Today at storytime we read the book The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. We were actually supposed to be reading The Crows of Pearblossom by Aldous Huxley but all of the copies had been returned to the publisher. I’ll get to that one later, right now THE CURIOUS GARDEN!
So, synopsis: The book is about a young boy named Liam, who one day goes wandering through his very industrial city. A city without trees, or flowers, or any sorts of growing things. As Liam is exploring he comes across some railroad tracks that have long been abandoned and notices a small patch of wild flowers growing there. The wild flowers are dying, and in obvious need of some TLC so Liam comes back the next day and tends to them. He comes back everyday after that and through his careful attention and ministrations his little garden begins to grow healthier and larger. Very soon his garden has gotten a mind of its own. Once again, no spoilers for the end! Read it and see what happens.
Review: One of the little girls that comes to story time every Wednesday has recently started growing some little potted plants. She was so into the book, she asked me “Could my garden do that?”. I’m going to go out on a limb and say she liked it. There was only one other child with us today, she was only about 1 1/2 so I wasn’t expecting too much, and she did spend most of the story running around. But whenever she stopped and I said “Hey look at this picture, isn’t that cool?” She grinned at the book and danced for a second. Did I mention my storytime kids are adorable? All in all I think both girls liked it. I also liked it, it might even make it onto my favorite picture books list.
Peter Brown wrote a fun, cute, and kind of believable story about the impact that one person, even a little boy, can make on the world. It says on his page that the book was actually inspired by a real abandoned railway in NYC. I really liked the story he told, I liked Liam as a character, and I also liked the moral to the story. One person can make a difference.
The illustrations (which I initially thought were done on a computer) were these really neat paintings, that were detailed and fun. I liked his cartoonish style a lot and I think it’s a style a lot of children would identify with. This was a perfect Earth Day type book. I actually liked his style so much that I’m planning on (at some point) ordering his other books. His most recent release, Children Make Terrible Pets<, looks really cute! All in all I think this is a great book for children, an enjoyable one for adults, and would make a perfect gift for any gardening or eco-enthusiasts you know!
BONUS: The Crows of Pearblossom by Aldous Huxley *Spoiler Alert*
Synopsis: Mr. and Mrs. Crow live in a tree in Pearblossom. Mrs. Crow lays egg after egg, but everyday they disappear. The crows discover that there is a nasty old rattlesnake sneaking into their nest and eating their eggs. Mr. Crow decides to ask his wise friend the owl what he should do and the owl comes up with a plan to trick the snake. So one day Mrs. Crow doesn’t lay any eggs, but instead she and Mr. Crow make some fake eggs out of clay and paint them to look like Mrs. Crow’s eggs. When the snake sneaks up and eats what he thinks are the Crow’s eggs, he gets a nasty surprise and dies a very painful death. After the snake dies Mr. and Mrs. Crow string him up and use him as a clothes line, and they have many baby Crows.
Review: I think this is a really good book for older children, and for adults, but I would definitely not recommend it for younger children, I hope you can see why ^. Although it was written for a 5 year old. Actually, I found it rather funny myself. The Crows are just like an old married couple, and spend a lot of their time squabbling. I’m sure any parents, or even just adults in general, reading this would be able to appreciate the humor. On the downside, I’m not sure many children would. Besides that, the ending of the story is a tad bit on the morbid side. Once again, that’s fine for myself, other adults, and older children, but I’m not so sure about younger ones. Also, I liked the lyrical style it was written in which I’m sure people of all ages would appreciate. Sadly it seems like that style of children’s picture book writing is becoming a thing of the past.
As for the illustrations, you will notice two different covers shown above. This book was first published in 1967 with the original illustrations done by Barbara Cooney who was a noted children’s author and illustrator. We’ll first talk about her illustrations. I LOVE Barbara Cooney as an illustrationist. *Um Miss Rumphius anyone?* She did such great pen and ink illustrations, like the ones used in The Crows of Pearblossom. I think, given the story, pen and ink was a perfect medium to use to represent this tale. It was a kind of darkly humorous tale, and her somewhat gothic renderings of the characters was kind of creepily enchanting. Those illustrations coupled with the story and writing style still give me the shivers a bit, just because they are eerie! BTW this version was more of a chapter book. I liked this version of the book best, but that’s not to say that the new one doesn’t have great illustrations.
Sophie Blackall’s illustrations for this story were quite good, although not in a style that is generally to my taste. Her usual style is very much to my taste, but she did something different with this book. Usually the story’s she writes and illustrates (or just illustrates) have a whimsical tale and therefor she provides lovely and whimsical illustrations. In The Crows of Pearblossom, however, her illustration style differs from that of her other works. I read that she said she was trying to brighten up what was a somewhat dark story, and make it more inviting for children. Reinventing it for a new generation as it were. The crows are very odd and kind of disturbing looking, lacking Cooney’s somewhat goth glam and going for a more modern, quirky look. As always with her work, the illustrations are excellent and she has a keen eye for detail that I truly admire. She did a great job of reinventing an old tale and making it exciting and accessible to new audiences with her brightly colored backgrounds and flamboyant style in this book.
All in all, it’s a great book. But like I said earlier, maybe not for the littlest ones in the family. Why do I prefer Cooney’s illustrations? Probably in part because I’ve loved her work since I was a little girl. It’s timeless and classic to me, and evokes wonderful nostalgia. That doesn’t, by any means, mean that I don’t like the new version, because I definitely do. I don’t think you can go wrong with picking up either for a hearty laugh and a good, fun, slightly creepy read!
4 1/2 bookies! (Because the little little ones won’t be enjoying it)