Mary QuattlebaumJune is one down and dirty month in my city backyard. Right now, we’re putting in our wildlife habitat and growing some goodies for the birds, small critters and beneficial insects that are part of the green urban environment. My family started doing this four years ago and found helpful advice from the National Wildlife Federation.

Creating such a garden is a great way to spend a Green Hour or two. You can do this in the city, the suburbs or the country. And you don’t need much–a few feet of ground (more if you have it) and/or containers, a water source such as a shallow pan or birdbath and native plants. Lots of dirt and water are involved–a plus for kids no matter their age. My 10-year-old daughter, squarely in the tween stage, was out digging and hosing with me recently and can now point proudly to her seedlings.

The wildlife garden gives immediately–and keeps giving throughout the year. We love the wild beauty of our juniper, coneflowers, salvia, lavender and shrubs. And we love watching the wild beauties that flit, scamper and forage there.

As your garden grows over the coming months, you and your family can be on the lookout for some of the natural visitors featured in Valerie Giogas’s In My Backyard (Sylvan Dell, 2007, ages 3 to 7). This lovely counting book peeks at the fawn, squirrel pups, raccoon cubs and grasshopper nymphs that enliven a backyard habitat. Bunnies hop and mole pups tunnel across the gorgeous double-page paintings by Katherine Zecca. Additional fun facts and activities are included in the back. For example, did you know that foxes are good tree climbers? That porcupines are born with soft quills?

So kick back some summer evenings with an iced tea, your kids and In My Backyard and see who comes calling. In answer to the nursery-rhyme question “How does your garden grow?”, you might be able to point to bunnies and coneflowers all in a row.

Next month, I’d love to share your family’s favorite outdoor children’s books. To be included, please email the book’s title and a brief sentence about why you and your children like it to by June 26.

The book can be fiction or nonfiction and for any age as long as it features the outdoors. Please include your first name, your children’s first names and ages, and your state. I look forward to hearing from you!

Mary Quattlebaum is the author of 15 award-winning children’s books, including Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns (Random House) and two chapter-book sequels, all set in a city community garden. Check for activities connected with Mary’s books.