Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rose's Garden

By Peter H. Reynolds

Candlewick Press, 2009

$15.99, all ages, 40 pages

Standing astride a giant floating teapot, a girl named Rose sails the world gathering seeds for a city garden in this uplifting tribute to the late Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.

The girl, with her long jacket trailing behind and her head held high, echoes the spirit of the Kennedy matriarch -- her steely determination, exuberance and desire to increase the well-being of others -- as she pulls together a community to grow a garden.

The garden is both a metaphor for faith and symbolic of a mile-long ribbon of parks and public spaces in Boston inspired by Kennedy's life, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, which officially opened in 2008, 13 years after her death at age 104.

In Reynolds' story, Rose is steadfast and sure, and drifts from place to place until her teapot, an ornate vessel the length of a large rowboat, is brimming with seeds of all kinds and she wanders into the port of a bustling city to look for a site for her garden.

From his lighthouse window, the harbormaster suggests Rose float upriver to where it's lovely, but Rose wants to search the city first.

There she finds a forgotten stretch of earth between two walls of buildings -- a barren plot similar to areas transformed into the Kennedy greenway -- and decides this is the place that needs her seeds the most.

But the garden doesn't come easily for Rose. As she's working the soil, a flock of birds swoops down on the teapot and the birds eat most of the seeds.

(The greenway too was slowed by obstacles, many related to the rerouting of Boston's overpass, the Central Artery. Room for parks became available as the artery was moved underground.)

Rose is startled, but she sees how full and happy the birds seem and realizes all is not lost. So she slips into the teapot to gather the few seeds that are left, determined to make the most of what she has.

Parents may be reminded of Kennedy's famous quote about her own resilience after tragedy, including the assassinations of sons, President John Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy:

"Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?"

Just like moving on in real-life, however, the seeds don't take quickly to the cityscape. Seasons pass without signs of life in the garden, with each season exacting its severity on the land.

Yet Rose doesn't give up and soon word of her faith spreads through the city.

Children from all over the city go to the empty plot to meet Rose and deliver her flowers they've made from paper. Like the seeds she's tried to spread, they share stories of their journeys to the city and together, become a community.

In a similar way, the greenway reunited the neighborhoods of Boston, connecting four park areas from the North End to Chinatown. Each park now celebrates the neighborhood it passes through and the city's history as a whole.

At the sight of all of the paper flowers arranged in the soil, Rose's heart brims. An entire city has pulled together. Then she wades through the sea of blossoms and a miracle unfolds.

She hears a bee and follows the buzzing to a real red rose bursting out of the paper garden, the first of many flowers sprouting to life.

At his mother's funeral in 1995, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy spoke of an inner strength that radiated from his mother's life, and thanks to Reynolds' tender tribute, we feel it once more.

Reynolds, a New York Times best-selling illustrator, is also author of So Few of Me, The North Star, The Dot and Ish.

To watch a "Telefable" version of the story, go to

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