Zola and her cousin Alessandro live near each other in a suburban street of a big city and they love to play together. They miss their newly-departed grandfather and their grandmother always seems sad. Although they do their best to cheer her up by joining her in the gardening, things always seem to go wrong – from precious seeds being lost to naughty dogs running amok and causing problems.
Zola and Alessandro go to the same school, and their teacher hatches a plan to rejuvenate an old community garden. The children learn about gardening, look at old photos and discover that their grandparents were previously involved in the community garden. Will Nonna come and help them make a beautiful community garden? Will she ever smile again?
Melina Marchetta has previously drawn on her own experience of the multicultural experience in Australia, authoring a defining novel more than 20 years ago that resonated with teenagers struggling to come of age in households that were already strained because of tradition and expectations. That novel, Looking For Alibrandi, was made into a feature film and has been included on school booklists continuously since its release.
Melina once again draws on her experience in an Australian-Italian family to show us the intricacies of relationships and the strength of family. Indeed, it was family that inspired this book. Melina’s daughter was a reluctant reader and so Melina wrote this story about characters that her daughter would relate to and recognise, in the hope that it would help her daughter enjoy reading.
This book is the first in a series. There will be seven in entirety – one for every day of the week. It is beautifully illustrated by Deb Hudson, and the illustrations are generously placed so that newly independent readers can rely on pictures to assist them with context. I particularly like the delicately designed jacket and the pretty nameplate inside the front cover – little touches that add to the value of book ownership in my view!
There are some lovely scenes in the book that I found particularly charming: kids bouncing on the trampoline so they can sticky-beak on the neighbours, the good older dog and the destructive younger dog, and the home garden produce that kids don’t like to eat. There’s a lot included that will resonate with contemporary Australian kids, regardless of ethnicity or location. The themes of kindness, compassion, co-operation and shared celebrations are universal across our diverse communities and so I would recommend this book for any reader, boy or girl, aged 6+.