First Garden: The White House Garden and How it Grew by Robbin Gourley artfully combines history, illustrations, and recipes into one delightful picture book.
Gourley begins the book detailing the origins of the White House garden by introducing readers to John Adams. He stands next to the White House carrying carrots and beets with one of his quotes framing the page. Gourley’s lush, almost watercolor, style draws the reader in and helps depoliticize the figures she is portraying. Gourley includes figures from across time and political persuasion. We see Reagan, learn about Jacqueline Kennedy, and children of presidents ranging from Tad Lincoln to Amy Carter.
After framing the history and developments of the White House garden, the book focuses on Mrs. Obama’s excitement at expanding the White House garden and growing fresh produce. The illustrations portray her with a spade planting chard next to elementary students she invited to help plant the garden. Then we see President Obama restraining Bo from digging in the garden and learn about his distaste for beets. Such images remind readers of the humanity and accessibility of the first family.
The book details the meals prepared from the produce grown from the White House garden. There is even a huge table with diverse diplomats enjoying the fresh. At the end, Gourley demonstrates that every family can grow a garden and outlines the advantages of gardens, like producing healthy foods and the conserving of energy.
Gourley’s book is a great read from an aesthetic point of view, but it also contains a lot more. From this story, one learns about history, sustainability, and, of course, a lot of yummy recipes!