A Garden of Hope

This story of woodland creatures may encourage kids to eat their veggies

Any house with kids in it is undergoing dozens of simultaneous transitions at any given moment, and parents are called upon to go with — and manage — the flow. In my house, a couple of changes have caught my attention.

Solly, the 5-year-old, is moving towards greater independence: he’s starting to read, and busy with the developmental task of learning to make choices. So at bedtime, we’re getting into chapter books (yay!), but at supper, he’s refusing leafy green foods (boo!).

Because I like solutions that address more than one challenge, I went looking for a book that might help with dinnertime. Rabbit Hill is perfect bedtime reading for children ages 5 to 8. Robert Lawson’s story of a community of animals — rabbits, of course, plus moles, mice, skunks and foxes — who live near an empty house that’s seen better days offers a charming mixture of gentle humor and tolerable suspense.

At the novel’s opening a rumor sweeps the Hill that there are “new Folks coming!” What does this mean to the Animals? Seeds to nibble in the winter, tulip bulbs in the spring, and best of all, the rumor hints that they might be “planting Folks.” In other words, the Animals can hope for a garden full of lettuces, carrots, cabbages, peas, and celery to bring prosperity back to the Hill.

Like most good read-aloud chapter books, Rabbit Hill pushes at the edges of young listeners’ vocabularies. Father Rabbit, a transplanted Southern gentleman, speaks in an elevated if outdated Kentucky idiom that irritates his neighbors but amuses my son. Reading it might also awaken his desire to plant a little spring garden of the sort that a bunny would love.

It’s not too hard to grow lettuce and carrots in a small plot or a few pots before the weather turns hot. However, even though we might not plant this year, the way the rabbits talk about vegetables has awakened my kid’s respect for them.

Seizing the opportunity, I dusted off our copy of Molly Katzen’s Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes. Each dish in it is presented first in words for parents and fluent readers, then spelled out in pictures on the following pages. So for the preliterate kid who insists “I want to do it myself!” it’s a perfect entry into the world of cooking and eating well. I help by prepping some of the veggies, but Solly gets to mix up the dressing and choose what goes on his plate.

At the end of Rabbit Hill, the humans and animals establish a sort of peaceable kingdom. The humans set out food from the garden, and the animals protect the garden from pests. I don’t think Solly will ever exult like Mother Rabbit, “Peavine and lettuce soup, tomorrow and every day from now on.”         

But by making him part of the solution, I might just find the way through this round of changes.




Rabbit Hill Salad Bar

Adapted from Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes

I’ve listed vegetables that most kids will go for, but tailor the list and amounts to your children’s tastes. One suggestion, though: try including at least one “challenge” item—something they either don’t know or say they don’t like. Given choices, they might be willing to try again.


Shredded lettuce (my kids don’t love the mixed kind that comes in a box, but Romaine or Boston usually go over well)

Thinly sliced or grated carrots

Sliced cucumber

Peas, edamame, chickpeas, or some other legume

Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

Pitted olives, sliced in half

Grated cheese

Toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or chopped nuts

Croutons or chow mein crispy noodles  

½ cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

¼ cup apple juice

Place all ingredients but the last three in separate bowls or shallow containers, and set in a row on a table where kids can see and reach them.

Combine the last three ingredients in a medium bowl. Tell your child to whisk “until it is all one color.”

Set the dressing out at the end of the salad bar, with a spoon for drizzling. Provide plates or bowls, so kids can help themselves.

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