the sweetness of renewed hope

by Anna Walker – Penguin-Viking, 2017
ages 2 to 8 years / emotional resilience, heartwarmers

There seems to be a visceral human connection to gardens—they’re inspiring and calming. And, as much as visiting any garden lightens the soul, it’s the nurture of our very own gardens that speaks to so many of us. That’s especially true of children.

In this story, Mae and her family move from the country to the city and, in the process, leave behind her beloved garden which had "apple trees and daffodils … winding paths and leafy cubbies." 

As is often the way, Mae finds herself needing to adjust to her new life:

Hoping to reclaim what she has lost, she begins to draw gardens on paving and on boxes. But the rain comes and boxes get moved—once again, Mae is without a garden.

She spies an open space in the city and hurries there, to discover only "a park filled with tiny stones and empty chairs".

But then comes a moment of glorious serendipity. She spies an apple-tree bird and follows it through streets to a shop-front oasis. There in the middle of the city is a flourishing abundance of greenery—a shop named Florette! 

The beautiful city forest is closed but, as Mae waits, she notices a tiny piece of greenery peeking through the sidewalk in front of the shop. She plucks the tiny bit of green and takes it home.

That little piece of greenery is all Mae needs to start her very own windowsill garden and soon there are plants and gardens happening all around—her new friends and neighbours all catch the gardening bug too!

This peek into the life of a delightfully resilient child offers so many lovely life inspirations: 

Flexibility is one of the keys to a fulfilling life. Mae struggles at first to leave her old home, and for a time it all looks quite bleak. But by noticing the world around her and being willing to adapt her ideals about gardens, she is able to create something wonderful in her life and in the lives of others.

Choosing to act can lead to great satisfaction. It was Mae’s decision to take home the piece of greenery and nurture it that changed everything. A simple enough moment of decision and a small act lead to a garden that Mae can enjoy and share.

There’s enjoyment to be had in many different lifestyles. Mae makes the most of the city and she nourishes a garden even though it’s vastly different to her old garden. As the saying goes, she blooms where she is planted.

Friends and gardens both need care and love. As Mae grows her garden, she grows friends as well. There’s a really lovely metaphor here: friends and gardens need nurturing, they need to be noticed and cared for. Both or either may change from time to time but there's always something beautiful waiting. And friends and gardens come in many varied forms; joy comes from seeing the good in both.

In difficult times, look for the oasis. Florette presents itself as an oasis of sorts - an unexpected verdant place in contrast to the monotone city. When Mae finds Florette it changes her perception of and interaction with her new home.  a beautiful reminder to look for the symbolic oasis in life.

A small reading hint:

As well as being beautiful to adult eyes, this is also mesmerising to young eyes—Ivy is asking for it every time she visits lately. She loves the details and was delighted when she found tiny birds hidden in the Florette window.

It took her a couple of readings before she was ready to linger on individual pages—I think she really needed to understand the story first. Each child will have their own path through the story of course, it’s just a matter of noticing what that path is and letting it happen.

Florette is a warm-hearted look at change. It’s a story told with compassion for challenges and optimism for good times to come.

There’s a special gentleness about the pictures that seems to soften the edges of Mae’s concerns—perfect for children who are going through change themselves. (Life should have a soft edge during difficult times don’t you think?) And there’s brilliant and beautiful life to the pictures when Mae finds her place in the world again.

Such a lovely, lovely book.