Score: 89/100 (8.9 out of 10)
Stone Garden is another wonderful addition to author Tuula Pere's line of children's books. She has proven to be one of our most prolific children's authors by far. This book really embodies Tuula Pere's signature style. True to form, it has a darker, more gothic, fantastical look and feel similar to her earlier hit, The Only Blue Crow. It is similar to the works of Tim Burton or something like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and that's a good thing. This is another example of a book that encourages children to use their imagination and to think bigger and broader about things. This book also teaches the age-old yet important lesson of learning to treat people the way that you want to be treated.
This book follows two siblings, Lina and Nico, as they discover a mysterious garden filled with morbid statues. The statue that sticks out to them the most is one of a grumpy old man. Nico is initially scared of the statue, but Lina is able to calm his fears by encouraging him to reframe his thinking about the statue. She reframes the statue in the context of a story that their grandma had told them about a grumpy old man. The grumpy old man was mean and rude to people, then when his birthday came, he held a party expecting people to be impressed by the extravagant garden he owned. As expected, no one attended his party because of the way he had treated them. The grumpy old man became so depressed, he retreated into himself and turned to stone.
Something really great about this book is that children really can pick up some great lessons. For example, they can empathize with the way that Nico feels about the scary statue. The statue is, in fact, a bit unsettling like many things in life. Lina teaches readers that they can reframe something scary by putting them into a new context, in a different light, and coming to a better understanding of the thing that they're scared of. For example, if you're scared of spiders, maybe it could help to read and learn more about spiders, learning that they're just living creatures like we are. They want to eat like we do. If a child is scared of the dark, maybe they can come to an understanding that light and dark aren't magical, they're just parts of nature just like we are. Maybe if a child is afraid of showering, they can reframe it as being not much different than rain, something they might find cool or interesting.
Another more obvious lesson that children will take away from this book is to learn to treat people they want to be treated. You get that lesson from looking at the grumpy old man who drives people away with the way he treats them. The book also teaches children that being rich, famous, successful, or having nice things (like a fancy garden) isn't a replacement for being a good person.
Something else that's beautiful about this story is that the grumpy old man does have a bit of a redemption arc. He initially keeps little blue birds in cages with him because they're the only “friends” who'll stay with him and sing to him. However, they stop singing when he keeps them in cages for too long and won't let them go. The old man eventually realizes that he needs to start treating people and animals better, so he lets them go. Because of this act of kindness, the birds come to visit him and sing to him. It's quite sweet. This shows children that people/friends are more likely to stick around and remain friends if you're good and kind to them.
The only real issues with this book are that it's a little bit wordy, so it may test younger attention spans, and that the illustrations aren't nearly as impressive as something like The Only Blue Crow or Treehouse Night. The art is much more like Do You See Me When We Travel? The art does have a bit of a character and charm of its own. There are times when the lines and colors really blend and mix well together, almost becoming one.
All in all, Stone Garden is definitely worth a look. Check it out on Amazon!