If you Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson


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Do our actions have consequences? How can we choose the best action? Author Kadir Nelson, winner of both the Coretta Scott King Honor and Caldecott Honor award, brings to life a magical world of reaping what you sow in the book, If you Plant a Seed. In this fantasy picture book, the reader sees the choices that the rabbit and mouse make as they plant seeds and watch them grow. It shows them burying the seed, reading books about gardening and how they care for the plants. However, the most compelling part of the narrative is when themes such as selfishness and kindness emerge. From here, Nelson beautifully concludes the story by showing the reader that if one practices kindness and works together, the results will be bountiful. His larger than life illustrations, together with his fantastical animals and powerful message of kindness make this book a wonderful choice for all young readers.


If you Plant a Seed is a story of reaping what you sow. It has a moral, but does not come across to the reader as patronizing or cautionary. It is simply stating that better results can be yielded if we practice kindness and we work together. Up until twelve pages into the book, the rabbit and the mouse are alone in their journey and struggles. When they meet a group of different birds, initially the rabbit is hostile, yelling at them. The birds yell back. Kadir says, “But if you plant a seed of kindness, in almost no time at all, the fruits of kindness will grow and grow and grow…” (2015, pp. 21-28). This message is a timeless message and is a great foundation for young people as they grow.

The characters in this book are larger than life. Nelson painted these grand frames with oil on canvas. In respect to color, sky blue dominates almost each page since the setting is a garden. Other color comes from the plants – the soft green of cabbage, the bright red of cherry tomatoes and the deep hues of the tomato stalks. Whereas he could have used the same type of birds, Nelson provides a colorful mix of eclectic birds ranging from a male cardinal, to a khaki pigeon and a male bluejay. It is feast for the eyes and these creatures take up the entire frame. One illustration stands out in particular. It is the last scene – all the animals are gathered round, including animals that had not previously been present. They are all facing the reader with food in their mouth. However, the color scheme is reminiscent of still life drawings from the baroque era with shades of red, green and brown against a dark backdrop. In If you Plant a Seed, however, this ending image is a still life (food) and real life (animals and birds), and but is much more fun to look at.

Nelson uses magic is this children’s fantasy picture book. While it does not have instances of other world, or fantastic objects, it does have the “one necessary ingredient, the motif of magic” to make this a fantasy book (Young, Bryan, Jacobs & Tunnell, 2020, pp. 153-154). What is magical about this book is that the animals engage in many human actions. In one scene, the rabbit is seen reading a gardening magazine, albeit upside down (See Image 2). In another, the birds help plant seeds by using an aerial technique, similar to what crop dusting might look like (See Image 3). This world has animals that children can easily identify them, with animals such as a rabbit, mouse, birds and much later a raccoon, and rooster. If children can identify with the characters, then they will be excited to read them.

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If you plant a seed is a charming book about two friends who want to grow something for themselves but find it so much more fruitful with the help of others. Nelson’s beautifully illustrated oil paintings help bring the story and message to life with richly painted depictions of the rabbit and mouse at work. Readers will be drawn to the magic of the story, where rabbits read how to garden magazines and birds work beside them to create a harvest. This is a must read for young children and beyond – it promotes a message of sharing, kindness and of creating.


Nelson, K. (2015). If you plant a seed. Balzer + Bray.

Young, T.A., Bryan, G., Jacobs, J.S., Tunnell, M.O. (2020). Children’s Literature, briefly. Pearson Education, Inc.

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