A Gardener of Delight

Karishma, my 6 year old neighbor at Bridge Meadows, was delighted when The Little Gardner by Emily Hughes was published.  Hughes’ book Wild is one of Karishma’s favorite and she helped me review it here.  Now she has another favorite book.

The Little Gardneris different from Wild on the surface, but it still shows the affinity children have with nature and wild things. It features a very small boy who lives in a very big garden.  He works and works in the garden.  
It’s his home and from the garden he gets everything he needs.  He is friends with worms and snails.  He tries to tend to his beloved plants and they depend on him, but he can’t manage on his own. 
The one thing he seems to have the most success with is a flower, a magnificent zinnia, which isn’t something he can eat, but it brings him happiness and gives him hope.  It means everything to the little gardener.
A big girl notices this flower.  She lives on the edge of the garden and she sees that the garden needs help.  Inspired by the beauty of the zinnia, she begins to tend to the garden, too.  This help is the bit of magic that the garden needs to flourish.   
Children are often faced with tasks that are too difficult for them, no matter how hard they try.  This story subtly validates the experience of failure while keeping a sense of hope blooming.  I’m very impressed at how Hughes addresses the deep feelings of insecurity children have.  In The Little Gardner, she shows how the efforts little ones make, even if they don’t entirely succeed, inspire those bigger than they are. 
In her book Wild, Hughes brought out the idea that keeping a bit of wildness in your soul may not be such a bad thing.  In The Little Gardner, she shows how befriending nature and tending to a garden keeps hope in your heart. 
Karishma and I both loved this book.  The illustrations are of dense and we notice something new each time we read it.  We like that the girl who helps save the garden has dark skin.  As in Wild, Karishma likes to read the last line of the book first, and see how important a little gardener, or any little person can be.  It helps her navigate a sometimes confusing world.  It’s also inspired her to water and talk to plants during this hot summer.   She can’t wait to see the next book by Emily Hughes.
This book was published by Flying Eye Books and is beautifully bound, with a flower printed in white on the red binding.  You can see more of their books here.  
Here’s a video about my community Bridge Meadows in Portland, Oregon, which is set up to help children get adopted out of foster care: 
Thanks for reading my blog.  Now go read a book – in a garden if at all possible.
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Wild and Happy

I often read with my 6 year old neighbor Karishma, here at Bridge Meadows community.  Last week, she came over and urgently asked for the book Wild by Emily Hughes.  Her shoulders were scrunched up to her ears.  I quickly found the book.  She flipped to the back and read the last page out loud.  “You cannot tame something so happily wild.”
Her shoulders relaxed and she sighed.  She then read the whole book again.
It’s been her favorite book for about a month now.  Even though she doesn’t really want to eat raw salmon from a river or sleep in a tree, she identifies with wanting to be wild.
The day she so urgently needed to see the ending was her first back at school after a week off.  She’d had a cold, then impetigo.  She got a toothache which required a visit to the dentist.  Her first day back at school didn’t go well.  I didn’t get the details but I was happy that she sought relief in a book. 
Wild tells the story of a girl who has known nothing but nature since birth.
“No one remembered how she came to the woods, but all knew it was right. 
The whole forest took her as their own.”

This spread is from the book but scanned in on Emily Hughes’ site.  You get better detail than on the other pictures I’ve posted
In many ways, this is a Garden of Eden story.  And I think it touches on the same desires for a peaceable garden, something not so dog eat dog, evolve or die.  In Wild, bears teach the girl to eat, birds teach her to speak, foxes teach her to play.
The trouble comes when she’s discovered by humans and they try to help her.  It doesn’t go well.  
from Emily Hughes Site
The girl is powerful enough to know when enough is enough and gets her freedom back.  And she takes the dog and cat with her.  This element is important to every kid I’ve read this book to – they are as concerned about the dog and cat as they are the girl.
Wild represents an idyllic family, where everyone plays together and there are no confusing rules, or school, or bad days, or shoes.
For me, it was a nod to the wild child that I once was – the one who got in trouble for jumping on furniture, climbing trees, and spitting out food I didn’t like.  I was tamed, but I like to think there is something happily wild still inside me even in my fifties (aging has helped me shed a lot of the need to please, and makes me appreciate my inner wild.)
Hughes illustrations are detailed and loose at the same time.  This wild girl’s expressions bring her to life.  I’ve never see such an accurate illustration of a child who feels she is the victim of an injustice or stupidity.  
Hughes’ style is vivid and lyrical.  The scans and photos I‘ve posted here do the book no justice.  It’s a Flying Eye book and it’s done in their usual beautiful style with a great binding and colorful endpapers.
Emily Hughes lives in London, but is originally from Hilo, Hawaii.  She earned 2nd place for the Macmillan’s Prize for Children’s Picture Books in 2012.  She is a young author and I look forward to the work she creates in the future.  Flying Eye Books is bringing out her second book, The Little Gardener, in August.  I can’t wait!
In Wild, Hughes has created a powerful and determined girl.  The girls at my community center who I read it to just love that.  They study the book, the details of the art, and get dreamy eyed about being wild.  It’s a delight to see them imagine a joyous adventure that has nothing to do with being a princess. 
Karishma loves the girl’s hair and big eyes.  And she loved the ending even more than I imagined.  What a thrill it was that she came to me frustrated and wanted to see a book instead of play on the computer.  Playing computer games might have helped her escape from her problems, but reading Wildhelped her reimagine why it’s so hard to be schooled and civilized.  It reminded her that life is sweet and there’s a whole world of nature out there for her.
You can follow Emily Hughes’ blog by clicking here.
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