The Gardener

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A Caldecott Honor Book

An ALA Notable Book

A Christopher Award Winner

An IRA Teachers' Choice

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

A Caldecott Honor Book

Full-color pictures throughout

A series of letters relating what happens when, after her father loses his job, Lydia Grace goes to live with her Uncle Jim in the city but takes her love for gardening with her.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Late in the summer of 1935, Lydia Grace's parents are out of work, and to help make ends meet they send Lydia Grace to live with Uncle Jim, a baker in the city, "until things get better." Told entirely through Lydia Grace's letters, the story radiates her utterly (and convincingly) sunny personality. Before she leaves, for example, she writes Uncle Jim with a list of "important things that I'm too shy to say to your face: 1. I know a lot about gardening, but nothing about baking. 2. I'm anxious to learn to bake, but is there any place to plant seeds?" With a subtlety finely attuned to Stewart's quietly emotional narrative, Small shows the hardy nature of the girl's optimism: she works long hours in her uncle's bakery and stays cheerful in his bleak apartment. Bloom by bloom, Lydia Grace adds splashes of color to her drab surroundings, eventually transforming a littered rooftop into a splendid garden as a surprise for her somber-faced but kind uncle. This inspiring offering from creative collaborators (The Library) gets much of its vitality from what it leaves unsaid: at first Lydia Grace misses her home and her garden; and, even though Uncle Jim never once succumbs to her plans to make him smile, she succeeds in bringing him happiness. The final picture, of Uncle Jim hugging Lydia Grace good-bye at the train station 10 months after her arrival, the bakery cat tucked in a carrier to accompany her home, speaks volumes about the vast impact one small individual can make. All ages. (Aug.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
To ease the Depression's burdens on her family, an irrepressible girl spends the summer with her dour baker uncle in the city. In a starred review, PW said that this Caldecott Honor book "speaks volumes about the vast impact one small individual can make." All ages. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2When the Depression hits her family, Lydia Grace, 10, leaves her snug rural home and journeys alone by train to a nearby city to live with dour Uncle Jim "until things get better." Her suitcase is filled with seeds given to her by Grandma, who has taught her how to garden. Lydia Grace is a resilient child and is not daunted by dreary buildings, her dreary uncle, and his dreary bakery. Instead, she sees the empty window boxes and makes plans to fill them with flowers in the spring. She also plans to put a smile on her uncle's face. And she does. Come spring, the bakery is filled with flowers and many customers. Her greatest joy is the beautiful garden she has created on a once-barren, trash-strewn roof. Uncle Jim rewards her with his equivalent of a smile, a cake covered with flowery frosting. The story is mostly told in the double-paged, cartoonlike, and richly detailed illustrations. The brief text is in the form of letters, first to Uncle Jim and then to her family. Words are not needed to describe Lydia Grace's feelings when she arrives alone in the huge barren train station; when she shows off her horticultural talents; and when, finally, she returns to a sunnier train station on her way home. The detailed pictures bring the 1930s to life, especially the posters advertising bread for five cents a loaf. This is a story to share one-on-one, talking about the pictures together and then poring over the details alone.Virginia Golodetz, St. Michael's College, Winooski, VT
School Library Journal
Music and sound effects enhance the narration of Sarah Stewart's story of a young girl whose green thumb brings beauty into the lives of those around her. The recording frees listeners to savor David Small's Caldecott Honor illustrations.
Kirkus Reviews
This latest collaboration from Stewart and Small (The Library, 1995, not reviewed) is the Depression-era story of young Lydia Grace Finch, whose family's financial woes are the occasion for Lydia's extended stay in the city with dour Uncle Jim. Lydia's letters to her parents and Grandma, her beloved gardening partner, tell of her adjustment to the city, her work in her uncle's bakery, and of her determination to make her uncle smile. Meanwhile, the pictures show Lydia's gradual transformation of the drab shop and their apartment "over the store," as she plants the seeds from Grandma in pots and tubs and flowerboxes in every possible space. Her pièce de résistance is the lush roof garden she cultivates in secret and springs on her uncle on the Fourth of July, earning Uncle Jim's equivalent of "one thousand smiles," a huge cake elaborately decorated with flowers. It's a lovely story exemplifying the old adage, "Brighten the corner where you are," and a good introduction to the epistolary form of storytelling. Small's marvelous pictures show the city in all its gritty variety—pushcarts, pigeons, packing crates, fire escapes, awnings, nuns, bums, and dogs—and the scrawny, smiling bakery cat, Otis.
From the Publisher
"Late in the summer of 1935, Lydia Grace's parents are out of work, and to help make ends meet they send Lydia Grace to live with Uncle Jim, a baker in the city...Told entirely through letters, the story radiates her utterly (and convincingly) sunny personality...[An] inspiring offering from creative collaborators." —Starred, Publishers Weekly

