The Year of the Garden by Andrea Cheng

I've been meaning to read some of Andrea Cheng's work ever since I had two very excited grade three students argue over who would be first to read The Year of the Baby. They were shocked that I had not read The Year of the Book.

The Year of the Garden is a good one for me to start with since it is a prequel to the first in the series.

I now get their joy.

This story introduces us to a diverse group of characters who have positive relationships with each other. Anna, a young girl with at least some Chinese background, and her family have moved into a new neighbourhood. Anna's father doesn't speak Chinese, and her mother is learning English. Mrs. Cheng works as a housekeeper for an elderly couple, Mr and Mrs. Shepherd. She brings Anna and her brother, Ken, along with her. The relationship between the children and this aging couple is one of the things that I loved about this book. It's Mrs Shepherd giving Anna a copy of The Secret Garden along with a packet of seeds that gets Anna interested in gardening.

Laura is also new to the neighbourhood. The two meet and become friends the summer before starting grade three at their new school. Laura is crazy about soccer and anything to do with animals. Anna is more interested in her garden, reading and creating things. These differences come to a head and seem to create a rift between them when the two girls start school. At one point Anna thinks their friendship is over and her mother tries to comfort her. It seems like there might not be a solution until Anna finds a baby rabbit and goes to Laura for help to save it.

What I Appreciate about this book:
Cheng's authentic characters deal with realistic problems. Their diversity doesn't get in the way of solid friendships as they all learn to be better human beings. These children have loving parents and normal siblings who live within a supportive community. I welcomed the integration of what Anna and Laura are learning at school about caring for the environment into their own lives. 
Patrice Barton's line drawings capture the sweetness of the story. I confirm that this is a delightful series for readers ready to move beyond beginning chapter books. 

Fans will have to wait for its publication date on April 11th.

I should acknowledge a personal connection I made to this book that might make me biased. My son and his Korean partner are expecting a baby this June. I can imagine their daughter being a little Anna.


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