Tag Archives: lydia grace

Day 96 – The Gardener

Keeping with our spring theme this April, we read a book on Tuesday called “The Gardener” by Sarah Stewart and David Small, and it is an absolute gem. It is an inspiring story about a remarkable little girl, Lydia Grace Finch, who brings her cheerful optimism and perseverance to the depression-era big city.  Mr. Small’s Caldecott Honor illustrations beautifully capture the look and feel of the period, and his little details add an endearing warmth and a charm that really touched us.

gardenerLydia Grace is a spunky little country girl who is sent to the big city during the Great Depression to live with her Uncle Jim and work in his bakery. Her father is out of work and must find a new job. Lydia Grace is sad that she must leave, but she is ready to work hard, and to learn. She sets off on the train, determined to make the most of her experience, and to find a place to plant the seed packets with which she has stuffed her suitcase. In between fulfilling her duties in the bakery, Lydia Grace manages to fill every spare window box, chipped teacup, bucket and basket with flowers and vegetables, and in the process she brightens and charms the entire neighborhood – earning herself the nickname “The Gardener.” Her greatest masterpiece, however, is the magnificent garden she creates in her “secret place” – the rooftop of the building that houses her uncle’s bakery. By the time she receives word that her father has found work and she is to head home, her secret place is a riot of color, and while she never manages to put a smile on the face of her hard-working uncle, she clearly plants a smile in his heart.

This endearing story is told through letters written by Lydia Grace, which are inset in the upper corner of most of the book’s two-page spreads. It is a clever device that allows Ms. Stewart to narrate through Lydia Grace’s guileless and cheerful eyes – while Mr. Small’s illustrations finish painting the rest of the story. I love Mr. Small’s style of illustration, which is a little bit messy but at the same time precise. His drawings almost look like a series of unfinished sketches that have been colored in with watercolors, but an extra line here or there on the expressions of the people (for example) conveys a connection between the characters that is palpable.

There is so much to like about this book, and there are so many little moments that got to me, that I won’t try to list them all here. Instead, I will close with my favorite – which was actually on a page with no text at all. Although throughout the book Lydia Grace is convinced that she is ever closer to eliciting a smile from her Uncle Jim, Mr. Small never draws a smile on Jim’s dour face. However, when you turn the final page, Uncle Jim is on his knees hugging little Lydia Grace on the train platform as she is leaving to return home. When you see the picture you know Lydia has succeeded. It caught me off guard and made me tear up when I read it the first time, and it just happened again. This is a wonderful book.