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Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Gardener

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday! And, yes, I know… it HAS been a long time since I’ve reviewed a picture book. I’ll tell you what, though–this book (The Gardener) truly inspired me to do so. Published waaaaay back in 1997, it is one of the most wonderful, understated, and memorable picture books that I’ve read in a long time. (And I can’t believe it has never been reviewed on PPBF! My lucky day!) Take a look…

The Gardener

gardenerWritten by:  Sarah Stewart
Illustrated by: David Small

Farrar, Straus, Giroux 1997


New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of the Year (1997)
Caldecott Honor (1998)

(Both are incredibly well-deserved.)

Themes/Topics:  Hard work, perseverance, mental toughness, staying positive in the face of adversity, always looking on the bright side (yes, redundant, but it bears repeating here)

Suitable for:  Pre-school through Grade 2

Opening Lines:

(In letter format):

August 27, 1935

Dear Uncle Jim,

Grandma told us after supper that you want me to come to the city and live with you until things get better. Did she tell you that Papa has been out of work for a long time?

Brief Synopsis:

(From Amazon): Lydia Grace Finch brings a suitcase full of seeds to the big gray city, where she goes to stay with her Uncle Jim, a cantankerous baker. There she initiates a gradual transformation, bit by bit brightening the shop and bringing smiles to customers’ faces with the flowers she grows. But it is in a secret place that Lydia Grace works on her masterpiece — an ambitious rooftop garden — which she hopes will make even Uncle Jim smile. Sarah Stewart introduces readers to an engaging and determined young heroine, whose story is told through letters written home, while David Small’s illustrations beautifully evoke the Depression-era setting.


From Publishers Weekly
“Speaks volumes about the vast impact one small individual can make.”

From Booklist
Ages 5-8. Stewart’s quiet story, relayed in the form of letters written by a little girl, focuses on a child who literally makes joy blossom. Small’s illustrations are a bit more softly focused than usual, but they’re still recognizably his, with wonderfully expressive characters, ink-line details, and patches of pastel. Their muted backgrounds convey perfectly the urban 1930s setting where most of the story takes place. When hard times hit her family, Lydia Grace is shipped off to stay with her somber, undemonstrative uncle who owns a city bakery. She makes the best of her stay by helping out and by pursuing her favorite pastime, gardening, a talent she uses to make her uncle smile–in a very unusual way. In the end, she receives not simply one reward for her kindness but two. Stephanie Zvirin –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Links to Resources: 

Here are some nifty sites to teach kids about the Great Depression:

For kids:

Lesson Plans:

Why I Like This Book

First of all, who doesn’t love a well done historical fiction PICTURE BOOK? And it’s presented in personal letter format from a little girl’s perspective. What I loved most about it was the underlying theme of transformation— the transformation of the city that the little girl has to move to (it begins to transform after she starts creating flower boxes all over), the transformation of the attitude of the customers and people, and the transformation of the grumpy uncle who never smiled. And all because of an extremely happy, positive little girl who has been uprooted from her home life on a farm to live in the big city… yet she is full of joy about flowers and her life. She can only see the good. What a phenomenal message for little ones!

The last spread brought a tear to my eye. (Yes, just one, but it was a good one.)

Read this one. Don’t miss it. I would bet it’ll bring a tear (or two) to your eyes as well.

And don’t miss Perfect Picture Book Fridaysee the latest and greatest on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website every Friday.


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