Lydia Grace Finch brings a suitcase full of seeds to the big gray city, where she goes to stay with her Uncle Jim, a cantankerous baker. There she initiates a gradual transformation, bit by bit brightening the shop and bringing smiles to customers' faces with the flowers she grows. But it is in a secret place that Lydia Grace works on her masterpiece an ambitious rooftop garden which she hopes will make even Uncle Jim smile. Sarah Stewart introduces readers to an engaging and determined young heroine, whose story is told through letters written home, while David Small's illustrations beautifully evoke the Depression-era setting.
The Gardener is a 1997 New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of the Year and a 1998 Caldecott Honor Book.
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Reading Group Guide
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 (www.bpl.org), 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.