by Sarah Stewart and David Small - St Martin's Press, 2007
ages 2 to 8 years / heartwarmers, s.o.s.e.
Tucked in and around this story about a young woman in the Great Depression are a myriad of really valuable thoughts and lessons. The Gardener is Lydia Grace.
Lydia Grace is sent to live and work with her uncle in the city because her parents have no more work.
She's worried of course, but also well aware of her own gifts and abilities.
The story is told in a series of letters from Lydia to her uncle in the city and then home to her family.
In her first letter to her uncle, Lydia Grace writes:
“I’m small but strong, and I’ll help you all I can.”
Her willingness to try and her faith in herself shine through the rest of the story.
This is a coming of age story, beautifully told and illustrated. Lydia Grace leaves her family and enters a new world where she makes a life that includes the things she holds dearest and invites others to join in. She shares the knowledge she brings with her while learning from others. In one of her letters home, she writes that:
“When I first arrived, Emma told me she’d show me how to knead bread if I would teach her the Latin names of the flowers I know.
Now, just a half a year later, I’m kneading bread and she’s speaking Latin!”
Such a terrific example of sharing learning and knowledge within a community. Lydia Grace manages to follow her passion for gardening—especially for growing flowers—while noticing the troubles her uncle is having. (The Gardener is sensitively written so that the effects of the Great Depression, or of poverty generally are not understated but also not overwhelming.)
Best of all, Lydia Grace uses her passion to lighten her uncle’s load. Naturally, there's not much she can do about the effects of the Great Depression, but she can make life a little lighter and brighter. And she does. There’s an old saying about blooming where you are planted and another about lifting where you stand. Lydia Grace does exactly that. She takes on the life she has with enthusiasm, soberness, and joy. She's not the least bit silly or unrealistic, but she is happy and loving. Just the way we all wish to be, I think.
The pictures do a great job of taking us along with Lydia Grace as her world becomes lighter and more filled with colour. The page where she stands alone at the train station in the city is almost all dark, befitting her darkest moment.
But from then on, little patches of colour increase through the pages until they culminate in Lydia Grace’s gardening efforts on the roof of her home in the city which is, itself, a burst of cheerful colour.
This is a lovely story of family love, empathy, making do, working hard and growing flowers and people. Unsurprisingly, it received several impressive awards.