Melissa Assaly is on a mission to cut down on the 168 million tons of food that is wasted in North America each year. And she’s done it in the most charming way possible, by writing a children’s book, The Imperfect Garden, which has just been published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside.
“One in six children grows up with food insecurity,” she notes. “As a mother and teacher, that disturbs me, especially when you consider that a lot of produce gets rejected because the shapes of the fruit and vegetables are not uniform.”
The book’s narrator is five-year-old Jay, named after Assaly’s own son. Jay and his Mom plant, water and tend their own backyard garden. When it comes time to harvest the produce, Jay notices that he has two-legged carrots, curvy cucumbers and some vegetables that are “twirly-whirly, lumpy, bumpy.” Nevertheless, they are crunchy and delicious.
Assaly comes by her credentials for communicating with young people honestly. She holds a Masters in Educational Psychology and has taught in Australia, Korea and Canada, including at Pleasant Corners Public School near Vankleek Hill. Originally from Hawkesbury (where her aunt, Paula is currently mayor) she now lives and works in Toronto.
Fostering a love of gardening
Assaly’s first time success as an author was mirrored by her success in finding a publisher. Fitzhenry & Whiteside was only the second publisher she approached when they snapped it up. The book is whimsically illustrated by April dela Noche Milne and geared to children aged five to eight.
“My point is that fresh produce needn’t be cosmetically perfect to be nourishing and tasty,” she says, “I also want to encourage a love of gardening in children. My son Jay is passionate about it.” She is already working on another children’s book which will again have an environmental theme.
“I need to reach the kids I teach,” she says. “I’m focused on the future.”
The Imperfect Garden is available at bookstores everywhere, online at Amazon and Indigo, and can also be purchased at The Review offices in Vankleek Hill soon.
Her short fiction has been published in many Canadian literary magazines.Numerous humorous and non-fiction articles have been published in the Globe & Mail, Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and Toronto Star. She has also published two local histories and is the former Coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at Ryerson University.
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