Susan Marie Swanson shares the story behind her story …
One summer, my family planted a garden from a collection of seed packets that was specially chosen for children by a garden company. Getting packages in the mail is part of the fun of ordering from catalogs, but this was an extra-special package. Opening each seed packet in the box was like opening a gift! Then came the planting and growing.
Our garden had radishes, green beans, marigolds, enough cucumbers for us and many neighbors, pumpkins, and more, pleasing to both adults and children. And there were sunflowers—which began as small seeds, of course, like tiny minnows swimming in the dirt. Before we knew it, we were walking home from our community garden plot with bags of vegetables, delighted that such a thing could happen in a few weeks’ time: sunflowers up over our heads!
After that garden summer, I sat down at the kitchen table with my notebook and the seed packets, unfolding the tops of the packets, which had been creased to keep the leftover seeds from falling out. When I tipped the packets over and held the seeds in my palm, it turned out there was a lot to say. Eventually some of that notebook writing became the text of To Be Like the Sun, a picture book with bold and bright illustrations by Margaret Chodos Irvine.
The finished picture book begins, “Hello, little seed / striped gray seed. / Do you really know everything / about sunflowers?”
I had things to say because of the mail-order seeds, of course, and the garden, and because of the snapshot we took of our little boy grinning and holding onto the stem of a giant sunflower that towered over him. But I also had things to say because of poems I’d read: Claribel Alegria’s Letter to Time, William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Gwendolyn Brooks’ Bronzeville Boys and Girls, and who knows what all else, including Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. The garden inside my brain is quite a tangled place, and spring, summer, autumn, and winter do not move in such an orderly progression as they do in Margaret’s and my picture book, To Be Like the Sun.
That seed did know everything about sunflowers.
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