cover image My First Garden

My First Garden

Tomek Bogacki, Tomasz Bogacki. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-374-32518-3

The power of memory, not a child's garden, is chiefly the subject of this apparently autobiographical book, narrated by an adult and reflective of an adult sensibility. At the beginning, a man aboard a train sees a town that takes him back to his European childhood--a safe but insular world of red-roofed houses. He recalls how being old enough to ride a bike meant pushing back the boundaries of his circumscribed existence: ""The town seemed to get smaller and smaller the further I went."" His bicycle trip one day leads him to a garden presided over by a philosophical gardener, and he is inspired to grow his own ""magical place"" back home. The story comes full circle to the present: the narrator's train arrives at the station, and there waits his son with his bike, ready to talk about his own first garden. The choice of garden as focal point seems arbitrary--the text has the amorphous quality of a reminiscence. The structure is like an album, with large illustrations alternating with beguiling, evocatively captioned vignettes; the vignettes appear to emanate from the main composition, like details emphasized in a memoir. In these ways the book approximates the fragmented recollections of childhood. Similarly, the impressionistic pastels look as if they are in the midst of materializing from out of the past. Like Peter S s's darker, more mystical The Three Golden Keys, this work evokes the sense of a vanished world--but also celebrates the exquisiteness of one's own yearning for it. Ages 5-up. (Mar.)