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Diana’s White House Garden

Diana’s White House Garden
Written by Elisa Carbone and Illustrated by Jen Hill
Published by Viking in 2016
ISBN 978-0-670-01649-5
Grades PK – 6
Book Review
The year is 1943; America is at war and the inhabitants of the White House include President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his wife Eleanor, and a spunky ten year old girl – Diana Hopkins, daughter of Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s chief advisor. Drawing from Diana’s memories of her childhood, accomplished author Elisa Carbone offers a work of historical fiction that features the Victory Garden planted by Diana and Eleanor on the White House lawn. Diana’s desire to support the war efforts drives the plotline forward; she experiments with being a spy, creates propaganda posters, and even booby-traps the state rooms with straight pins on seat cushions. It’s a relief to all involved when Diana is offered a role as chief gardener and she dons a pair of coveralls. Jen Hill’s carefully researched illustrations depict a White House of a past era. With a wartime backdrop, the story focuses on citizen responsibilities, child initiative, and the value of growing your own food. A playful look at a serious time, this title offers an intriguing slice of history, one that is certain to sprout further inquiry.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom.
Duet Model:  First Gardens. Pair a reading of Diana’s White House Gardenwith Robin Gourley’s First Garden: The White House Garden and How it Grew, which features First Lady Michelle Obama’s garden. Encourage students to make connections across the two texts and to discuss the similarities and differences. What structures are used by the authors? What content is featured? How are the differences between the two texts related to differences in genre – one book is a work of historical fiction, the other is nonfiction. What content is included in each book? How does each book articulate a rationale for gardening? In each book, in what ways does the White House serve as a role model?  What historical differences are evident across the books? Be sure to read Jen Hill’s illustrator’s note and juxtapose the roles and representations of the African American experiences across these two time periods.
Gardens: A Text Set. Gather together a variety of picture book titles that feature gardens and gardening practices and invite students to consider different kinds of gardens and their purposes. Some titles to start with:  And the Good Brown Earth; Up, Down and Around; Planting the Wild Garden, and It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden; And Then It’s Spring; and City Green. Construct comparison charts to record student learning across the texts. If you have time, expand your text set to include different types of texts related to gardening, such as magazines, informational brochures, plant and seed catalogues, and nonfiction gardening books. Older students might be invited to consider the roles that gardens have played in classic and contemporary works of literature.
Victory Gardens. After reading Diana’s White House garden, use the online resources found below to learn more about Victory Gardens. Why and how were they established? What role did they serve? How were they promoted? Work with your local school or public librarian and/or your local historical society to find evidence of Victory Gardens in your own community. Share your findings with an audience by creating a presentation, class authored book, or poster display.
Garden Posters.Provide your students with the opportunity to view the historical posters that were created to promote Victory Gardens (links are included in the Further Explorations section below). Conduct a close reading of these posters. What kinds of visual and print information are included? What techniques of persuasion are used? What reasons are articulated to convince viewers to plant their own Victory Gardens? Work with your students to identify contemporary rationale for home and community gardens. Students can work in small groups to design posters featuring art and text for display around your community.
Gardens in Your Neighborhood. What kinds of gardens are found in your community? How were they created? Who do they serve? Who is responsible for gardening? Engage your students in an inquiry project to find the answer to these questions. Consider inviting a member of a local garden club, a local farmer, or a representative of the local Agricultural Society to visit your class or to video conference with you. Once a broad survey has been conducted, assign small groups to different gardens in the community and ask these groups to learn more about that particular garden. Collaborate to create a photo essay that presents the range of gardens in your community.
Grades 4 and Up
Author Study / Writing Historical Fiction. In her author’s note, Elisa Carbone makes it clear that a great deal of research is involved in writing historical fiction. She is the author both of novels and picture books. Use the resources below to learn more about Elisa Carbone’s writing process and engage your students in reading a broad selection of her books. Expand your exploration of the genre by reading the works of additional authors of historical fiction, such as Deborah Wiles, Deborah Hopkinson, Christopher Paul Curtis, Karen Hesse, Doreen Rappaport, Emily Arnold McCully and Rita Garcia Williams (for additional titles and authors use the Historical Fiction tag to search this blog). After learning more about the genre and the research processes of authors who write in this genre, invite your students to try writing a short work of historical fiction either individually or collaboratively.
Social Justice
