The Year of the Garden

When Anna is gifted a copy of The Secret Garden, it inspires her to follow her dreams—maybe she can plant ivy and purple crocuses and the birds will come. Or maybe what grows from her dream of a garden is even better: friendship. And friendship, like a garden, often has a mind of its own. In this prequel to The Year of the Book, join Anna in a year of discovery, new beginnings, friendships, and growth.

Maybe I really can find a place at our new house for a garden…I can clear the land myself…I can cut down the bushes and dig out the roots…Then, in the spring, I can plant Mrs. Shepherd’s seeds.

In this prequel to The Year of the Book (2012), Chinese-American Anna Wang explains how she met her friend Laura.

After moving to a new Cincinnati neighborhood, 8-year-old Anna doesn’t have friends nearby or activities to occupy her. When she’s given The Secret Garden and some seeds, Anna thinks about making her own garden. Laura, a white girl also new to the neighborhood, introduces herself, and the girls discover they will both be starting third grade at the same school. Anna suggests they make a garden in her yard, and they begin clearing. Apprehensive about attending a new school, Anna’s pleased Laura’s in her class but declines Laura’s invitation to join the soccer team. Soon gregarious Laura’s too preoccupied with soccer to spend time with quiet Anna, who works alone on her garden, but when Anna finds a baby rabbit in the snow, she turns to Laura for help. By spring, their friendship and Anna’s garden blossom. Anna’s reserved, first-person, present-tense narration reveals her concerns about fitting in. Telling details, as when Laura asks if Anna’s just moved from a “slum,” give readers a sense of Anna’s socio-economic milieu. The parallels she draws between The Secret Garden and her experiences with Laura and the garden add depth to this thoughtful chronicle of adjustment. Delicate spot art highlights key elements.

A gentle, feel-good story about the transforming power of friendship and gardening. (Chinese pronunciation guide) (Fiction. 6-9)

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

When eight-year-old Anna is given several packets of seeds and a copy of The Secret Garden by an elderly neighbor, she becomes intent on growing a garden of her own in the yard of her family’s new home. She meets Laura, also a new girl in the neighborhood, and together they start the work of plotting the land and turning the soil. However, Laura soon loses interest in the garden, especially when school starts up and she finds new friends on the soccer team. Anna is heartbroken and a little furious, but soon a baby bunny in need brings the two girls back together again. Cheng has a keen ear for the friendship dynamics of the younger set: when Anna’s mother points out that Laura’s having other friends doesn’t mean that Anna is no longer a friend, Anna heartily disagrees, and both Anna and Laura are insistent that they like exactly the things the other likes. Their joint effort to save the rabbit helps them see past that, but Cheng wisely leaves some tension in their friendship, setting the stage in this prequel to their fourth-grade drama in The Year of the Book [End Page 303] (BCCB 7/12). Anna’s voice has a quiet directness about it, as when she discusses her conflicting emotions about her loving but sometimes distant Chinese-born mother, and readers will sympathize with her as she grapples with the idea that relationships are more complex than purely good or bad. Barton’s softly blended monochromatic illustrations match the delicacy of the text. Fans of Anna and Laura’s adventures will enjoy seeing the beginning of the girls’ friendship.

Book type: 
Chapter book
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Patrice Barton
Publication date: 
Apr 2017
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