Monday, May 7, 2018

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, pictures by David Small

Behind many of those nondescript smaller apartment buildings in NYC that are now fast disappearing is a real surprise. The two back ground floor apartments have really nice sized garden out their back door. A friend of mine has her office in one of those buildings on the Upper East Side, and this weekend, I spent some time going to garden centers in Connecticut and helping her pick out some new plants for her backyard garden.
This isn't my friend's building, but it is where
Louise Fitzhugh wrote Harriet the Spy in one of those back apartments with a garden
When I got home, I pulled out my copy of The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and reread it with a great deal of pleasure. The story unfolds in a series of letters written by young Lydia Grace Finch, beginning in August 1935, when the depression was still impacting so many people in the world, including her family. Lydia Grace is leaving the country and going to live temporarily with her Uncle Jim in the city, and the first letter is addressed to him, in which she tells him three things about herself: 1- she knows a lot about gardening but not baking; 2- she would like to learn to bake, but is there any place to plant seeds?; 3- she likes to be called Lydia Grace. Packed in her suitcase, along with her clothes, are envelopes full of seeds, including marigold, cosmos, and my personal favorite zinnia. Uncle Jim is a baker, lives in an apartment over the bakery, and, Lydia Grace soon discovers, he never smiles.

In letters to her parents and her grandmother, Lydia Grace writes about everything that is going on with her in the city. In the bakery, she meets Emma and Ed Beech, Uncle Jim's friends who also work for him. Emma teaches Lydia Grace to knead bread and in exchange, she teaches Emma the Latin names of flowers. As the spring of 1936 approaches, Lydia Grace begins planting in cracked teacups, tubs, and boxes growing the seeds she brought with her and any that she is sent from home. Soon, she is growing flowers, lettuce, radishes, and onions in window boxes and on the fire escape, transforming their nondescript building into a bright, colorful, flourishing vertical garden.
But it is in the secret place (the unused roof) that Lydia Grace discovers where she really shows her gardening skills, creating a place of beauty in the midst of the city. She plants and tends her rooftop garden in secret, finally surprising Uncle Jim on the Fourth of July. But can she get to Uncle Jim to finally smile?
Maybe. A few days after the July 4th surprise, Uncle Jim has one of his own when he closes the bakery for half a day and surprises Lydia Grace with a beautiful cake covered in icing flowers. Lydia Grace is certain that cake is worth at least 1,000 smiles. What do you think?

The Gardener always makes me so happy whenever I read it. An epistolary story told in short letters written by Lydia Grace, but with enough information to know what was included in the responses she received. What makes this an especially wonderful picture book, besides its feel good story, is the way the illustrations track the story so well even as they add dimension to it. Small's watercolors increase in color as Lydia Grace's plantings grow and bloom. But look closely at each illustration for little details that add to the story, like the little gray cat in every city picture, the first dollar Uncle Jim made framed under the picture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the envelopes full of seeds floating out of Lydia Grace's suitcase, and the changing look on faces of everyone as the flowers bloom, and the same scowl on Uncle Jim's face, no matter what is happening. No wonder David Small won the 1998 Caldecott Award. Lydia Grace spent one year in the city and really made a difference in the lives of Uncle Jim, Emma and Ed, and their customers and neighbors. What an inspiring story for young readers to enjoy!

This book is recommend for everyone😊
This book was purchased for my personal library

1 comment:

  1. I read this book and really enjoyed it. It filled me with lots of hope. Plus, I love gardening and think making gardens on roofs and off of buildings is awesome. A great way to bring in more green and use space wisely. :)


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