Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Tamar, the author of such tough-minded YA novels as Fair Game, turns dewy-eyed in her first picture book, an idealistic tale about a community garden in a rundown part of New York City. A studiously multiethnic coalition of neighbors claims an empty lot, and there Mrs. Willie Mae Washington plants black-eyed peas and greens "like on my daddy's farm in Alabama"; Mr. Singh raises valore, as he did in Bangladesh; etc. Young Marisol, pining to grow something, too, plants a seed she finds on the sidewalk and waters it faithfully. She is ecstatic when a sunflower finally blossoms and then grief-stricken when, at the end of the season, it dies. Overawed dialogue ("Los girasoles from Mexico, where they bring joy to the roadside," says old Mrs. Garcia), exaggerated emotions and an unlikely happy ending turn this outing into a sort of urban Marisol of Sunnybrook Farm. Lambase, a debut illustrator, wisely interprets the goings-on as fantastic. Her exuberant oil paintings tweak perspectives to the extent that Marisol's "flower of sunshine" reaches to a fifth-story window, and her warm palette bathes the characters in a protective golden light. Those in search of a more believable treatment of the multicultural garden theme might try DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan's City Green (Morrow, 1994). Ages 4-8. (Apr.)
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-Marisol, who lives near East Houston Street on New York City's Lower East Side, is surprised one morning to see her neighbors busily clearing a garbage-filled lot. Soon after, they plant the vegetables that remind them of the places where they grew up. Mrs. Washington has seeds for black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes; Mr. Ortiz watches over his habichuelas from Puerto Rico; Mr. Singh has beans from Bangladesh; Mr. Castro has tomato seedlings. There isn't much space for Marisol, but she does plant one seed that grows into a beautiful sunflower. Then fall comes, and it dies. All is not lost, though, for the teenagers who have been seeking inspiration for a wall mural across the street create a sunny splash of giant yellow flowers. Full-page oil paintings explode with bright colors and offbeat perspectives. Those looking for an urban, multicultural picture book and even a tie-in to a gardening project will enjoy this straightforward story.-Susan Pine, New York Public Library
In Marisol's New York City neighborhood, there is an empty lot. Full of junk, the lot is cleaned up by the residents and readied to become a neighborhood garden; on a nearby brick wall a mural will be painted. Marisol wants a plot, but all the plots are taken; however, that doesn't stop her from planting a seed in a crack in the sidewalk. Diligent care makes the plant grow and grow and grow. None of the neighbors knows what it is, though one suggests it's Jack's beanstalk. Finally, it explodes into a sunflower that delights the neighborhood all summer. Marisol isn't ready for autumn and the death of her sunflower, even though she has seeds to plant next spring. Happily, the muralists decide to honor Marisol's sunflower by painting it on the wall, where it can bloom in any season. Beautifying neighborhoods has been the subject of picture books before, but this has both an element of fantasy and a friendly naturalness that will appeal directly to the audience. The artwork catches both of these attributes. Done in oils, the wonderful paintings, with their stylized shapes and pure colors, are impressionistic in spirit, unrestrained and full of movement, yet grounded in simple neighborhood moments like feeding the pigeons or sitting on the stoop. A book with the welcome message that beauty can be everywhere.
A delight for the eye and the heart, from two picture-book newcomers. Marisol watches with interest as grown-ups from her neighborhood descend on a junk-filled empty lot and transform it into a community garden. She wants to grow something, too, but all the plots are taken so she plants her one seed (taken from some being fed to pigeons) in a crack in the sidewalk on the edge of "The Garden of Happiness." The sunflower that finally blossoms is a surprise to all, but it does not last and Marisol is almost inconsolable. Then there is a new surpriseartists have painted sunflowers into their mural on an old brick wall.
Novelist Tamar (The Junkyard Dog, 1995, etc.) conveys a passion for the city in her first picture book; the text is lengthy, but the pacing of short and long passages works very well. Lambase's accomplished art makes the book soar; recalling the work of Vera Williams, with thematic borders, a vivid palette, and audacious perspectives, these oil paintings point toward a fresh new talent.