I don’t know how you can talk about children’s books and the spring season without mentioning Sara Stewart and David Small’s The Gardener, published in 1997 and winner of a Caldecott honor (Rapunzel won the medal that year, in case you were interested). This is a depression-era piece about a young girl who goes to live with her Uncle Jim in the city while her parents struggle to make ends meet in the country. Lydia Grace Finch looks about twelve-years old, a skinny, hardworking delight of a girl who wants to learn how to bake at the store with her Uncle but also has a passion for and a way with seeds. Over the course of a year, Lydia Grace secretly transforms Uncle Jim’s rooftop into a glorious array of flowers and greenery in an effort to get him to smile. He never smiles so much as once in the entire book, but through Lydia’s letters (this is an epistolary book) and Small’s illustrations we know he loves this child dearly.
David Small, an immensely talented illustrator (he’s illustrated many wonderful books, you can read another post about him here), suffuses this book with color and light, capturing small details of city life in the thirties with striking familiarity and exactitude. His lines are loose and suggestive, and the double-paged spreads of flowers and train stations are just wonderful. Don’t miss this one. ABZ