The Gardener
The Gardener

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Annotation: 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 and takes her love for gardening with her.
Catalog Number: #114208
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
All Formats: Search
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition Date: 2000
Illustrator: Small, David,
Pages: 40
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-312-36749-X Perma-Bound: 0-605-02232-1
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-312-36749-7 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-02232-4
Dewey: E
LCCN: 96030894
Dimensions: 28 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Stewart's quiet story, relayed in the form of letters written by a little girl, focuses on a child who literally makes joy blossom. Small's illustrations are a bit more softly focused than usual, but they're still recognizably his, with wonderfully expressive characters, ink-line details, and patches of pastel. Their muted backgrounds convey perfectly the urban 1930s setting where most of the story takes place. When hard times hit her family, Lydia Grace is shipped off to stay with her somber, undemonstrative uncle who owns a city bakery. She makes the best of her stay by helping out and by pursuing her favorite pastime, gardening, a talent she uses to make her uncle smile--in a very unusual way. In the end, she receives not simply one reward for her kindness but two.
Horn Book
This epistolary book catalogs Lydia Grace's correspondence home when Depression times determine that she put aside her love for growing things and join her uncle in the dreary city to ease the burden on her unemployed parents. Using dramatic angles, the illustrations capture the spirited protagonist's discovery of the litter-strewn rooftop and its gradual transformation into a resplendent roof garden.
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 piace de rCsistance 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. (Picture book. 6+)"
Publishers 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.)
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2--Through her letters to her farm family, Lydia Grace tells how she brightens her uncle's dreary bakery and his disposition with a little dirt and a suitcase full of seeds. (Aug.)
Starred Review for Publishers 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.)
Word Count: 1,017
Reading Level: 3.9
Interest Level: K-3
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 3.9 / points: 0.5 / quiz: 18674 / grade: Lower Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:3.5 / points:2.0 / quiz:Q04340
Lexile: AD570L
Guided Reading Level: M
Fountas & Pinnell: M

By the author-and-illustrator team of the bestselling The Library 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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