Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Garden Wall

Jennie Bishop wrote The Garden Wall as "a story of love based on 1 Corinthians 13." It tells the story of two people: Seth, the son of a stonecutter, and Petra, the daughter of a farmer. Both enjoyed helping their fathers, thereby learning the respective trades. Soon a friendship developed between the two children.

One day as the two relaxed in the grass Petra confessed that she had been talking to God. She believed He wanted her to make a garden, a flower garden as a gift for her husband. At first Seth thought it silly. Afterall, she didn't have a husband and he wasn't sure a husband would even want a flower garden. But being her friend, he decided to help her. Petra would plant and tend the garden while Seth would build a wall to protect it. Each received help from their parents. Petra received seeds from her mother and Seth received tools from his father. The both worked very hard and, as they did, their friendship grew through patience, kindness, humility and encouragement. They learned selflessness, self-control and contentment.

Their relationship and their garden faced trials, too. At one point Seth became very sick. At another the garden was trampled by strangers. The friends argued over fault, but learned to trust, care and forgive. When winter came they wondered if the garden would survive, but hope kept them waiting. When spring arrived, the flowers bloomed and the two friends decided to get married. They added a gate to the wall that protected the garden. At the end, the two walk into the garden to "make [their] own home" there. Seth says "God made us to be together, in this place, for always."

The watercolor illustrations by Jeff Stoddard reveal great artistic technique. They're soft and gentle, seemingly taking the story into another time.

What I Like: I really like the letter to parents in the front matter. It clarifies the purpose of the story and encourages proactive training of healthy relationships and sexual purity. I am a huge supporter of those motives.

I also like the positive emphasis on work ethic. Whether readers view this story at surface level or look deeper into the meaning, they cannot escape the truth that building something of value takes work, and that hard work always pays off. This applies to both projects and meaningful relationships.

What I Dislike: The text is cryptic and a bit frustrating to me. The author obviously intends for the story to be multi-faceted, one that works on different levels (friendship, romance and purity until marriage), but, even with the note to parents, the allegory falls flat with incomplete, even inconsistent details. If the garden symbolizes Petra's purity and the Seth's wall protects it, then what does it mean when two strange boys trample her flowers?

Also, the timeline seems rushed. Petra goes from pigtails to marriageability in the course of one year. There is no mention of courtship or even romantic interest; the characters just build a gate and then hold a ceremony.

Seth's closing statement obviously refers to faithfulness within marriage, but I don't see how that fits into the other intended levels. It completely fails the surface level of the story because there is no house, no way they could actually live there. It just seems silly and over-the-top fairy tale-ish.

The story has great potential, but I find the overall delivery very confusing.

Overall Rating: Even with my distaste, I rate this book "Good." It's not a title I personally would choose for my children, but I do believe many parents would find it worth while.

Age Appeal: 8 and up

Publisher Info: Warner Press Kids, 2006; ISBN: 1593171684; Hardback; $12.99

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Special Info: See our reviews of other books by this author. You can also visit her website at

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