On Saturday we went to the farmer's market in the city, which takes place in the center of a plaza. Specialty food groceries, restaurants, and other shops enclose the plaza in a frame of delicious smells, bright colors, and interesting sights. In the open space in the plaza there were rows of vendors selling flowers, plants, fruit and vegetables, baked goods, soap bars, and other handmade items. What a treat it was so see many beautiful and delicious looking items. If I could have I would have bought a large selection of succulent plants; a vendor there had varieties I had never seen before. Alas, traveling on a plane with a flat of plants is more of a challenge than I am willing to take on.
We began by buying the ingredients that we would need to make our pasta primavera dinner: baby carrots, thin asparagus, blue oyster mushrooms, and baby peas. Then we walked around the shops where we bought artisanal pasta and pecorino romano cheese. I also got a selection of sweet delicacies from a Middle Eastern grocery. I had to be firmly removed from a spice shop before I bought a container of every spice and herb in the place.
We then came to a shop called Dutch Flowers which did indeed sell plants and garden related items, but it also sold a wide variety of other things including bags, scented candles, tea towels, toys, clothes, and an eclectic selection of other goods. And books. Such wonderful books.
I managed to restrain myself and only bought two books for young readers. One is a nonfiction book about trees; you will soon learn that I have a deep fondness for trees and so I have a lot of books about them. The other is a picture book called Florette, which was written and illustrated by Anna Walker.
This book reminds me of how lucky I am to live and work in a place where I am surrounded by natural spaces. We live on a ten acre farm that is surrounded by other farms, and just a short drive away there are hiking trails that twist and turn up into the mountains. My town has a beautiful park in its heart, complete with a creek, beautiful trees, and hundreds of flowering shrubs and plants. I could never trade what I have here for a life in a city, though I enjoy visiting cities to go to museums, restaurants, and theatre shows.
For ages 5 and up
Clarion Books, 2018, 978-0-544-87683-5
Mae and her family are moving to the city, and Mae is deeply disappointed that she cannot bring her garden with her. Her mother tells her that Mae can create a new garden when she gets to the city, but it turns out that there is “no room among the crowded buildings for apple trees and daffodils.”
Outside, instead of green grass to lie on and trees to climb, there are cement paths, and in the apartment all there is is a forest of cardboard moving boxes. Mae misses her garden so much that she uses her colored chalks to draw a garden on the cement in the countyard below her apartment. Large, colorful drawings of grass, plants, flowers, caterpillars, beetles, and butterflies fill the space, but the rain soon washes them all away.
Next Mae draws a garden on the sides of the boxes in the apartment, and she sets up a picnic next to boxes that have an apple tree drawn on them. Unfortunately the apple tree boxes fall over and the picnic is ruined.
Needing a break from boxes, Mae and her mother go to visit a park; instead of grass and plants, the ground is covered with gravel. Mae sits on a swing, which is when she sees a bird, a bird that is just like the ones that used to sit the apple tree in her garden at her old home. Mae follows the flying bird and it leads her to a ….forest!
The forest is inside a garden shop that is called Florette. The bird is able to fly through an open window, but Mae cannot get into the wonderful shop with its huge tropical plants, its succulents, and its trailing vines because the shop is closed. Mae waits and waits for the shop to open but no one appears to flip the closed sign.
For many of us, having access to green spaces is essential for our well-being. This is certainly the case for Mae, the main character in this indelible picture book. A spare text is paired with artwork that beautifully captures how empty Mae’s life is when she leaves her home to move to the city. Green is singularly absent in the illustrations until the moment when Mae discovers Florette with its precious ‘forest’ of growing things.
Through her story in this provocative book, Anna Walker reminds us that having growing things around us enriches our lives in many ways. We all need plants, trees, flowers, and birds and butterflies to ground us and connect us with the natural world. Such things calm our mind and give us a reprieve from the noise and bustle of our school, work, and domestic lives.
An author called Carter Higgins, whose books I have reviewed in the past, interviewed the author of Florette to ask her about her creative process. You can 'view' this interview online on Carter's blog, which is called Design of a Picture Book
What I love about this story is the way in which Florette figures out how to bring growing things into her life despite the fact that she is living in a place that grows more cement than grass and trees. A little creativity can go a long way.
After we got married, my husband and I lived in a small second floor apartment in Old Town Alexandria in Virginia. We had no veranda, and so we grew our 'garden' in window boxes, and the apartment was full of houseplants. Little pots of geraniums and herbs sprouted on the windowsills in the summer, and I used miniature evergreens potted out in blue glazed pots to brighten up our home in the winter.