A Child's Garden: A Story Of Hope by Michael Foreman
A young boy is living behind barbed wire in a war-torn country. His home is nothing but rubble and his family are struggling to survive. He sees a small plant poking through the rubble. It won't survive without help, so he collects some rainwater and tends to it. It grows into a beautiful grapevine that covers the barbed wire, and creates a shady area for children to play. Then the soldiers come and tear down the vine.
Wow! Just wow! You might think that war and oppression might be extreme topics for a picture book for young children, but Michael Foreman handles them absolutely perfectly. There's a lot for young minds to absorb, but it's all presented in such an honest, yet understated manner, that they only need to absorb what they're ready to absorb. There isn't anything that will give the youngest children nightmares (even though the existence of such oppression in the world should give us all nightmares), but there's plenty to stimulate thoughts and discussion at whatever level children and parents are willing and able to do so. It is, as the subtitle so rightly says, a story of hope.
The soldiers may tear down the vine, but that doesn't stop it sowing seeds on the other side of the barbed wire. A young girl from the other side tends to the plant and it grows again. More shoots appear on the boy's side of the barbed wire, and the two vines entwine and grow together, with children playing happily under each side. The metaphor may be obvious, but it's still beautiful. The world may be meh, but there are seeds to be sown, connections to be made, love and joy to spread, barbed wire to be torn down.
Whilst never explicitly stated, A Child's Garden is clearly about Palestine. It would have been easy (well, easier anyway) to set the story in a resolved war. It's a universal tale that would still have been powerful no matter what its setting - even if made completely nondescript. Michael Foreman should be applauded for his searing honesty of its contemporary setting. This isn't an anti-Israeli story. It isn't even really pro-Palestine. It's anti-oppression. It's pro-peace. Controversial? Well, inasmuch as some people might decide not to like it. Really truly controversial? Not in the slightest. Plant seeds. Form bonds across borders. Tear down barbed wire.
And yet, none of what I've said makes it sound like a picture book for young children. That's my fault in explaining it badly, not Michael Foreman's. He's taken a difficult subject and made it accessible for the very youngest people. He's created a story that will make everyone think, at whatever level they're comfortable with and/or ready for. Anything less than perfection would have made it a horribly misjudged and horribly inappropriate book. It's absolutely perfect. I've come nowhere near giving an accurate impression of it. Please trust me that it's a book you'll want to read, and want to read with your children. It matters.
My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.
Michael Foreman told an equally powerful story in War Game, but that's aimed at slightly older readers. There isn't really anything that compares with A Child's Garden for such young readers. Maus by Art Spiegelman deserves a mention in the same breath, but that's really for even older readers.
A Child's Garden: A Story Of Hope by Michael Foreman is in the Top Ten Children's Books About Weighty Subjects.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Child's Garden: A Story Of Hope by Michael Foreman at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy A Child's Garden: A Story Of Hope by Michael Foreman at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.
Betty Shanks said:
An excellent book for young children. Year 1s discussed the book and felt for the boy without a home, who lived in the ruins of his old house. Their faces lit up when we read the pages that saw the garden flourishing. 'Where is this place?' was answered by talking about where they had heard wars were at the moment. Thoughtful questions and comments were made. Thank you Michael Foreman.
Betty Shanks Supply Teacher Greater Manchester