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Michael Foreman,
A Child's Garden: A Story of Hope
Walker Books / Candlewick Press, 2009.

Ages 5-11

A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope is a timeless fable with particular relevance for today’s young readers.  Michael Foreman, one of the UK’s foremost illustrators and storytellers, has created a masterpiece that combines uncluttered but meaningful prose with beautiful watercolors in contrasting monochrome and joyous, unstoppable color.

A boy finds a “speck of green” among the rubble that is the bleak, monochrome landscape of his home, and nurtures it with almost desperate care.  His world is separated from the outside by a tall, barbed wire fence: but as the plant grows, it covers the fence, bringing welcome shade, and birds and butterflies.  Other children come there to play and help care for the sturdy vine. Then the unthinkable happens.  Soldiers from the other side of the wire rip the vine away, leaving it to die in a ditch.  Color has once again gone out of the world.  The boy’s heartbreak is palpable.

Life continues through a joyless, cold winter but spring brings with it new growth – on the other side of the fence.  A girl appears and nurtures the plants in her turn, under the disinterested eyes of the soldiers.  Soon there are shoots on the boy’s side too.  Tendrils meet and entwine across the fence, and children on both sides come together to play and tend the vine.  The boy realises that it will grow despite the soldiers’ efforts to destroy it – and in the same way, the fence itself will one day disappear.  The seeds for that have been sown.

Perfectly honed for young children, A Child’s Garden also has much to offer older readers.  At first glance, Foreman’s use of monochrome versus the color of the vine and the life it attracts seems very clear cut.  However, a deeper reading, picking out details in the illustrations especially, provides provoking food for thought, reinforcing the tenacity of the seeds of hope not only sown in the boy’s heart but spreading and growing elsewhere. Foreman’s virtuoso illustrations draw out the story’s multilayered complexity and provide wordless stimuli for readers to put out their own tendrils of hope for the future.

A Child’s Garden is a moving, empowering read that, like all good fables, will leave a lasting, deep-rooted impression on its readers.

Marjorie Coughlan
September 2011

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