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Sunday, September 9, 2018

On the Other Side of the Garden, written by Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Translated by Elisa Amado. Groundwood. 2018. $19.95 ages 6 and up

"Then we sat on the edge of the creek and put our feet in the water. "I've known your grandmother for many years," said the owl. "No one ever comes to visit her. You are the first, I think," said the frog. "She's kind. Sometimes she leaves out crumbs and rice ... "

Isabel and her father say little as they travel to her grandmother's house in the country. When he drops there with a duffel bag, and a promise to return for her someday, she feels the complete isolation that surrounds her. She knows little about her grandmother, and has never lived outside the city.

Shown to her room, she feels no connection. As she lies in bed thinking about her father and her home in the city, she notices an owl, a frog and a mouse looking at her through the window panes. What's a girl to do? She opens the window and shares conversation with them. She likes them immediately and is soon accompanying them on a walk to the 'other side of the garden'. 

She likes the feeling of the cool grass beneath her feet, something she has not experienced in the city. The three creatures offer information about the country, their love for the beauty found there, and observations about her grandmother, a woman they admire. She tells them about her family: her parents' divorce, her mother's life elsewhere, her father's need to find work. 

They reassure Isabel that things will work out, that her grandmother is a good person, and they listen to her worries and concerns. As dawn breaks, the three find shelter and send her on her way back to her grandmother's house. Grandmother is waiting with a warm hug, and a good dose of reassurance.

"You know you are going to be here for quite a
while?" she asked.
"Yes, Grandmother," I said. I felt like crying.
"Can I walk in your garden at night?"
"At night and in the day. This is your house, too."

Textured digital images are dark and moody as Isabel is dropped off by her father. The moon guides with golden light during her walk and talk with her three new friends, and morning sunlight brings renewed warmth as the story comes to its satisfying conclusion. 

Lovely, simply lovely!

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