Gabe and His Green Thumb By David Miller, Illustrated by C.J. Love (2019) – paperback
Gabe and His Green Thumb is a whimsical story of a boy who loves gardening and one day magically grows a literal green thumb! I love that this is simply a story about a boy and his passion for gardening who just happens to be a character of color. We need more stories about children of color enjoying normal, everyday activities. Gabe and his best friend Alex love to play soccer together. But when Gabe tries to introduce Alex to gardening, Alex is reluctant. Eventually, Alex gives in and gives it a try. Gabe is very excited to show his friend how fun gardening can be. He starts to stick his hands into the soil and feels a little prick on his thumb. Overnight, his thumb swells and turns green! His parents were shocked, and they took him to see the doctor immediately. Dr. McMichael is a Black doctor, which is such an important detail because we always need more representation for people of color in healthcare. He tells the family he has never seen anything like it and all of Gabe’s tests came back normal. What could possibly have happened to Gabe’s thumb?
Over the course of a few days, his thumb grows bigger and bigger. Poor Gabe’s classmates tease him relentlessly. Eventually Gabe is fed up and Alex suggests they try to transform his thumb back to normal by putting it back into the soil. Much to their surprise, Gabe’s green thumb magically grew all the vegetables in the garden to their full size-and then bigger! Gabe becomes a local sensation when news of his gigantic vegetables starts to spread. He grows so many giant vegetables that his parents take him to the Pennsylvania State Fair to show off his amazing talent. By the end of the story, Gabe’s classmates no longer tease him for enjoying gardening. After seeing all of his success, they consider him one of the coolest kids in the school.
I really enjoyed C.J. Love’s shading technique used in his bold illustrations. Love creates a clear contrast in traditional facial structures seen in people of African descent versus European descent. This is most evident in the nose of Gabe, the Black character, versus his friend Alex, who looks to be of European descent. It’s a small detail that I think has a great impact on young readers. Young Black readers need to see positive imagery of characters that look like them. And young, non-Black readers can benefit from seeing book characters that don’t look like them enjoying everyday activities or seeing interracial friendships.
Take-away message: This story is a wonderfully playful way to encourage kids to try new things. The author includes a list of things that Gabe loves about gardening and a list of suggested vegetables that you can grow in your own garden.
Although the author didn’t address this directly, I feel that this story could be used to teach children why it’s so important to care for our planet. In our current global climate, it is vital that we both preserve and grow new fruits and vegetables, plants and trees to create a healthier environment. Everyone can do their part, even kids! They just need a little help and their own imaginary green thumb.
TAGS: male-lead, Black, diverse characters, family, nuclear family, self-published, paperback