"A moving, wonderfully rich illustrated story. It is that rarity, a pictorial delight that in 20 double pages gives more and more of itself each time it's read, and whose silent complexities reveal themselves with continuing pleasure." —The New York Times Book Review

The New York Times Book Review

A moving, wonderfully rich illustrated story. It is that rarity, a pictorial delight that in 20 double pages gives more and more of itself each time it's read, and whose silent complexities reveal themselves with continuing pleasure.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591125303
  • Publisher: Live Oak Media
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998

Meet the Author

Husband and wife duo Sarah Stewart and David Small have worked together on several picture books, including The Friend, The Money Tree, and The Library. The Gardener is a Caldecott Honor book. Small has also illustrated other books, including the 2001 Caldecott Medal winner So You Want to Be President?, by Judith St. George. Stewart and Small live in a historic home on a bend of the St. Joseph River in Michigan.

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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. How does David Small, the illustrator, use the endpapers to suggest what the book is about?

2. Have students look at the entire book without reading the text. Ask the class to choose words that best describe Elizabeth. Read the text aloud. Ask students to compare their descriptions of Elizabeth with the way she is presented in the book by Sarah Stewart.

3. Note the black-and-white sketches located near the text on each page (e.g., the stork on page 7). What is the purpose of these motifs?

4. Elizabeth Brown decides to settle down and begins tutoring for pay. Discuss why tutoring is a good job for Elizabeth Brown. Speculate: Whom does she tutor? What subject might she tutor?

5. Ask students to suggest book titles for the children's collection at the Elizabeth Brown Free Library. Have them share their suggestions in class and explain their choices. Have the class determine how each book should be classified.

6. Sponsor a class "readers' olympiad." Ask students to draw up the rules (e.g., the number of books or pages to be read, ways to share the books, how winners are to be chosen). Ask each student to design a bookmark that might be given to a child who participates in the event.

7. Tell students that the Boston Public Library is the first public library in the United States to lend a book. Encourage students to visit the Web site for the Boston Public Library (, and ask them to find out what programs the library offers children. Students may also be interested in finding out the history of the public library in their community.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 3, 2013


    David Small's illustrations and Sarah Stewart's text are so perfect that this book is a masterpiece. The story of the child sent to the city to stay with an uncle during a time of financial crisis, tells the story of a child with a great heart, a willingness to help, and a secret agenda: to get her uncle to smile. Her flowers bring joy to everyone who sees them, and there are many who come to see the garden she makes. It is a bit of putting joy where there is no joy, and then finding joy. And yes, the smile does come, finally, and the child does return to her family, and the crisis has passed. It is a life story for each one of us. Get several, to keep and give away.

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  • Posted March 30, 2012

    Lovely, thoughtful book!

    My twin grandsons aged 5 1/2 responded warmly to this tale of a young girl who is sent off to live with her bakery owning uncle in the city during the Great Depression in order to ease the burden of her own parents and perhaps to provide another worker for the bakery.
    This is a delightful story to hear and to see. The illustrations are charming and perfectly accessible to young kids and it's fun and instructive to have the story unfold through the main character's letters home to her family.

