Title: The Last Garden
Written by: Rachel Ip
Illustrated by: Anneli Bray
Published by: Hodder Children’s Books
The Last Garden is a thoughtful, tender story of hope, touching on issues of conflict and migration. Inspired by war gardens around the world and throughout history, it is based on true events in Syria but is poignant to all wars, such as the current conflict in Ukraine. I particularly like the fact, Zara’s story is told from a child’s point of view, which gives this unique picture book a deeper sense of reality of what children have to cope with during times of war.
The children can no longer play in the playgrounds due to the devastation the city has suffered. Instead they spend their days helping Zara tend to the last flourishing garden, watering the plants and picking fruit from the trees. The garden is a haven that offers a welcome distraction from the horrors of war.
Anneli Bray’s full-colour spreads that bleed to the edges of the pages, portray the joy of the children looking after the garden in sharp contrast to the dark and gloomy illustrations of the war escalating on the other side of the garden wall. They complement Rachel’s text perfectly, contributing to the theme of hope and faith things will improve.
When everyone is forced to evacuate the war-torn city, Zara locks the garden gate creating a feeling of loss and helplessness. The all is lost moment for all the children in the city. But soon seeds from the garden scatter and grow. Behind the garden wall life continues so when the children are finally able to return, the garden is full of thriving plants and colour, reflecting the work they must do to rebuild their city and make it too bloom again.
Rachel Ip handles the issues of war with sensitivity and respect. The lyrical nature of the text is great for reading aloud. This beautiful picture book should be readily available on children’s bookshelves both at home and in school. I believe The Last Garden should be highly recommended, essential reading for all Key Stage One and Key Stage Two children. It can be used to stimulate discussion and empathy for refugees and will also help to encourage all children and adults alike to think about what is happening around the world to people just like them.
You can buy copies of The Last Garden by Rachel Ip and Anneli Bray from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.