The Art Garden: Sowing the Seeds of Creativity, Penny Harrison (author), Penelope Pratley (illus.), EK Books, 2018

Synopsis: Sadie wants to be a painter, just like her best friend, Tom. She loves playing with colour and finding shapes in unlikely places. But whenever Sadie picks up a paintbrush she makes a big mess. So instead, she spends her time working in the garden or playing with Tom. But, one day, Sadie gets a look at things from a different perspective — and makes a big discovery about herself and her own creativity.

As someone who adores art but doesn’t feel like a natural artist (honestly, even my stick figures don’t look great!), I really connected with The Art Garden. Penny Harrison’s story shows how we can showcase and enjoy our creative urges in all sorts of ways. It also highlights how art can make us feel, whether we have created it ourselves or are taking in someone else’s work.

I love how the picture book encourages children to think about different ways they can express themselves, and that it shows children that art encompasses more than just drawings, paintings and the like. I can see the book prompting discussions about areas such as writing, theatre, music, and other creative arts. Of course, many people also hone their creative skills by problem solving, analysing information etc., so parents, teachers, librarians and other caregivers can talk about all sorts of forms of self-expression and creativity with children.

As a nature lover, I really enjoyed how Penny had the main character, Sadie, use the natural world as an outlet for not only being creative, but also in dealing with anxiety and frustration. I think this is something that kids sadly don’t often realise can be helpful these days, so it’s wonderful to see it being demonstrated aptly in the book. Hopefully readers will be inspired to spend more time exploring their back yards and local parks and other outdoors areas once they’ve finished reading!

I’m also a fan of how the story focuses on the importance of self-acceptance and the theme of individuality. In addition, it touches on jealousy and comparisons with others, which starts young but can plague us as adults still. I think this is another relevant and topical (hello, social media!) area to talk to kids about. The story deals with themes of patience and friendship too, which I commend. In addition, the language throughout is lovely, which just adds to the timeless and educational appeal of the picture book.

As for the illustrations, Penelope Pratley’s soft watercolour artworks pair perfectly with the text. They suit the gentle language used throughout, and also match the topic and content nicely. There is plenty of white space on each page, so even though there’s lots of colour and plenty of action happening, young readers shouldn’t feel overwhelmed at any point.

As an animal lover, I also really appreciated the inclusion, in the illustrations, of a very cute guinea pig, who is by the main character’s side in most of the book. The endpapers are also gorgeous, and hint at what’s to come inside.

I think anyone who loves gardening will immediately be struck by the gorgeous flower depictions on numerous spreads in The Art Garden. Plus, children who have not had much exposure to gardening are sure to want to get their hands dirty after they take in Penelope’s beautiful illustrations and see what can be created with a little passion and perseverance.

The book is recommended for children aged around 4-5 years and up.

Please note: a complimentary copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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