April 23, 2020

What Grew in Larry's Garden

Written by Laura Alary
Illustrated by Kass Reich
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
April 2020

What Grew in Larry's Garden is far more than meets the eye, or the tongue, in this picture book about fruits and vegetables that help build community.

Larry, a teacher, has a small but impressive garden next door to young Grace who likes to help him.
From What Grew in Larry's Garden by Laura Alary, illus. by Kass Reich
There were buttery yellow carrots and purple potatoes. Rainbow chard and scarlet runner beans. Rosy tomatoes the color of ripe peaches. And black ones with red insides.
Together they garden, nurturing the plants and enjoying harvests. When problems arise, like bugs and squirrels, Larry always says, "We can figure this out." His positivity and efforts lead him to encourage his students to grow their own tomato plants from seed and to gift them to others, explaining in letters why they'd been chosen. From gifts of thanks or apologies or to helping them face their fears, Larry was actually allowing his students to connect with others.

From What Grew in Larry's Garden by Laura Alary, illus. by Kass Reich
But when a neighbour adds a big panel to the top of his fence, blocking the sun out of Larry's garden, it's Grace who figures out a way to make things right, echoing back to Larry that he will just need to "Wait and see" what her idea is.

From What Grew in Larry's Garden by Laura Alary, illus. by Kass Reich
Laura Alary based What Grew in Larry's Garden on Toronto teacher Larry Zacharko's project to use tomato plants to help his students connect with their community. Although this endeavour is but a portion of the story of What Grew in Larry's Garden, the whole story is supportive of the need to build community, whether it is by gifting a tomato plant, helping others, making compromises or reaching out to those who seem immovable. Laura Alary makes sure to communicate through her text that community comes with time and effort and is worth both.

Versatile artist Kass Reich–she has written and illustrated a series of Hamster concept books as well as provided art for the Megabat series and other picture books–uses gouache and coloured pencils to bring Larry's garden and his community to life. She uses colour and shape to embrace the reader in a neighbourhood of picturesque houses and arboreal splendour and a garden so textured with life that it's hard to believe there's room for Larry and Grace and a ginger cat to work and play. Fortunately, their efforts at creation and connection produce far more than a garden of fruits and vegetables. They also create a closeness of people and place.

What Grew in Larry's Garden is rosy reciprocity, budding bonds and sprouts of support. Ah, for every garden to be this lush. 

From What Grew in Larry's Garden by Laura Alary, illus. by Kass Reich

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