Monday, April 2, 2012

Book #93: The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, Illustrated by David Small

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Lydia Grace Finch lives in the country with her parents and her beloved grandma, but it’s 1935 and the Great Depression has made money scarce in the Finch family. So Lydia Grace is sent to the city to live with her Uncle Jim. She goes to school and learns to knead bread in her Uncle’s bakery, but, just like her Grandma, she has a passion for gardening. She grows plants in old dented baking pans and chipped tea cups and soon the entire neighborhood is calling her, “The Gardener.” Times are tough and Uncle Jim doesn’t ever smile, but when Lydia Grace finds the door to the roof of her apartment building she hatches a plan to use her green thumb to bring a smile to Uncle Jim’s face.

The text in this Caldecott Honor Book is presented in the letters Lydia Grace writes to her family during her stay with Uncle Jim. The letters provide insight into Lydia Grace’s personal experiences, as well as her hopes and fears. The illustrations are filled with details that bring historical context to the story, such as the historically accurate bakery equipment, the pictures and signs on the bakery walls, the cars on the street, as well as the clothing and hairstyles of the characters. The backgrounds are awash in sepia tones allowing the spring garden colors to pop and draw the eye to the focal point of the illustration. If you like the illustrations in this book as much as I do check out my post on Imogene’s Antlers, written and illustrated by David Small.

Use this book as an introduction to a unit on the 1930’s and the Great Depression. One of the best ways to connect kids to history is to read the words of children of the time. Digital History includes links to letters written by kids to President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1930’s.

On his blog, Dr. Bertie Kingore suggests extending the book into a writing exercise by having kids write more letters from Lydia Grace’s perspective either during her stay at Uncle Jim’s or after she has returned to her family in the country.

Best of all, take a walk in a garden or do some gardening of your own after reading this book. Kids Gardening is a great resource for family or school oriented gardening activities that are categorized by season.


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