Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, August 17, 2015

Of Work And Wishes

Even before the last of the snow melts the daily ritual begins anew.  It's a slow meander around the perimeter; frequently stopping to clear leaves, pull unwanted grass or weeds and observe the health of each individual growing thing.  Everything in a garden flourishes under the careful eye and hard work of the gardener.

The vines extend, wrap and weave, bulbs burst and bloom, and the perennials push upward a little more each day.  The Little Gardener (Flying Eye Books, June 1, 2015 UK, August 11, 2015 US) written and illustrated by Emily Hughes gives readers an entirely different view of the gardening world.  We come to appreciate those things nearly too tiny or hidden for us to see.

This was the garden.

It didn't look like much, ...

If we were to lie down flat on our stomachs and peer among the leaves, stems, stalks and flowers in a garden we would see someone extraordinary.  Before us is a gardener who takes great pride in his work and who needs the garden to provide shelter and food for him.  More important than those two things, the garden is the source of filling his soul with complete bliss.  Gardens can do this for a person no matter their size.

The Little Gardener does not believe he is good at what he loves best.  He toils all day long carting, cutting and digging but he is small and the garden is huge.  Only one thing looks beautiful.  A single flower tall, strong and brilliant in color, like a sun shining through a gap in a gray, cloudy sky, it supplies a much needed belief in possibilities.

Working with more diligence day in and day out and even through the night, he longs for more blooms like the other.  No matter what he does, he can see the garden is not thriving.  If it does not grow, the Little Gardener will lose those things he needs and values most.

Exhausted and not knowing what else he can do, at the end of a day and before going to bed, the Little Gardener voices his hope.  At times we are not heard but our deeds are visible to others.  When they see the magic our work is making, it inspires them to do the same.  When our tiny friend wakes from a very long rest, the garden is glorious.  Even the smallest of us can bring wonder into the world.

One thought at a time, with an economy of words, Emily Hughes brings us into the world of her little gardener.  By the end of the second sentence we are well aware of his connection to the land of plants.  As the story continues our understanding and empathy for his investment grows even as the garden is dying.  Though he believes he is failing, he has presented the gift of promise to another who in turn without knowing it helps him realize his dream.  In a stroke of storytelling splendor Hughes uses a familiar phrase (as she does more than once in this title) from the beginning at the end helping us to understand the link between the garden and its gardener.

Looking at the book case of The Little Gardener is similar to looking at a work of botanical wonder.  The expression on his face is full of happiness and hope.  A shiny glaze (forgive my lack of knowledge) has been placed on the title text, the Little Gardener and portions of two leaves, the stem and the brilliant blossom.  To the left, on the back, beneath a short blurb about the story, the gardener's constant companion, a worm, has a look of peace on its face.  Both the opening and closing endpapers contain a background canvas of pale yellow.  Clusters of two or three leaves are shown sprouting from small patches of dirt.  On the title page under the text, the spectacular flower is only a bud.  Resting, curled around its base, is the sleeping worm.

Rendered in pencil and colored in Photoshop, the illustrations vary in size from double page spreads to a group of two images on a single page, and single page pictures.  The smaller images tell us to slow down to appreciate the shifts in the story.  Hughes' perspectives will leave readers nearly breathless.

Every minute detail on the plants adds to the elegance of the visual story.  The Little Gardener's home is exquisite.  In fact one of my favorite illustrations is of his home.

It's a single page picture.  Hughes gives us a cutaway to the inside.  It's nighttime with a single star tucked in the upper right-hand corner.  A woven blue and white rug is on the floor.  Off to the side is a special bed filled with dirt and a single sprout labeled Wormy.  Wormy is snuggled in The Little Gardner's bed beneath a homemade quilt.  Our tiny friend is standing on a stool, arms resting on the window sill, starring at the moon.  On the wall is a picture of the Little Gardener on a sunny day standing next to the magnificent zinnia.

Every time I read this book I love it more.  The Little Gardener written and illustrated by Emily Hughes is an ode to the importance of the individual.  We can never know how what we do will change others.  We just need to keep on doing what we do best.  I encourage you to share this book with everyone you know...often and with joy.  And I will be looking for The Little Gardener in my own gardens from now on.  Will you?

To discover more about Emily Hughes please visit her Tumblr by following the link attached to her name.  You can view more interior images at the publisher's website.  Julie Danielson, reviewer, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast highlights this book at Kirkus and shares artwork on her blog the following week.  Scholastic's new Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs John Schumacher chats with Emily Hughes on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Teacher librarian and blogger at 100 Scope Notes Travis Jonker reviews this title. UPDATE: Teacher librarian and soon-to-be-published author Carter Higgins highlights this book on her blog, Design Of The Picture Book and here.


  1. Thank you so much for really taking the time to listen to this story and writing such a thoughtful review. I never assume that people will totally understand the story in trying to convey, but I am always grateful when I come across someone who does. Thank you x x

    1. Thank you Emily for your lovely comments about my blog post. Your books are stunning. And you are most welcome. It's a pleasure to speak about your work.