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: 9787543468023
  • Publisher: He Bei Jiao Yu Chu Ban She/Tsai Fong Books
  • Publication date: 11/28/2007
  • Language: Chinese
  • Pages: 34
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 10.90 (h) x 0.30 (d)

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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