Children's Literacy Round-Up: March 2
Growing Bookworms Newsletter: March 3

The Imaginary Garden: Andrew Larsen

Book: The Imaginary Garden
Author: Andrew Larsen
Illustrator: Irene Luxbacher
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 to 8 

Imaginary GardenThe Imaginary Garden is a very appealing picture book written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. The title and the cover alone are enough to capture the imagination. Inside is a tale of family closeness and artistic creativity, packaged as a visual treat for the eyes. Young Theo loves visiting her grandfather's lush garden. When Poppa moves to a fourth floor apartment with a balcony too windy for flowers, Theo gets an idea. Together, she and Poppa plan an imaginary, painted garden. Here's how the garden begins:

"On the first Saturday of spring, Poppa bought a great big blank canvas. He also bought a pair of matching gardening hats for himself and Theo. Poppa put the canvas out on the balcony."

The garden starts with a stone wall and some sky. Then crocuses and scilla erupt, and it takes off from there. When Poppa goes away on a trip, Theo uses her own creativity to plan an extra-special imaginary garden surprise. There are lots of things to love in the text of this picture book. The close grandparent/grandchild relationship. The free rein of imagination and creativity. The fact that Poppa, even has he loves Theo, also goes away on a trip of his own (independent elders, as well as independent kids). The way that the book seamlessly includes little lessons (that don't feel like lessons) about how to mix paint colors together, and how to paint birds and tulips and daffodils. These things all make The Imaginary Garden well worth reading.

But what made me LOVE the book were the illustrations. Oh my goodness, they are simply gorgeous. Luxbacher uses pen and ink and multimedia collage, with bold, deep colors. The flowers, in particular, positively leap from the page. These are pictures that I would put on my wall in a heartbeat. Theo and Poppa's bodies are rendered using colorful collage, while their faces are drawn in more refined pen and ink, a contrast that works well.

Theo is adorable. There's a picture of her wearing a green gardening hat and yellow boots, reaching up to paint the sky a soft blue. Her joy is infectious. And there's a page in which she is hugging a cluster of forget-me-nots, surrounded by other flowers in the background. I challenge anyone to look at it without a smile. There are also details in the pictures to reward repeat reading. In the picture of Poppa packing for his trip, careful readers will notice stickers on his suitcase from London, Paris, and Mocba, among others. There's a hand-made card on the dresser, and a picture of Theo on the wall. And on the cover, a butterfly visits Poppa's balcony.

The Imaginary Garden would make an excellent choice for storytime, or for inspiring a painting project. I think that it's a book kids will want to read over and over again. I know I did. This one is going in my "keep" cabinet. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: March 1, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher, sent by Raab Associates
Other Blog Reviews: 100 Scope Notes (a Toon Review - don't miss it), Jelly Mom

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.