By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
David Wood wants children to put down their electronic devices, set away from the computer and get outside. One way he educates young kids on being active outdoors is through his children’s books on gardening.
Wood has written three kids’ books on the subject. All take place in real life gardens across the U.S.: the Kingwood Center Gardens in Ohio, the Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain Georgia and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Florida. His fourth garden-friendly book, as yet to be titled, takes place in the Midwest, Stone City to be exact.
Wood, who grew up in Cedar Rapids and lived here for some time before moving to Florida and Tennessee, said each of his books takes place in a different USDA plant hardness zone across the country. These zones help determine whether certain plants can survive in extreme winter temperatures around a given region. The zone Wood focuses on in his new book is zone five.
His books are full of lessons for kids, not only in gardening and plant life, but also about the regions and states featured in the books. Wood said kids learn some history and geography about the states as well.
“I intend to work my way across the country,” he said of the settings in each of the books.
So how did Wood decide to set his new book in Stone City, of all places in Iowa and the Midwest?
He said he’s always been inspired by a painting of Grant Wood’s titled “Stone City, Iowa” from 1930. With the rolling hills and quarries, Wood said he felt this would be the prefect location for a garden.
(It should be noted that author David Wood, 82, is of no relation to artist Grant Wood; however, David Wood’s sister did attend school with Grant Wood.)
“The artwork caught my fancy,” said Wood of ‘Stone City, Iowa.’ “It’s a beautiful place!
“I have a passion for gardening and a mission to get kids involved,” said Wood of his subject matter. “I want kids to develop a green thumb and be aware of the world and plants.”
His first three books target younger kids, but his latest book is more for the pre-teen age he said, due to the length of the book.
“I got a little carried away,” he joked of the lengthy content.
This new book centers on a group of garden and prairie fairies who fly over the Midwest, looking for the perfect spot in zone five to produce a garden. The time period is set in the 1930s, much like Grant Wood’s painting of Stone City. Wood said he wanted to emphasize to kids how the pioneers developed the Midwest in that timeframe.
“It talks about how the Midwest was framed,” he said. While the book takes place in Iowa, Wood does include chapters on other states in the Midwest, as the prairie fairies fly over several states surrounding Iowa looking for the perfect garden location.
“A lot of things happened in the Midwest to change the way we farm today,” Wood noted. Some of those instances include the invention of barbed wire from Kansas, the railroad system and the Pony Express.
While his first three books are available for sale on Amazon, Wood said his fourth book is still in the editing stages as far as the content is concerned. He will then meet with his illustrator, Nell Floeter for the artwork. Floeter has illustrated all of Wood’s books thus far.
“We sit down and discuss what would be good images to use,” explained Wood. “I do some research as well. We collaborate well with each other.”
While Wood has never physically been to Stone City himself, his talks with Bob Hatcher, Jones County Tourism Director and resident of Stone City, gave Wood a feel for the unincorporated area.
“It was just a great place for a story,” remarked Wood. “And Bob was wonderful to work with.”
Hatcher, who is also heavily involved with the Stone City Foundation, started talking to Wood and realized they share similar interests. Thanks to all of Bob’s time and the mission of the Foundation, Wood generously donated $5,000 to help rebuild and repair many of the old buildings in Stone City.
Wood said the money stems from a fund set up by former President of Ford Motor Co. Arjay R. Miller. Wood himself started working for the company in 1956 and stayed there for 30-some years. He personally helped Miller with his own arboretum project. This fund was a gift of thanks.
“I just hope to help the Foundation and their projects,” said Wood.
Hatcher said the Stone City Foundation is made up of people who are enthusiastic about preserving the old buildings in Stone City. Some were built as long ago as the 1850s.
While they do receive some donations and grant money for these projects, the repair is a costly undertaking for the non-profit group for just a few people.
“Some of the old buildings are beyond our help,” noted Hatcher.
The Foundation also sets up public tours of Stone City, another reason to restore the area for public view.
“Bob had great history information about Stone City, what the area was like then and now,” said Wood, which he was able to add to the book for historical references. “The money is going to a good cause.”
Wood expects his new book to hopefully come out this spring.
“We’ll see how the timeline all works out,” he said.
It will be for sale on Amazon and in select bookstores.
PHOTO: This is a preliminary sketch by artist Nell Floeter, who illustrates for all of David Wood’s children’s books. Here, the garden fairies fly over Stone City, Iowa, looking for the perfect garden location. (Illustration by Nell Floeter)