adds that “you can replace ‘Lord’ with ‘World’ or ‘Earth,’ to taste.]
Evaluation: Not only is the story consistently interesting, but the messages for kids are great. I love the way too that Codell is teaching kids to interrogate myths and to use care when interpreting stories. The excellent illustrations by Lynne Rae Perkins reflect her efforts to make the pictures as accurate as possible without sacrificing aesthetic appeal. Highly recommended for all ages!
Published by Greenwillow Books, and imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2012