Rosario's Fig Tree
Written by Charis Wahl, illustrated by Luc Melanson, Groundwood, 32 pages, $18.95
To most of us, gardening has become pretty much a lost art, something that exists mainly as a hobby, like model-building or painting with watercolours. Perhaps that's why Rosario's Fig Tree took all three of us so sweetly by surprise. We really loved it. It's the story of a little girl who, as she watches her neighbour tend his garden, becomes convinced that he's a magician. Those raising their kids in an urban landscape will find much to love in this simple story. Not only did Phoenix, Frida and I relate to the girl's fascination with Rosario, all three of us became emotionally invested in the fate of a fig tree. We really wanted to know if it would survive! I've got nothing against iPad Minecraft or Mario Kart 8 – to be completely honest I don't think I could parent without them – but I would love to see my kids get excited by something as unplugged as the growing and tending of plants. Because of this book there's a good chance they will. Now all I have to do is turn off Netflix and follow through on our plans.
By JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith, Groundwood, 32 pages, $16.95
Sidewalk Flowers is a brave, brave book. Completely without words, this is a story told only by pictures. I'd anticipated that the lack of narration and dialogue would put Phoenix and Frida off, but it actually pulled them deeper into the story. JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith's illustrations are simple and subtle, which is impressive considering the story they're telling is neither straightforward nor easy to follow. The drawings start off black and white but as a girl collects flowers from sidewalk cracks her world gets more and more colourful. At the same time the story gets more complicated, focusing on where she decides to leave these flowers; the body of a dead bird, a homeless man sleeping on a bench, a befriended dog and finally with her mom and siblings. With no words to guide them, Phoenix and Frida were free to interpret the pictures without any grown-up supervision. All I did was turn the pages. As they figured out what was going on in this story, it became their own. At the end I asked Phoenix what he thought the story meant. "It's good to have beauty in your life even if it's sometimes sad," he said. In a month Phoenix will be 9. I thought he was getting too old for picture books but Sidewalk Flowers, existing somewhere between the traditional picture book and the contemporary graphic novel, has proven me wrong.
The Bus Ride
By Marianne Dubuc, Kids Can Press, 40 pages, $16.95
Do you let your kids walk to school on their own? How about letting them ride a city bus to their grandmother's without supervision? I have to admit that I don't let my kids do either of these things. The Bus Ride, beautifully written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, tells the story of a young girl who's taking her very first solo trip on a bus to her grandmother's house. She's nervous but confident. The stakes rise when a pack of wolves gets on. However a bigger danger comes from a thieving fox. By relying on herself, the girl arrives safely and now she has something glorious to share with her grandmother – the tale of her adventure. That's what inspired Frida the most about this book. I could tell that she wanted to be the girl, going out into the world and having adventures all on her own. Kids need to have adventures. But a prerequisite for adventure is the need to put yourself, however slightly, at risk. Reading The Bus Ride made Frida realize how much she wants this. It also helped me understand how much I need to start letting that happen.