Gardening and Healthy Food Choices. Read a collection of texts that make the connection between healthy eating and gardening, such as: The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough, The White House Garden and How it Grew, Watch Me Grow: A Down-to-Earth Look at Growing Food in the City, and It’s Our Garden. Ask students to keep track of the number of fresh fruits and vegetables that they are able to eat during a week. Chris Butterworth’s How Did That Get in My Lunchbox?: The Story of Food  is a good resource to support conversations about the sources of our food. Older students may be interested in reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat. For an even more in depth exploration, have students watch the trailer for the documentary film A Place at the Table: One Nation. Underfed and launch an inquiry into the problem of child hunger in our country. (This teaching idea originally appeared in the Classroom Bookshelf entry for It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden).
Representations of the African American Experience. Read Jen Hill’s Illustrator’s Note and discuss her decision to include visual representations of African Americans in service roles in the FDR White House. Engage your students in a discussion of an illustrator’s responsibility for accurately depicting a historical time period. Read the professional reviews of Diana’s White House Garden  found in  Kirkusand School Library Journal. How have these reviewers chosen to discuss the representations of diversity in this book?  Expand the discussion by sharing with students the recent controversies over the depiction of slavery in A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington. Invite your students to develop their own protocol for critiquing the representations of the African American Experience across different historical time periods in picture books ( or adapt the protocol developed by John Bickford and Cynthia Rich in Examining the Representation of Slavery Within Children’s Literature or Bickford’s recent article in the Journal of Children’s Literature co-authored with Lieren N. Schute: “Trade Books’ Historical Representation of the Black Freedom Movement, Slavery Through Civil Rights”). Extend this line of inquiry further by exploring online resources that describe the roles that African Americans have played in the White House, using the resource of the White House Historical Association as a starting point.
Further Explorations:
Online Resources
Author’s Website: Elisa Carbone
Illustrator’s Website: Jen Hill
White House Garden Video Tour
CNN: Inside the White House Garden: A Conversation with White House Chef Sam Kass
White House Vegetable Gardens
Smithsonian Institution: Grow Your Own Victory Garden
Smithsonian Victory Garden
The National World War II Museum: Victory Gardens at a Glance
The National World War II Museum: Food on the Home Front
Strawberry Banke Museum: World War II Victory Garden
History.Com: America’s Patriotic Victory Gardens
White House Historical Society: African Americans in the White House Timeline
Cultural Tourism DC: A Brief History of African Americans in Washington DC
Examining the Representation of Slavery Within Children’s Literature
American Community Gardening Association
Trailer: Documentary: A Place at the Table
Local Harvest
The Sustainable Table
The Edible Schoolyard
Farm to School
Stone Barns Center
Slow Food International
Slow Food USA
Ancona, G. (2013). It’s our garden: From seeds to harvest in a school garden. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press
Ayres, K. (2007). Up, Down, and Around. Ill. by N.B. Wescott. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Butterworth, C. (2011). How did that get in my lunchbox?: The story of food. Ill. by L. Gaggiotti. Summerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
DiSalvo-Ryan, D. (1994). City green. New York: Morrow Junior Books.
Fogliano, J. (2012). And then it’s spring. Ill. by E. Stead. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
Gourley, R. (2011). First garden: The White House garden and how it grew. Boston: Clarion Books.
Galbraith, K.O. (2011). Planting the wild garden. Ill. by W.A. Haperin. Altanta, GA: Peachtree.
Henderson, K. (2008). And the good brown earth. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Hodge, D. (2011). Watch me grow: A down-to-earth look at growing food in the city. Photos by B. Harris. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.
Hodge, D. (2010). Up we grow: A year in the life of a small, local farm. Photos by B. Harris. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.
Jurmain, S. (2016). Nice work, Franklin!. Ill. by L. Day. New York: Dial.
Kochenderfer, L. (2002). The Victory Garden. New York: Delacourte.
Krull, K. (2011). A boy named FDR: How Franklin D. Roosevelt grew up to change America. Ill. by S. Johnson. New York: Knopf.
Milway, K.S. (2010). The good garden: How one family went from hunger to having enough. Ill. by S. Daigneault. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.
Rappaport, D (2009). Eleanor: Quiet no more: The life of Eleanor Roosevelt. Ill. by G. Kelley. New York: Hyperion/ Disney.
Ray, D.K. (1990). My daddy was a soldier: A World War II story. New York: Holiday House.
Van Steenwyk, E. (2008). First dog Fala. Ill. by M. Montgmery. Altanta, GA: Peachtree.
Wilbur, H.L. (2010). Lily’s Victory Garden. Ill. by R.G. Steele. Sleeping Bear Press.
Bickford, J. & Schuette, L. (2016). Trade books’ historical representation of the Black Freedom Movement, slavery through civil rights. Journal of Children’s Literature, 41(1), 20-43.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.


  1. I hadn't heard of this one–thanks for the heads up!

  2. So excited about this book! I love these explorations of quiet corners of history.

  3. Wow! Your posts are amazing and so thorough! Thanks for all this valuable information!