The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small

By Maureen Tai, 28 April 2018

“All the seeds and roots are sprouting. I can hear you saying, ‘April showers bring May flowers.’ ” – Lydia Grace Finch

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It is the mid-1930s in small-town America.  Even though Lydia Grace and her grandmother’s garden is bountiful and overflowing with vegetables and flowers, there is no work for Papa nor for Mama. Times are hard for the Finches.

Mama’s brother, Uncle Jim, offers to have young Lydia over to live at his bakery in the city, just until things improve.  The picture of Lydia’s grandmother wearing a forlorn and weary look on her face, folding the young girl’s clothing to be packed into a suitcase, with Lydia, thin and wan next to her, is heartbreaking.  The only bright spot in the room are the riotous blooms virtually exploding from a vase in the corner.  The flowers can’t help but blossom.

After a solo train journey, Lydia arrives at Uncle Jim’s urban bakery, a three-storied red brick building.  Uncle Jim is stern and unsmiling.  Lydia immediately makes up her mind that she will be the one who will make him smile.  Like the seeds and bulbs that she so lovingly plants in the window boxes and in Uncle Jim’s teacups and cake pans,  Lydia is  planted in seemingly unfertile and barren ground.  But with some sunshine and kindness, Lydia and her gardens cannot help but blossom and flourish like nature intended.

The salubrious effect that the tenacious and patient young gardener has on all those around her – Ed and Emma Beech, the couple who work in the bakery; Otis the stand-offish store cat; the customers who frequent the bakery; and finally, the crotchety Uncle Jim himself – is palpable.  With each page turn, the colourful flowers multiply until at the end, the garden in the city looks just like Lydia’s garden in the country – abundant, verdant and simply breathtaking.

The Gardener is uniquely told through a series of letters written by Lydia to her family over a period of a year. The illustrations are charming and thoughtful, with details that fill and complete the story.  By the end, we’re itching to have a garden of our own.

For ages five and up.

 

 

 

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