ROSE MEETS MR. WINTERGARTEN
by Bob Graham - Walker Books, 2003 (first in 1992)
ages 2 to 8 years / emotional resilience, heartwarmers
Faith, Rose and Blossom have moved into a new house with their mum and dad.
They decorate their bedroom and plant a garden and settle into a delightful routine of watching the sun rise every morning from the roof of their house.
“The sun never touched the house next door. Next door, everything bristled. Next door lived Mr Wintergarten.”
There's a lovely bit of metaphor happening there: the sunrise doesn't touch Mr Wintergarten's house but that's not because Rose's house is too big. It's simply because Mr Wintergarten lives such a miserable and lonely life.
Mr Wintergarten is legendary in the neighbourhood and the children warn Rose that he eats children, has a salt water crocodile for a pet and a dog like a wolf!
And then, Rose’s ball is kicked into Mr Wintergarten’s yard. Rose’s mum—who has a funky, hippy vibe happening—is resolute. They will take some fairy cakes (cupcakes) and some flowers for Mr Wintergarten and go and get that ball.
At first Mr Wintergarten is frightening and a bit nasty, refusing to give Rose her ball. But upon reflection and in light of the fairy cakes, he kicks it back to her. In the process, his shoe lands on Rose’s side of the fence and she throws it back to him.
And that’s the story of Rose and Mr Wintergarten, how they became friends and how Mr Wintergarten became part of his community again. The words in the story end when Rose throws Mr Wintergarten’s shoe back to him
“Catch, Mr Wintergarten!” Rose called.
And Mr Wintergarten caught it.
The last page has no words. It simply shows the fence that separated their houses being removed, children playing in Mr Wintergarten’s yard, and the sun shining on Mr Wintergarten’s house.
Mr Wintergarten’s house and life serve as a metaphor for all. They remind us to open ourselves to goodness and to new experiences and to enjoy the simple things in life like friendships and games and gardens, lest the sun stop shining for us too.
For children, Rose is aspirational – she quickly makes friends in her new home, she's brave (with mum’s help), she's friendly, she's kind and she's welcoming. All good and achievable ways of being. This is a classic Australian children’s book about:
the dangers of listening to gossip
the dangers of pre-judging a person
the value of persistence
the value of friendship
A couple of small reading hints:
This is an easy book to read aloud to a child—there's plenty of dialogue and a nice natural flow to the words. When mine were little, we read it a lot and every so often I'd change the tone of the dialogue. For example, sometimes I'd read mum’s words to Rose in a slightly distracted tone, sometimes authoritarian, sometimes worried, sometimes joking. It makes a big difference to the story and it’s interesting to see which way resonates with your child and which feels scary or worrisome.
Mr Wintergarten’s tone can be charged up too—try grumpy, or sad, or embarrassed or scared, or defeated, or sarcastic. I always kept Rose upbeat and strong because I wanted my children to feel strong and upbeat too—but you certainly could change her tone, especially if you want a way to talk about the way your child is feeling.
Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten is a book you’ll read again and again—partly because it has lots of great underlying messages, and partly because it’s a great story, with inviting and homey, friendly pictures.