Friday, November 27, 2009

The Curious Garden

The Curious Garden
by Peter Brown

Published by Little, Brown and Company

Ages : 5-8

One boy's quest for a greener world, one garden at a goes the byline of the book, and to that I would add, one garden's curiosity to extend itself, one spring at a time...

There was once a city with no gardens, or parks or greenery anywhere around. And all the people stayed indoors. Dreary is the word that comes to mind when you visualise this, and dreary is what the picture looks like when you open the book. Lots of factories, smoke coming out of their chimneys, the brown roofs of the houses, and in all, a dull set of monochromes in brown.

But Liam was the one little boy who loved to get out and explore. And one rainy day, as he was splashing through the little puddles on the ground, he stumbles upon a dark stairwell leading up to the tracks on a bridge. He climbs it to find a railway line that had long since been abandoned, and even more surprising....a little lonely patch of color. The only spot in the city where a little bit of green was trying to thrive and failing miserably at it.

So predictably, Liam becomes the gardener that this little patch needs and you see him watering, and overwatering, pruning and over-pruning and making a lot of other gardening gaffes. And this is the part of the book that gets truly enchanting. When the garden suddenly comes alive under his care and assumes its own little personality. A hint of that is given to us as the author descries the garden as waiting patiently, while Liam finds better ways of gardening. Just that one little phrase and you feel suddenly introduced to this cute little second character of the book, which will soon become the main character in point.

Weeks go by and Liam begins to feel like a real gardener and the plants begin to feel like a real garden. And I believe most gardens stay in one place, but let's not forget that what we have here is a very curious garden...that is quickly getting restless, and it lives up to its name, by spreading itself, pushing itself beyond its little virgin patch, to discover the rest of the tracks. The tough little weeds and mosses are the first to move, followed by the more delicate plants. And over the next few months of spring and summer and autumn, the curious garden explores every corner of the railway. At this point, the huge patch of mossy green covering pretty much the entire bridge and railway line is a tremendous treat for the green-hungry eyes. The couple of pages that follow are wordless and full double sided illustrations to allow you to simply take in all the changes that the garden has wrought on itself thanks to its curiosity and its thirst to know find more.

But nature and its seasons asserts itself once more as the very next page is blindingly white with snow, and Liam misses his little garden so much. But instead of moping around about it, he sets about to educate himself instead, on how to become a better gardener, and preparing for spring. 3 cold months later, the snow finally begins to melt and Liam is ready to visit his garden. Winter has taken its toll on our little friend, but under Liam's gentle nudging, it comes awake. And what follows next is a veritable feast for the eyes and for the soul as you encounter once more, the indomitable will of this little garden to go beyond the boundaries of the railway tracks and its bridge, to every little nook and corner of a dreary city, livening up its landscape, spreading its curiosities and happiness to every living, breathing thing around! And the not so living breathing things as well, for our little garden loves old, forgotten things, like an abandoned car, and a boarded up window and the cracks in the sidewalk!

Humour is interspersed with the soul of this book as you see how plants pop up in unexpected places too, like an entire STOP sign covered with vines or the fire hydrant wrapped in these pretty creepers. The burgeoning personality of the garden is fully explored through the rich color illustrations of the book. But one of the most touching aspects is this....that the most surprising thing that popped up that spring were the new gardeners! You can now imagine the revolution that takes place within that the garden has made its way into the hearts of the people and blossomed even there. No more time is lost as a city once dull and parched and brown, now is vibrant and teeming with the flora.

Every story, to have a successful plot, has to have a firm beginning, establishing a problem or the lack of something. And as it progresses, it has to suggest growth, for the character(s) involved. And the end, has to be such that it suggests itself to you even as you turn the pages, and leaves you feeling, that this is the way it's meant to be. It just feels right. The Curious Garden, made me feel right...right there on that first page, as I saw the lacklustre landscape before my eyes, and knew what the book could be about. But what I was unprepared for was the way it was laid out, for the way the garden was given its own character role and its own script to follow. No! Rather, it set its own script and led the story all on its own. And that is what inspired the author in the first place...this very trait of nature to self preserve and to redecorate, as the author subtly puts it.

An excerpt, in his own words : It often seems impossible for nature to thrive in a city of concrete and brick and steel. But the more I've travelled and the closer I've looked, I've realized that nature is always eagerly exploring places we've forgotten.

The story was born when the author came across an old elevated railway called the Highline, on the west side of Manhattan, which had been long abandoned. Without people and trains getting in the way, nature was free to redecorate and slowly, rusty rails and gravel gave way to wildflowers and trees.

"All of this made me curious : what would happen if an entire city decided to truly cooperate with nature? How would that city change? How would it all begin?" you know. :)

[Pic : Courtesy The Highline]


Choxbox said...

Tharini, am unable to decide which is better - the book or your review!
Awesome pick.

Tharini said...

Thanks Choxie! :) I really hope you find this book there. Its mindblowing in the simplest possible way!

Praba Ram said...

What a treat it is to trot from one review to another by the one and only Tharini! :-)

Ok - will read the review now. Certainly am curious about the Curious Garden...I am sure my children will be too, if I were to check it out! :-)

sathish said...

oh no!. This book has been in my amazon wishlist for some time now!. With your review, I might have to end up buying it.

You are making holes in my pocket Tharini!

Meera Sriram said...

What beautful ideas and perspectives books bring with them - nature! I! I know I am going to be looking at abandoned walls, tunnels and buildings that have wild creepers wrapping around them in a totally different light from now on, thanks to you Tharini!And I am very eager to share this thought with my daughter as well, through this book..thanks:)

Anusha said...

totally wow. that was an amazing review. we've got to check this out.

Poppins said...

*echo Chox* This books sounds really really interesting. I like the Gardent's character and I bet the kids like it too.

Tharini said...

Sathish : Had a feeling this book would be right up your alley! :)

Meera : I know what you mean. I can't wait for spring to go discovering on long walks, to see how nature has redecorated! You guys will love this, I am sure!

KM : Yes yes yes!

Poppins : Yes! Hope you find it there..

utbtkids said...

How interesting! Would love to read this book. But looks like I have to buy it along with Lets do nothing, Augustine.....

Choxbox said...

T, read The Secret Garden recently and was reminded of this book.

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