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  • Posted August 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Uplifting Children's Book

    This is a sweet, wonderful story about the positive impact one person can have on the people and world around her. I like the fact that the entire story is told through a series of letters; the reader has to pick up on what is not being said in the letters by studying the wonderful artwork. Highly recommended to gardeners, wannabe gardeners, bakers, and anyone looking for a little inspiration.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2007

    The Gardener- Sarah Stewart

    Moving from the country to the city can be scary especially for Lydia Grace. She has to move away from her mother, father, and grandmother to her Uncle Jim's place in the city. Lydia Grace 'knows alot about gardening but nothing about baking.' She is worried that she will not have a place to garden in the city. But when she gets there she finds out that there are window boxes there, and that Uncle Jim doesn't smile. Will Lydia Grace ever get to go home? Will she ever learn about baking? Will she ever get Uncle Jim to smile? All of these questions are answered in 'The Gardener' This book is really enjoyable an also educational. If you were to do a lesson plan this would be a great illustration to use for writing letters. This book is a 3rd grade reading level and is a wonderful book. Stewart, Sarah. THE GARDENER. New York:Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2007

    The Gardener

    This book was named a Caldecott Honor Book. This book would be appropriate for children ages 4-8. This is a very heartwarming story about Lydia Grace, 10 year old little girl, who is growing up during the Depression. Her father loses his job and they feel it is best if Lydia Grace goes to live with her Uncle Jim until things get better. Lydia Grace is not only upset about leaving her parents she knows that in the city she can not plant the seed and flowers. But when she gets there she sees some window boxes that need tending to. She writes to Grandma, ¿Dearest Grandma, Thank you for the seeds. Everytime I doze off, I dream of gardens¿. I feel kids would enjoy the resilience that Lydia Grace shows in this story. I really enjoyed reading about her. The author of this book is Sarah Stewart and the Illustrator is David Small. They have worked together on several books. They are also husband and wife. When Mrs. Stewart isn¿t writing she enjoys working in her garden. Stewart, Sarah. The Gardener. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1997.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2007


    Two thumbs up!! I really enjoyed 'The Gardener.' Lydia Grace a little girl in love with gardens and flowers illustrated to the readers that a little love, care, and enjoyment can transform anything into beautiful. But not only does she face the task of making the town colorful, but she is determined to get her uncle to smile. Will she succeed? You'll just have to read to find out. Sarah Stewart is a terrific writer and she is able to display her love for gardens and flowers just like Lydia Grace in 'The Gardener.' It was definitely deserving of the Caldecott Medal. Stewart, Sarah. Small, David. The Gardener. USA: Berryville Graphics, 1997

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2006

    College Review for Class

    What is your passion in life? In this children¿s picture book, ¿The Gardener¿ a Caldecott Honor Book in 1997 Lydia Grace Finch passion is gardening. Lydia is writing a letter to her Uncle Jim who lives in the city. It seems that Lydia papa has been out of work for a long time, and she is being sent to live with him until things get better. Her uncle has a bakery in the city, so she writes him a letter while at the train station telling him three important things that she can¿t say to his face. 1. I know a lot about gardening, but nothing about baking. 2. I¿m anxious to learn to bake, but is there any place to plant seeds? 3. I like to be called ¿Lydia Grace¿ ¿ just like Grandma. When Lydia arrives in the city, she writes to her Mama, Papa, and Grandma. I¿m so exited! There are window boxes here! They look as if they¿ve been waiting for me, so now we¿ll both wait for spring. P.S. Uncle Jim doesn¿t smile. Because Lydia Uncle Jim doesn¿t smile, she makes it her mission to get him to smile and in the mean time, she starts planting flowers in her secret place to surprise her uncle¿. Do you think that Lydia will be able to make her uncle smile and surprise him with her garden? To find out the rest of this story, read this wonderful book ¿The Gardener¿ by Sarah Stewart. Sarah Stewart grew up in Texas. She has held the position of teacher, and speechwriter. All her books have been illustrated by David Small (her husband). They share their historic home on a bend of the St. Joseph River in Michigan. Their two children are now grown. And only Otis their cat is at home. Other books you will enjoy by this author are: The Money Tree, The Library, and The Journey. Stewart Sarah, The Gardener, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, 1997

