a book on a brown bench with tall grasses in the background

On Meadowview Street: A Family Community Read

By Lynn Schuessler, on

What if you visited Longwood Gardens and it didn’t have any gardens? What if you moved to Meadowview Street and it didn’t have any meadows? That very question got author/illustrator Henry Cole thinking. And so he created the story of a young girl named Caroline, who grows her own meadow in our 2016 Family Community Read selection, On Meadowview Street.

On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole. Photo by Carol DeGuiseppi.

“Isn’t it ironic to see street signs everywhere with names like ‘Cardinal Way’ or ‘Fern Street’—and there are no cardinals or ferns anywhere near!” says Cole in a recent email interview with Longwood. “Places are called things to make them sound inviting and beautiful but it is seldom that communities are planned (and planted) with the environment first and foremost.”

Author/Illustrator Henry Cole

When Caroline first moves to Meadowview Street, she admires a single small flower blooming in her yard, and quickly acts to save it from her dad’s approaching lawn mower. One small blossom, one small act—and the seeds of change are sown. More flowers grow. Bees and butterflies visit. A tree is planted, a birdhouse is built, a wren moves in. A pond is dug, a picnic blanket invites new friends, and the idea spreads to the house next door … before long, the entire neighborhood becomes “a home for everyone.”

What ends up as a revolution—sell the lawn mower?! turn the yard into a meadow?!—begins with Caroline’s simple act of seeing and connecting with a flower. In fact, Henry explains that this quiet story “was initially a wordless book, which I think would have worked beautifully,” he says. Picture books are a wonderful way to inspire children to take notice of small things.

When kids visit Longwood on Family Community Read Day, they can explore our Gardens, inside and out, and take time to really see the world around them. We’ll offer activities that encourage children to do small things in nature that can make a big difference, such as creating a pine cone bird feeder they can hang in their yard to attract wildlife. Our guest author hopes his visit will invite families to “share some laughs, feel inspired to get outside, maybe even write or illustrate stories” of their own.

Visits to Longwood encourage kids to explore the world around them. Photo by Nancy Bowley.

“It’s terrible how so many kids are removed (physically as well as mentally) from the outside world these days,” says Henry. “To become appreciative of the outside world is like painting a portrait—you don’t realize how much is involved until you actually try it. You don’t appreciate how wonderful nature is until you have some sort of connection with it.”

And so the author encourages kids to “Get outside! Explore. Dig in the ground. Get dirty. Wade in a creek. Sit quietly in the woods. Keep lists of birds on your feeder or a leaf collection of trees in your neighborhood. Look closely at everything.”

Notes written by children and families and “mailed” in Longwood's Meadow Mailbox, telling stories of connections they've made with nature. Photo by Nancy Bowley.

Thanks to Caroline—and the inspirational power of one—there are now meadows on Meadowview Street. Thanks to our founder, Pierre S. du Pont, there are gardens at Longwood. And thanks to a community that is “a home for everyone,” our community partners have planned a garden of activities to nurture the seeds that are sown while reading On Meadowview Street.

Please join us April 2 for Family Community Read Day. Enjoy reading stations and hands-on activities in our Conservatory, and meet Henry Cole, who will be happy to sign copies of his book, On Meadowview Street.

This trio of photographs represents “the inspirational power of one”—the spirit of our Community Read. It began with one volunteer in our Children's Garden, who gave young Jack and his grandfather a single bean, and took the time to tell the child how to plant it. The result, several months later, included these pictures and a written thank-you from Jack's grandfather for the “great experience" the project had become for the two of them.

Be sure to visit us throughout the year and continue to be inspired by our many programs for children and families. Check back to our website for new offerings, including our Meet Me in the Meadow Day coming this summer.

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