________________ CM . . . . Volume IV Number 16 . . . . April 10, 1998

cover The Gardener.

Sarah Stewart. Illustrated by David Small.
New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux (distributed in Canada by Douglas & McIntyre), 1997.
32 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 0-374-32517-0.

Subject Headings:

Kindergarten - grade 6 / Ages 5 - 11.
Review by Shannon Nesdoly.

*** /4


March 5, 1936

Dear Mama, Papa, and Grandma,

I've discovered a secret place. You can't imagine how wonderful it is. No one else knows about it but Otis.
I have great plans.
Thank you for all the letters. I'll try to write more, but I'm really busy planting all your seeds in cracked teacups and bent cake pans! And, Grandma, you should smell the good dirt I'm bringing home from the vacant lot down the street.

Love to all,
Lydia Grace
image After her father loses his job, Lydia Grace goes to live with her Uncle Jim in the city while her father hunts for work. In a series of letters home, Lydia Grace recounts her life working in her Uncle's bakery and tells of her pursuits in her passion for gardening. The brick and pavement do not stop Lydia Grace from growing vegetables and flowers, and she creates a special surprise for an unsmiling Uncle Jim.

      The writing reflects a young girl's enthusiasm and hope, and Lydia Grace's voice is clear and optimistic. The illustrations both complement and build on the text, a not surprising situation considering that Stewart and Small are a husband and wife team who have collaborated on two previous picture books.

      The coloured sketches are so quick and lively that it is easy for readers to assume that the pictures lack detail and overlook many of the subtleties. Seeds spill from Lydia Grace's suitcase as she travels by train. A Christmas tree glows in the background in her uncle's apartment, and, judging by Lydia Grace's content look, readers know she is responsible. In the final illustration, the bakery cat, Otis, can be spotted. Lydia Grace is a small, unobtrusive character, and yet her effect on her surroundings is clearly evident as more and more flowers begin to bloom through her efforts and the bakery and streets fill with people.

      Although the story gives an overly sentimental view of the Depression, it offers a fresh approach and a heartwarming tale. Young girls are likely to be inspired by Lydia Grace who proves herself to be both clever and resourceful.


Shannon Nesdoly is a Faculty of Education student at the University of Manitoba and the mother of two.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364