Lynn: There is a saying that goes, “If nothing is going well, call your Grandmother.” Cliches develop for a reason. There is usually real truth behind each saying and as a Grandmother myself, I am here to tell you that the love between a grandparent and grandchild is a special thing. Each relationship is unique of course but for many that bond is as fundamental as breathing and bone deep. There are countless picture books about this relationship and I am continually awed by their sheer range of creative exploration. Proving my point is the new book by poet Jordan Scott and illustrator Sydney Smith, My Baba’s Garden (Holiday/Neal Porter, 2023). This is the team that created the award-winning book I Talk Like a River (Holiday/Neal Porter, 2020).
Here, a young boy remembers being taken each morning to his Grandmother’s small house to eat breakfast and then be walked to and from school. The two talk little but much is communicated between the pair in gestures and small moments. Told in beautiful simple sentences, the boy relates his Grandmother’s habits of scooping up bits of spilled oatmeal, kissing the food, and placing it back in the boy’s bowl. Together they slowly walk to school, stopping to pick up worms they find on the sidewalk and placing them safely in a carried jar of dirt. In the garden after school, they gently release the worms into the rich soil.
Some time later, the boy’s grandmother moves into the house with them. Now the boy brings her breakfast and in a heart-melting series of panels, he kisses an apple slice and hands it back to her, returning her gift of tenderness.
Scott relates in a preface that his grandmother came from Poland where she suffered greatly and had little food. Like so many of that generation, love was expressed through cooking and sharing food and in the small gestures of caring. The text reflects these evocative glimpses of memory: a bowl of oatmeal so large he thinks he could swim in it, the cozy kitchen filled with food stored everywhere, the sights and scents of the garden in the sun. In turn, Sydney Smith’s illustrations also capture these memories in panels of varied sizes: two hands clasping, one old, one young, a slicker-clad boy waving to a figure gazing down from a window. Several of these sequences are wordless, as Smith skillfully extends the story, illuminating the bond between the two.
My Baba’s Garden is an exquisite and deeply moving book for all generations and a brilliant example of how words and pictures can work together to form something bigger than both. And—I dare you to read this without crying!