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2006

    The Gardener

    The Gardener is a Caldecott Honor Book. A little girl named Lydia Grace is sent to live with her uncle until things get better. Lydia Grace writes letters to her family discussing her feelings about moving. Lydia Grace loves to plant flowers and seeds. She is worried that there will be no place for her to plant things when she gets to her Uncle Jims. She writes, ¿Dearest Grandma, Thank you for the seeds. ¿.every time I doze off, I dream of gardens.¿ Will Lydia Grace be able to plant the seeds that her Grand mother gave her? This book would be good for 3rd-6th grade. This book would help to show that writing letters can express your feelings. This book is a realistical fiction book. This is actually something that could really happen. I really enjoyed this book. The author Sarah Stewart has worked with David Small on several books. They combine their talents to produce wonderful books. When Sarah isn¿t writing she is in her Garden. Ms. Stewart and Mr. Small are married and live in a historic house in Michigan. Stewart, Sarah. The Gardener. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1997.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2006

    The Gardener Review

    The Gardner, is a good book to make kids realize whatever is going on in their life good or bad, they can still focus on something they enjoy and make good out of it. Hobbies can bring lots of happiness and enjoyment to the person doing it and the people around them. Sarah Stewart was a skinny, nearsighted, and very shy child. Crowds of two overwhelmed her. When her mother would invite her bridge club to their house, she would flee to her closet, armed with stuffed animals and favorite books, and stay there for hours. Besides the closet, there were two other safe places in her young life: their neighborhood library and her grandmother's garden. To this very day the library and the garden remain her favorite places. She has five gardens and an orchard in which she works, almost daily, from early May until the first frost. Then much of the late fall and winter is spent in her library, daydreaming and reading and writing, on the second floor of her home. Like a small animal in hibernation, she makes a warm nest in the old wing chair with her grandmother's quilt and the lamp and her beloved books. The Gardner, is a book about a young girl and her poor family. She goes to the city to live with her uncle and work in his bakery. She works in the bakery and grows flowers. Others start helping her out with growing flowers. They start to enjoy the flowers like she does. ¿Some neighbors have brought containers for me to fill with flowers, and a few customers even gave me plants from their gardens this spring!¿. It shows how people are getting involved with her flower project. Stewart, Sarah. The Gardner. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1997. Grade Level: 3rd

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2003

    a very sweet story

    i remember reading this book too in the bookstore when i was 9 and i've been looking for it ever since. its a really great story and i highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2000

    A genuine and touching story from yesterday

    The story is set in the 1930's and is written in the format of letters written by a little girl who goes to live with her Uncle for short time in order to help him. While she's there she begins to 'spruce up' the place with her green thumb. I won't say anymore. The illustrations are great and the story is one that brought tears to my husbands eyes! This story is a breath of fresh air in the midst of a whole lot of garbage out there. I'm buying it in hardcover because I want to pass it down to my children. =]

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2000

    hard to believe...

    i actually remembered this book, the title, from when i first read it, at the age of 8 years. i didn't want to ask to buy it, since it wouldve been impolite at the time. i thought it was the sweetest picture book i ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2000

    Lovely Story, Lovely Pictures

    Mary Stewart has written a truely inspiring story about one little girl who brings joy to many during a particular difficult time in history. David Small has captured the essence of the story with his beautiful illustrations. As a future teacher, I will include this book in my classroom library and use it to integrate literature into other subjects such as science and English(letter writing).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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