The Garden of Happiness

Erika Tamar, Author, Mavis Gallant, Author, Barbara Lambase, Illustrator Harcourt Children's Books $17 (40p) ISBN 978-0-15-230582-6
Tamar, the author of such tough-minded YA novels as Fair Game, turns dewy-eyed in her first picture book, an idealistic tale about a community garden in a rundown part of New York City. A studiously multiethnic coalition of neighbors claims an empty lot, and there Mrs. Willie Mae Washington plants black-eyed peas and greens ""like on my daddy's farm in Alabama""; Mr. Singh raises valore, as he did in Bangladesh; etc. Young Marisol, pining to grow something, too, plants a seed she finds on the sidewalk and waters it faithfully. She is ecstatic when a sunflower finally blossoms and then grief-stricken when, at the end of the season, it dies. Overawed dialogue (""Los girasoles from Mexico, where they bring joy to the roadside,"" says old Mrs. Garcia), exaggerated emotions and an unlikely happy ending turn this outing into a sort of urban Marisol of Sunnybrook Farm. Lambase, a debut illustrator, wisely interprets the goings-on as fantastic. Her exuberant oil paintings tweak perspectives to the extent that Marisol's ""flower of sunshine"" reaches to a fifth-story window, and her warm palette bathes the characters in a protective golden light. Those in search of a more believable treatment of the multicultural garden theme might try DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan's City Green (Morrow, 1994). Ages 4-8. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
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