When Liam is out exploring (he seems to be the only one in his city that enjoys being outside) he discovers some plants struggling to grow between the rails of an abandoned elevated railway. He starts tending these plants, even though he doesn’t have much experience with gardening, and he gradually learns how to care for them. The plants flourish and the garden begins to expand and travel along the railway (both Liam and the garden are curious about new places). When winter comes, the garden is covered by snow, but Liam uses the time to prepare for the spring, and others join him in his gardening pursuits (he leaves growing surprises on people’s doorsteps). Years later, the garden and the city and its inhabitants are all flourishing and finding ways to live together. Beautiful, whimsical, bright illustrations of the curious garden’s explorations accompany the text. Some illustrations speak entirely for themselves, as the garden grows into new places and new people become involved with it. This is an excellent choice for talking to kids about green spaces, and to get them interested in gardening and the environment – it shows them that anyone can be involved, anyone can make a difference, and anyone can learn how to do something (like gardening) that they don’t know much about at first. It’s empowering and fun to read. I was just reading about NYC’s Highline elevated railway being opened as a park – they’ve planted it and added paths, and people can now tread where the trains once ran. Peter Brown actually references the Highline in a note at the end of The Curious Garden – my mother would say this is another one of those glorious coincidences that she’s so fond of (I maintain that it’s all about paying attention – once something catches your eye/brain, you’re more likely to notice other references to it). I love when urban spaces are reverted to nature – there are far too many strip malls and developers and city planners who think that every green spot has to be filled with buildings or managed to death. I think a little wildness, and a little green is good for us all.
Picture book Reviewed by Karin Thogersen, YA Librarian