Book Review: The Curious Garden
Scope Notes: IntroducingÂ today’s guest reviewer, Mr. Message!
Hello! Yes, yes, my name is Mr. Message. You probably know me from my countless appearances in books, especially the “for children” variety. It’s my job to expose a universal truth or support a cause. Sometimes I even tell the reader how they should act. As you may know, I can be controversial.
Sometimes, people get upset when authors make it really clear that I’m coming to the party. They put me front and center, and the story takes a back seat. Hey, I can be preachy if that’s what the author wants! I don’t always raise a stink, though. Occasionally, authors cleverly sneak me into a story, making as little disruption as possible. The reader hardly knows I’m there.
Then you have an author like Peter Brown (Chowder, Flight of the Dodo) and his book The Curious Garden. In this book I tell kids that caring for the environment makes a better world. Peter somehow manages to to make me the center of attention, yet not so preachy that it feels like readers are learning a lesson. There’s a kind of take-it-or-leave-it nonchalance that I quite like.
The story is about a red-haired boy named Liam. He lives in a dreary town without a plant to speak of. No trees, no flowers, nothing but cement and smog. One day Liam happens upon a staircase which leads to the abandoned railroad tracks. What our hero discovers there changes his life. He finds plants. It’s not much – some sad looking grass and a few flowers on their deathbeds, but Liam decides to nurse them back to health. As they get better, the vegetation begins to spread, and soon other folks begin to follow Liam’s lead. After a while the town, once dingy and gray, is transformed.
While Peter did a great job adding me to the story, his acrylic and gouache illustrations really steal the show. The man is a master of perspective, always choosing the right angle to add life to the story. The beating heart of this book is right in the middle. Two wordless two-page spreads show the amazing growth of Liam’s garden. In fact, the illustrations are such that this book would function pretty well were it completely wordless.
While I, Mr. Message, would love to take sole credit for the success of The Curious Garden, more praise should go to Mr. Brown, who created beautiful images, tamed my preachy side, and crafted a lovely story.
Also reviewed by Kiss the Book.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
(“Mr. Message” Image: ‘envelope‘
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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