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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden, written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Anne Villeneuve. Kids Can Press, 2019. $18.99 ages

"The dirt balls sail over the tall brick wall and land in the empty lot.
When we've pitched the last of them, we throw Toma's ball against the wall and try to catch it as it bounces back. We get up to forty-two catches without dropping it. "Do you want some ice cream?" I ask."

His mom is in need of rest following surgery, and Vincent is packed off to the city to stay with his Aunt Mimi. The neighborhood is cramped and gray, there is little to do, and he is missing home.

Good things happen as the days pass. Mimi lets him help choose colors to paint his guest room. Her balcony is bright and welcoming, and holds a mysterious box of dirt balls. She says they are a present and she doesn't know what to do with them. When Vincent meets Toma, a boy in the neighborhood, things change even more.

At first, Vincent is reticent. Then, he decides to make friends. What better way to make a friend that invite him to get rid of the dirt balls for his aunt. She says she will pay them to do it. Toma is hesitant as well. The lure of money soon has them tossing the dirt balls into the empty lot nearby. The next day a man calls from  his balcony, asking why they are throwing the dirt into the lot. Toma has a ready answer.

The two find they have much in common and spend their days together, often watching their nosy neighbor as he waters the plants on his balcony. One rainy day, he diverts their attention to the empty lot. What a surprise! As the seeds from the dirt balls sprout, Marco (aka Mr. Grumpypants) proves himself to be a gardener with much to teach two young boys with time on their hands and an interest in making things better. Their garden becomes a thing of beauty in the neighborhood.

Too soon, it is time for Vincent to go home. Will he be back?

I appreciate that Ms. Villeneuve's illustrations present the drab, gray cityscape as the story begins. She pictures a few spots of color. That color becomes more vibrant as the seed bombs produce garden blooms that attracts more and more visitors. It's amazing what hard work and dedication can do to change the landscape.

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