Literary Guide for Elly Mackay’s “If You Hold a Seed”

If You Hold a Seed
by Elly Mackay

Looking for ways to enhance you family reading time? Hilltown Families has a wealth of resources for supporting families with kids of all ages in expanding the stories that they read together into deeper learning experiences.

Our 2014 Summer Reading Resource series will be featured here on Hilltown Families every week throughout the summer, sharing downloadable guides to children’s literature written by graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion topics, critical thinking questions, and suggestions for many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for supplemental education use at home. Weekly featured titles will cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics and some are lesser-known gems, but all of the books present lots of potential for helping families use their reading as a foundation for further learning.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-5. Check back weekly for a new guide, or check out the resources offered in our 2013 series.

The first guide in this summer’s series is Canadian author/illustrator Elly Mackay’s book, If You Hold a Seed.

Written by Mackay while she was pregnant with her son, the story follows the growth and changes that a young boy experiences throughout his life alongside the similar growth and change of a tree. The story begins with a young boy holding a seed and wishing for it to grow. Then, as time passes, the boy grows older and visits his tree to see how it has changed. When the story ends, the boy has become a man and tree is finally full-sized. The story closes with the man sitting in the tree’s branches, reflecting on his wish and imagining how he’ll share the same wish with his own future child.

Inspired by Mackay’s own desire to help her son learn to love nature, the book focuses on the wish for growth and the slow changes experienced by humans and nature over the course of time. In the story, the boy’s seed and eventual tree serve as metaphorical representations of the boy and his life – and it’s not surprise that the book was created while the author was awaiting the birth of her child! Parents will surely remember experiencing feelings similar to those that inspired the story.

While readers of all ages can easily appreciate If You Hold a Seed, it’s best for younger students (ages 4-7) – and the accompanying guide is designed for use with kindergarten-aged children. At this particular age, children are just beginning to understand the magic that is growth, and at this time of year, children are likely getting lots of experience with seeds! Families could pair a reading of the book with some garden planting, or could choose special seeds to plant after reading the story. Watching them grow (whether your plant-of-choice takes a month or a decade) can provide your child with their very own real-life version of the book – they’ll get to watch as something slowly grows and changes, and with some help, they may be able to reflect on the changes they experience in their own life while they watch their plant grow.

In addition to learning to track growth and change over time, families can work on activating children’s schema while they read, and can use suggestions from the accompanying guide to support children’s development of skills in picking up on visual clues within the book. A pre-reading discussion with children about seeds and their own experiences with them can help to activate their schema, and can help them to focus on important ideas that will help them to understand the story. Similarly, a look at the images on the cover (and perhaps even within the book) can help young readers to gather some basic information about the story before they read (or listen to) the words on the pages.

After you’ve read the book, keep learning about trees! Take a walk in the woods and look at trees, discussing together how you think they may have begun growing and how long they’ve been growing for. Families might even search for stumps and learn together about counting tree rings in order to determine a tree’s age. See if you can find any that are the same age as any of the members of your family, and compare their size to the size of your similarly aged body – how might the growth of trees and humans be similar or different? The possibilities for continuing your learning together are endless!

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