Ya’ll. I found a book, and it’s blown me away.
Every spring, there seems to be a spate of new children’s books about gardening. While the quality of the text varies, for the most part, they are always beautiful and gentle, replete with beautiful pictures of flowers and vegetables, maybe some bugs thrown in. They are always “charming” and usually show the seasons’ changing, and the wonder of watching things grow and bloom. In many ways, even the most mundane of children’s books about gardens are lovely.
And then there is “In My Garden” by Charlotte Zolotow, newly illustrated by Philip C. Stead.
“In My Garden” was first published in 1960 and originally illustrated by Roger Duvoisin. Zolotow and Duvoisin both died years ago, but an article in Publishers Weekly revealed that the rights to Zolotow’s titles became available in 2017, and talk immediately began about reissuing and re-illustrating “In My Garden.”
If you are familiar with “A Sick Day for Amos McGee,” then you know Philip C. Stead as a writer, but he is also an illustrator (his wife, Erin, illustrated the Caldecott-winning “Amos McGee”). I confess I’m not familiar with the books he’s written and illustrated on his own, which was why when the newly illustrated “In My Garden” arrived at my house, I said, WHAT?
The illustrations floored me.
It’s not just that they are incredibly charming, which they are, or that they inspire a feeling of nostalgia for me, which they do, or that they include copious flowers and butterflies, which they have.
Yes, when Zolotow’s text reads “in the summer what I love best in my garden are roses,” there are roses. But you know what else there is?
A broken down, rusted old car with flowers growing through the windows. There is a girl playing on a stack of tires that clearly came from the broken down heap of a car, and an older, thin, hunched over, tired woman rolling one of the tires toward a fence, just as broken down as the car. And the old woman is smelling a rose.
This does not exist in Duvoisin’s original illustrations. Duvoisin’s original illustrations show a well-dressed little girl alone in a flower garden that is bursting with color and blooms on every page. There is a fancy staircase, complete with scrolled ironwork, and neatly trimmed borders, and tidy brick garden walls.
There is no old lady.
There is no rusted out old car. There are no flower beds made of tires or broken down fences. There is no little girl with patches on her elbows and no shoes.
Philip Stead has imagined a very different story altogether.
Philip Stead has created a much wilder space, a much more open space, a space that is less of a garden in the way Duvoisin imagined it, but rather something that a child might SEE as a garden.