Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Book Review (Kids): The Garden of Happiness, by Erika Tamar

The Garden of Happiness, by Erika Tamar, illustrations by Barbara Lambase

An empty, abandoned, trash-strewn lot in New York City blossoms into a community garden, thanks to the efforts of several neighbors. Among them is a young girl named Marisol, who joins her neighbors in cleaning the lot on a spring morning and in the planting and cultivating of their favorite flowers and foods.

One neighbor, Mrs. Willie Mae Washington, decides to plant black-eyed peas, greens, and sweet potatoes as found in her native Alabama. Mr. Singh plants valore, "such a beautiful vine of lavender and red" from Bangladesh. Another plants tomatillos for his homemade salsa. Marisol finds a seed, which blooms into a tall sunflower ("Reminds me of when I was a girl in Kansas!" another neighbor exclaims.) The Garden of Happiness provides exactly that to this multi-cultural corner of New York City. Meanwhile, some teenagers are beautifying an empty wall with a colorful mural.

This is a great picture book on so many levels and one that could prompt several discussions. I think that it would be wonderful for kids who are involved with growing a garden, as so many people are this summer. The Garden of Happiness also introduces kids to different ethnic backgrounds and foods they may not have heard of or tried. It reinforces the idea of community spirit, working together, and helping one another out. It also demonstrates the seasons inherent to a garden - that which grows and blooms will die. But there are ways that the beauty of The Garden of Happiness can live on - in other parts of the community and more importantly, in the beauty of people living in harmony.

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