Monday, May 22, 2017

The Year of the Garden by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Patrice Barton

Fans of Anna Wang will be happy to see this last book which Andrea Cheng was working on at the time of her death on December 26, 2015. The Year of the Garden is a prequel to the three Anna Wang novels already published.

Anna, 8, and her family have just moved from their apartment in Manor Court to a home of their own, though they are still in Cincinnati. And now, Anna has a yard in the need some care.

Accompanying her mother to her Saturday job cleaning the apartment of elderly Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd, Anna is happy to be given a copy of The Secret Garden along with some normal seed packets from Mrs. Shepherd’s garden. 

The next day, reading The Secret Garden in the yard, she meet Laura, who has also just moved to the same neighborhood. Both girls are happy to find out that they will in third grade together at their new school. Anna and Laura begin to plan a garden using Mrs. Shepherd’s seeds, but once school begins, Laura loses interest. Instead, she decides to join the soccer team, making new friends there. Feeling a bit alone, Anna worries that their friendship may not last. 

But finding a baby bunny in the yard brings them together again in a common cause to save the bunny. Unable to find the rabbit’s mother, the girls make a bed in a cardboard box, and put the bunny on the porch. Laura knows something about saving rabbits, and tells Anna they need to fed this baby some dog or cat milk. When none is available at the pet store, Laura’s mother drives the girls to her aunt’s in Indiana, who is an old hand at rescuing baby animals. 

And so Anna and Laura spend part of their weekend at taking turns feeding their bunny with a eye dropper. Saving the bunny brings the two girls closer together, and Anna realizes that she can be friends with someone who doesn’t share all her interests, that a real friendship is based on acceptance and flexibility.

I always thought that Andrea Cheng’s Anna Wang series is perfect for readers at the chapter book level. Cheng seems to be able to identify just the right kinds of concerns and issues kids have, and The Year of the Garden is no different. Anna and Laura’s friendship hits some real bumps in the road that they have to work out. School is good for Anna, who likes it, but not for Laura, who lacks focus. 

Cheng also presents Anna’s Chinese culture with respect and understanding. Anna’s mother is a Chinese immigrant who is working hard to learn English, her father is Chinese American. And Laura and the reader are introduced to some Chinese traditions, such as receiving a red envelope or Hong bao for Chinese New Year’s (each Anna Wang book expands on Chinese traditions).

I did findThe Year of the Garden carried a nice theme of growing throughout the book - Anna (and Laura) growing as people and friends, a motherless bunny growing strong and healthy, Anna seeds growing in her garden. However, I felt the story was a little thin, as though it wasn’t really a finished novel, more like a draft. Despite that, I would still recommend it to Anna Wang fans, but don’t expect the same level of story that you find in the previous novels.

Patrice Barton’s numerous black and while spot illustrations throughout help to fortify the story and add so much to it. 

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

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