Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Readers will be curious about The Curious Garden starting immediately with the cover. What kind of tree is that, and how’s that kid sitting on there? What’s he reading? Why do those plants look like birds and a butterfly?

The title page, with GARDEN spelled out in bricks, wildflowers growing in every crevice, “The Curious” trimmed in bushes growing out of the bricks, and a young boy holding garden shears seemingly responsible for the whole thing, will add to readers’ curiosity. (See below)

I’m looking forward to this magical garden, readers might think, where trees grow out of bricks and plants are shaped like animals and bushy leaves support little boys.

But turning the page shows a dreary city, muted reds and all shades of gray and smokestacks billowing black clouds into the air. “There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind,” it reads.

There is one boy, however, who loves to be outside. He discovers a small patch of dying wildflowers on the abandoned elevated train tracks. Liam knew nothing about gardening, but he tried the best he could. Soon Liam nurtured the wildflowers into a real, growing garden. And as plants will, they begin to explore. Weeds and mosses begin to travel down the abandoned elevated tracks. By winter, Liam has cultivated quite a garden, an elevated strip of green winding its way through the dreary city.

When spring comes, the garden decides to continue its exploration of the city. Cracks and crevices, nooks and crannies, all become potential homes for the curious garden. With a little help from Liam.

After many years, the city is transformed – and not just the city itself, but the city’s residents. The buildings and streets and abandoned elevated train tracks are all still there, but only with careful observation would visitors to the city recognize this once dreary metropolis.

The resident seven-year-old and I spent quite a while comparing the city illustration at the beginning to the transformed city illustration at the end. Every inch of the two page illustration shows some kid of change, and all of the events during the story can be located in this final view of the entire city.

The Curious Garden, despite my initial suspicions of a magical garden, is just an ordinary bunch of plants. The magic happens when one little boy encourages them – and a city and its residents allow them – to do what they do best. Grow.

In the author's note, Peter Brown tells about the Highline in Manhattan, a real abandoned railway that inspired his book. Click here to see what's happenening with the Highline today.

Title page image from

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