MMGM review: The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, by Karina Yan Glaser
|Vanderbeeker word art :)|
Let's talk about gardens in books. I'm willing to bet most of you have read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. If you haven't, what are you doing reading my blog anyway? Go to the library and find The Secret Garden. Honestly I think it's one of the best pieces of English literature ever written. But there's another Secret Garden type of book which is much less known and almost as amazingly written. Inspired by her own experiences in World War II, author Rumer Godden wrote An Episode of Sparrows about a group of children who make a garden in a bombed-out church lot in London. This book, like Burnett’s, has one of the most unlikeable but fascinating main characters ever (Lovejoy Mason). Like Burnett’s, it shows how the miraculous can become possible with faith and a bit of good earth.
Enter the newest children’s novel on the theme of building gardens in unlikely places and planting seeds both literal and metaphorical: The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, by Karina Yan Glaser. In it, the Vanderbeeker children (of 141st Street) are back, this time determined to build a garden as a healing surprise for a friend of theirs who is ill. While I’m sure the Secret Garden comparisons will abound, it’s definitely not a retelling, but a fitting addition to the subgenre. It actually has more in common with An Episode of Sparrows, beginning with the garden site (an old church lot) and continuing on with the purloining of soil and the development of unlikely friendships. The biggest difference between The Vanderbeekers and the other two? You hate Mary and Lovejoy at the beginning of their stories, even while pitying them. You can’t help but love all five of the Vanderbeeker children right from the get-go.
The Secret Garden and An Episode of Sparrows rely heavily on the theme of weeding and pruning--cutting back the bad stuff to let the good come out, just as Mary and Lovejoy must experience the painful cutting back of their bitterness before friendships and trust can grow. The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden is more about what marvels can happen when you “plant seeds on fertile ground.” It’s the family’s joy and focus on others that makes their garden thrive. In a day and age when selflessness seems like an exception to the rule, this gem of a contemporary story shines out. Read it. :)
Check out Greg Pattridge's blog for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations!