Books for Dads with Young Children: The Gardener by Sarah Stewart

The Gardener“…dearest Grandma,

Thank you for the seeds. The train is rocking me to sleep, and every time I doze off, I dream of gardens.

Love to all,
Lydia Grace”

Through 12 letters over a year, little Lydia Grace Finch lets you into her world where friendship and family love thrives and blossoms.

Leaving the countryside for the city, to live with her Uncle Jim until “things get better”, Lydia Grace brings along gardening skills that transform a drab building into one filled with flowers and life!

Words cannot do justice to how beautifully The Gardener (1997) is put together, figuratively and literally, cover-to-cover.

In itself a ‘garden’ with all the right elements, this picture book pollinates easy-to-understand yet nuanced text with detailed whimsical and warm paintings. This is not surprising coming from Sarah Stewart and David Small  who have combine their talents in creating two earlier award-winning picture books, The Money Tree  and The Library.

Suitable for children age 4 to 7, The Gardener is brilliant, without even trying.

Each page draws you in to know the characters, how they struggle and survive in 1930s America -The Great Depression.

Lydia Grace’s dad has not been able to find work for a while. And, there’s a reason why Uncle Jim does not smile, but we are not told why.

Life is tough, but no one gives up. What comes across is a community working alongside each other to get through hard times –black or white, with little or in want. Everyone contributes what he or she can –even little Lydia Grace.

There is something intangible in this book that awakes one’s joy. Note ‘joy’ -that which is undeterred by circumstances.

Read this book with your child to explore what little steps he can take to make a difficult situation better. Start a project with your child lasting one year, write letters to each other about how to bring joy to someone in the neighbourhood or a cause you want to support.

The Gardener has received many awards, including:

  • Caldecott Honor Book for 1998
  • Christopher Award
  • ABBY Award Honor Book, 1997
  • American Library Association Notable Children’s Book for 1997
  • Publishers Weekly, Cuffies, tie for first place for picture book
  • Friends of American Writers (Chicago), First Place Juvenile Literary Award, 1997

Watch this Youtube video of husband and wife team, David Small and Sarah Stewart on their creative process.

The following books Stewart and Small books can be found in Singapore’s Public Libraries under Junior Lending Picture Book English STE:

  • The Gardener
  • The Friend
  • The Library
  • The Quiet Place
  • The Money Tree (available at

If you appreciate David Small’s paintings, check out his Sketch Book.

Categories: Books & Zines, Free, Indoors

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