Written and Illustrated by Peter Brown
Little, Brown and Company, 2009
There was once a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind. Most people spent their time indoors. As you can imagine, it was a very dreary place.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy in a very crowded city finds a garden and helps it grow
Although the majority of people spend their time indoors, Liam prefers being outside. One rainy day, as he’s wandering around the old railway, he sees a set of steps going up to the tracks, so he follows them. He finds some plants struggling to grow among the unused train tracks and he starts taking care of them. Gradually, the plants become a garden and the garden spreads across the whole railway. The following spring, the garden’s curiosity leads it to go beyond the railway and take root elsewhere in the city, especially in abandoned places and occasionally in places where it doesn’t belong. As the garden finds new places to grow, it also finds new gardeners. The city becomes more beautiful and people start spending more time outside. Liam loves all the new gardens, but the original railway garden stays his favorite.
Author/illustrator Peter Brown includes a note in the back of this book about the origins of this story, which got its inspiration from New York City’s Highline. The story’s ecological message is clear, but Mr. Brown doesn’t let it weigh down the story or make it feel oppressive at all. His artwork, in acrylic and gouache, changes as the story moves from the dark and gloomy city to the colorful garden. I love that he includes a few pages without text, showing us beautiful images of the budding gardens and, toward the end, the citizens enjoying them. You can flip from the original two-page spread of the pre-garden city to the exact same picture at the back showing the city as it becomes under the influence of the garden. It’s really lovely. My younger daughter and I took a walk on the Highline in New York City and it’s easy to see how it inspired this delightful story.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that nature wants to make things beautiful and sometimes it needs our help to make that happen.