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The Garden of Broken Things

By Freya Blackwood

Reviewed by Lara Cain Gray

The Garden of Broken Things is the latest offering from lauded author and illustrator Freya Blackwood. As may be expected of an accomplished creator, it’s a beautifully constructed journey in which the pictures and words carry equal weight in building the narrative.
The focus is Number 9 Ardent Street;  ‘that house’ that looks conspicuously sad and scruffy. It’s the house on an otherwise unremarkable street that conjures fear in the hearts of passers by – even the big kids! But young Sadie is curious and follows a cat into the overgrown garden. With the older kids in tow, Sadie discovers a tangled, rusted, twisted collection of broken things. An old car. A clothes line. A chair stuck in a tree. And, eventually, a woman sitting silently on a bench.
But Sadie doesn’t really DO silence. So she sits with the cat and the woman and talks all about her day. She tells the woman about her friends and her baby brother and then does her homework lying across the bench. After Sadie falls asleep, the woman gently wakes and walks her safely home. Themes for discussion include grief, loneliness and compassion. But most powerful is the way Sadie embodies a willingness to learn, explore, share and connect without prejudice. This is a gift we too often lose as we grow up. In perfect balance, the older lady doesn’t interject or interrupt, but simply listens, until her guidance is required to get Sadie home.
This book rewards multiple reads for the beautiful sentiments, but particularly to take note of the illustrative complexity. It opens with evocative vignettes of the house’s history before guiding us into the garden of subdued greens and rusty browns. Sadie, in bright red with a yellow backpack, accompanied by the ginger cat, brings colour (literally and figuratively) to every spread. The woman is as pale and blue-green as the garden when Sadie arrives, but we see a delicate rosiness return to her face as Sadie’s stories unfold.
The narrative ends with some ambiguity around the woman’s future, which is an opportunity for interpretative shared reading, but is ultimately joyful. Recommended for readers 3+ who enjoy gentle storytelling and attention to visual elements.
 Angus & Robertson, 2024
 Freya Blackwood

Lara Cain Gray’s book The Grown Up’s Guide To Picture Books is being published in September this year.

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