January 14, 2020

The Imperfect Garden

Written by Melissa Assaly
Illustrated by April dela Noche Milne
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
36 pp.
Ages 4-8

I know that it's still winter for many of us. Here in southern Ontario we have snow on the ground and below zero temperatures. But this is the time of year gardeners are perusing gardening catalogues and ordering seeds to germinate indoors or sketching out plans for their outdoor veggie gardens. Let Toronto's Melissa Assaly and Vancouver's April dela Noche Milne motivate you to start planning your own garden with The Imperfect Garden.
From The Imperfect Garden by Melissa Assaly, illus. by April dela Noche Milne
A child and his mother prepare a garden each spring, hopeful of growing their own food. In April they plant, and in June the first cucumbers are ready for picking. But Jay is fascinated by their shapes, so unlike the very straight cucumbers they see in the grocery stores. His mother explains that shoppers seem to prefer the straight ones so the unusually-shaped ones are thrown away.

In July, it's the carrots that are picked and again the child is intrigued by the odd shapes, so unlike those in the store, though they taste "crunchy and delicious." In August, it's apple-picking time and he delights in the assortment of colours and shapes. It doesn't matter what they look like as "Mom says all apples taste delicious in pies" and, by not discarding the less-than-perfect ones, they have sufficient for two pies.
From The Imperfect Garden by Melissa Assaly, illus. by April dela Noche Milne
When the growing season has passed and Jay and his mom go to the grocery store, he misses the variety of shapes they produced in their own garden.
Where are the two-legged carrots, the twirly-whirly cucumbers, and the funny-faced apples? Don't grownups know they all taste the same? Even better, maybe?
Fortunately, the imperfect ones are still available and at a reduced cost.

Melissa Assaly's The Imperfect Garden will raise interesting discussions about gardening with children but also about food wastage. She shares notes about both, providing tips for planting with children but also about how much food is wasted when so many go hungry.  In her inviting story about a mother and child growing their own food and appreciating whatever grows, however it grows, Melissa Assaly will make us all think about why we think some foods are considered "perfect" when they are still very edible and tasty, and how we can change that attitude with our children. Jay's pleasure in finding heart-shaped kiwis and other oddities suggests that we've learned and taught our children poorly when they think that only one kind is the right kind.

I like April dela Noche's earthy illustrations, from her misshapen fruits and vegetables to her characters' clothing to a yard that is less manicured and more wild and real. At this time of year, it's lovely to see what will be and can be and to feel the warmth and green of the natural world growing, producing and feeding. In The Imperfect Garden, everything is perfect.
From The Imperfect Garden by Melissa Assaly, illus. by April dela Noche Milne

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