September 25, 2023

My Baba's Garden

Written by Jordan Scott
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Neal Porter Books (Holiday House)
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
March 2023
When writer Jordan Scott and artist Sydney Smith collaborated on their first picture book, I Talk Like a River (2020), a powerful storytelling partnership was created. In a subtle and nuanced story of a child who stuttered, Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith gave us a beautiful and unusual perspective. Much the same way, they take a grandmother (Baba)-grandson relationship with elements that some may see as peculiar and make them heartfelt and moving and fully synergistic.
From My Baba's Garden, written by Jordan Scott, illus. by Sydney Smith
Based on his own experiences with his Baba, his grandmother who emigrated from Poland after World War II, Jordan Scott speaks of a boy who was driven daily in the early morning to her renovated chicken coop home. There she feeds him, takes him to school, and then picks him up to babysit him. But it's more than babysitting. She is his Baba, a woman who speaks little English, suffered greatly during the war, and who shows him love with her food, her caring, and her teachings.
From My Baba's Garden, written by Jordan Scott, illus. by Sydney Smith
Her home is filled with food: preserves, dried, stored from the harvest, and cooking. Her wartime experiences compel her to ensure there is plenty for those she loves and to not waste anything. Even a drop of food that slips from his spoon is picked up, kissed, and returned to the bowl. And, when they walk in the West Coast rain, she gathers worms and places them in a jar of soil she keeps in her pocket. After school, she and her grandson deliver those worms to her garden.
From My Baba's Garden, written by Jordan Scott, illus. by Sydney Smith
Then his Baba must leave her home and move in with the child and his family. Things change, but the child has learned well.

I must admit that I cried with the telling of My Baba's Garden. I met my own Ukrainian Baba only once when she came for a visit, but I know the importance of food from my father who immigrated to Canada after the war. Food was significant to him, and he was determined to ensure that there was always enough and that those he loved, family and friends, never went hungry. His garden was extensive, and he grew tomatoes, garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, beets, cucumbers (for pickling), and we visited friends' orchards and farms to ensure a wealth of preserves for the year. With her food, her garden, and her actions, this child's Baba showed love too. And she does so with little spoken language but great communication, teaching her grandson an appreciation for food that is grown, food that is offered, and a garden that provides. (Jordan Scott's note "My Baba" mentions that he and his children still pick up worms.) Their relationship is based on caring and compassion, and, whether at her chicken coop house or at his family's home, that relationship was solid. Jordan Scott's words are so emotive, as a child speaks of his grandmother, recognizing that she gives him everything and with few words.
There's so much to see, so much to smell, too much to eat.
That little boy and Jordan Scott honour their Babas.

Sydney Smith, award-winning illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers, Small in the City and Town by the Sea, consistently tells the story from a child's perspective. This boy sees his grandmother and appreciates what she does in a greater context, including one of love for him. He does not ridicule her for her life, her intentions, or her actions, understanding far more than many would. Sydney Smith shows us a child in a bright yellow rain slicker who brings her a picture he has drawn of them. He shows a Baba taking pleasure in that artwork, in that child: she strokes his cheek, she kisses his food, and she holds his hand as they walk. Sydney Smith makes sure that we see them. His watercolour and gouache illustrations take us into that garden and house, to sit with that child as he eats breakfast, to return worms to the soil, and to trudge through the rain to school. The art is filled with love and quiet understanding.

His Baba's garden and her home were places of love and learning. Under her watchful eye, this child learned to see and to feel beyond the obvious, and to appreciate love given through food and actions. Like his Baba's, Jordan Scott's words say much, even if limited, and with great heart, and Sydney Smith brings the colour, the context, and even more feeling to them. It was a pleasure to visit My Baba's Garden and partake in this repast of intergenerational tenderness.

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