A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope by Michael Foreman (Candlewick Press, 2009) is a beautifully written and illustrated children’s book about a young boy who nurtures a new green shoot he finds amid a garbage heap in a war-ravaged land. The vine grows to cover a fence that separates two communities – how they became that way is never told, nor is exactly where the story takes place. From the images – the landscape, the building structures (whole and crumbled), and military uniforms of the guards – it looks to be desert area – and the children are all portrayed as light-skinned.
The vine grows to cover the fence, inviting birds and butterflies and children all to play together on either side of the fence, but the military guards from the “other side” of the fence come and tear it down. It regrows from seeds spread and shoots in the ground – first on the militarized side, where a young girl nurtures it, and the guards allow her to do so. Soon, new sprouts come up on the young boy’s side of the fence, and the vines from both sides intertwine. “Let the soldiers return,” thought the boy. “Roots are deep, and seeds spread… One day the fence will disappear forever, and we will be able to walk again into the hills.”
The illustrations begin with stark grey-brown “colorless” images and progress with the growth of the vine to vividly rendered watercolor scenes. The color is not overbearing – but as the story starts from bleak, peaks, then returns to bleak – the introduction of color is a stunning in appearance, and equally stunning in its loss as the vine is ripped from the ground. Of course, just as the vine shoots reappear through the earth’s surface, so too does the color seep back onto the page, ending in a joyful burst of color: the boy’s hopeful challenge of unification.
A Child’s Garden is a poignant story for both children and adults in a world where we are inundated with messages of cultural division and derision. This book provides a central concept – a simple vine – as a way to explore this very difficult topic with young adults.