Book Reviews

Uno's Garden, written and illustrated by Graeme Base

Uno's GardenUno's Garden
Written and illustrated by Graeme Base
Abrams Books for Young Readers, $19.95
40 pp; ISBN-13: 978-0810954731

Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews

When Uno finds a magical place in the forest so special he decides to spend the rest of his life there, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that has consequences far and wide for generations to come. At first, the lush greenery is home to numerous whimsical creatures and vegetation, like lumpybums and frinklepods, but as Uno's single cabin is joined by others, each page sees a decrease in the number of native plants and animals as the number of people and buildings grows. Eventually, the creep of civilization progresses to the point where there's nothing but gray buildings and haze. No plants. No animals. The city is soon abandoned to Uno and the few plants and a snortlepig that he'd tended in his hidden garden. As the years pass, Uno's children continue to nurture the plants and slowly, very slowly, the forest begins to return, from the puddlebuts to the moopaloops and more.

Clever and thought-provoking, Uno's Garden helps children visualize mathematical concepts in addition to its message about environmental impact. The story's illustrations fill the bottom 3/4 of the pages, leaving the top left for the narrative, and the top right for a mathematical look at the area -- for example, when Uno finds his spot in paradise, there are 10 moopaloops, 10x10=100 plants, 0 buildings, and 1 shortlepig. By the time the area becomes urbanized, there are 3x3=9 plants and 32+32 buildings, and when the city reaches its zenith, there are 1x1=1 plants and 128+128=256 buildings. These concurrent counts that go up and down as the environment changes illustrate addition and subtraction (the animals), reduction (the dramatic decrease of say, 9x9=81 to 8x8=64), and expansion (you'll notice how the number of buildings is doubled every time you turn the page, from 1 to 2 to 4 to 8 to 16 to 32 to 64 and so on). The rates of change drive the story, and further illustrate that a little change can have a big impact, making the discussion of progress versus conservation more than just an academic argument.

Far from heavy-handed or harsh, Uno's Garden is more about awareness of the impact people have on the world around them. Uno's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, given the opportunity to "start over" after the city decays and the natural plants and animals have a chance to re-establish themselves, must keep balance in the forefront of their minds, lest the same fate befall them all again. For young readers too young to enjoy the math games, the story alone is more than enough to hold children's interest. Uno's Garden is that kind of book that can appeal to a broad age spectrum, with each age group getting out of it something a little different.

Graeme Base's distinctive artwork is colorful and detailed; the color and style of the pictures reflects the changing imbalance of nature and people, illustrating the narrative in an unmistakable way -- even the youngest readers will notice the lack of color and greenery in the totally urbanized city. Base's forest animals look like look like blends of familiar creatures, like bunnies with squirrely tails or bees with fishy lips and fins, will catch young readers' attention. There's so much to see and count and talk on numerous levels with Uno's Garden that this is a book you can return to again and again.


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