This colorful graphic novel, a blend of beginning chapter book and picture book, opens with the ringing of an old-style cordless phone in a house in the woods. Tess, a little Black girl, hurries over to the house of her friend Anna, a white girl with a sweep of knee-length red hair.
Anna has heard that bees are in trouble and wants to help them, but Tess is kinda scared of bees! But Anna doesn’t have time to listen to her friend and drags her outside, along with her cat Tiger, to hastily plant some flower seeds, then fall asleep waiting for them to grow…
The next thing they know, they’ve shrunk in size. They meet Maple, a gnome with a pointed red hat and Asian features. Anna is thrilled to go on an adventure and explore with their new friend May, but Tess isn’t so sure it’s a good idea. Will Anna start listening to her friend or will Tess have to stand up for herself? And will they ever get home—and back to their right size again?
The art is definitely a draw here, with vibrantly colored flowers and lush greens popping off the page. Even the gnomes show a diversity of skin colors and all are drawn with the same, simple rectangular-shaped body. Various creatures appear on the pages, from spiders to foxes, and readers who like miniature items will be delighted by the cozy details of the gnomes’ underground dwelling.
There is an attempt at a gentle lesson, with Anna learning to listen to her friend Tess, but Tess is still somewhat stereotyped as the sidekick with Anna as the main character. On the one hand, Black girls are often portrayed as extroverts and quieter Tess breaks stereotypes in that way. On the other hand, she’s still not the main character in the story and even when exuberant Anna is apologizing, she still makes herself the center of attention. I would love to see a sequel with Tess as the main character.
This makes a sweet read-aloud or a gentle and engaging story for readers ready for simple chapters and those who enjoy nature, imagination, and detailed art. Fans of Poppy & Sam or the Moomins will enjoy this quiet story.
The Flower Garden
By Renee Kurilla
Abrams Amulet, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: ages 6-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Picture Books (3-8)