cover image The Little Gardener

The Little Gardener

Emily Hughes. Nobrow/Flying Eye (Consortium, dist.), $17.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-909263-43-7

Unfolding on a more intimate scale than her debut, Wild (2013), Hughes’s story stars a diminutive gardener in a straw hat and overalls who struggles to keep up with the weeds in his garden. Since he’s the size of a mouse, he has to chop them down like trees, and it’s slow going. Hughes paints a single, magnificent close-up of the scarlet zinnia that’s the boy’s only success: “It was alive and wonderful. It gave the gardener hope and it made him work even harder.” Exhausted, he falls asleep, breathing a fervent wish through the window of his straw hut: “I wish I had a bit of help.” The glorious zinnia draws the attention of two human children; when the gardener wakes, the weeds are gone, and the garden is full of bloom. In this inversion of “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” the big and strong help the small and weak, and the gardener never discovers how his garden has become so beautiful. It’s a tender metaphor for of the miracle of gardening. Hughes’s rich, rhythmic storytelling voice and dark tapestry spreads carry perennial magic. Ages 3–7. Agent: Stephen Barr, Writers House. (Aug.)