I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. — C. S. Lewis
I stopped reading most children’s fiction a few years ago, mostly because I had re-read my favorites so many times that they were boring. (So many times, in fact, that I can still quote some.) But as the quote above purports, good children’s fiction isn’t only for children. It had been a long time for me since I had last settled down with a story for children, and I enjoyed The Lizard Garden. Like other books I have greatly enjoyed, namely The Wheel on the School and Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, it was a recommendation from my mom. (Aren’t those always the best?)
12-year old Charlotte would like nothing more than to settle down in small town Missouri where the rest of her extended family lives. Her father’s work takes him and his family constantly from location to location around the globe, and their newest locale is The Netherlands. But just as the family is settling in, bad news comes from Missouri and takes her mom back to the States for the summer to care for their grandma, leaving Charlotte and her siblings Milo and Alice with their dad.
Between fights, the children bike the countryside with their father, explore Dutch art, and make the acquaintance of their new neighbors on the canal. In particular, an withdrawn elderly couple a few houses down. After a difficult time breaking the ice, a camping catastrophe brings them together. After that, their dad decides he cannot manage Charlotte and her siblings, and puts them to work–writing a book. A curious link between two famous masterpieces provides the material for their story, but no sooner than they’ve started when their mom comes back with news. The family may be moving again, this time to a place Charlotte’s always wanted to live, but now she is torn between her wishes and how much she has come to love the Dutch countryside and their new friends.
This was a lovely little story, perfect for passing a boring afternoon.
I had never heard of the Lizard Garden in Amsterdam. The Lizard Garden deftly combines art old and new, and creates interest in the detail and backstory of antique paintings by the masters. The relationship between Milo, Charlotte and, Alice was very realistic. Mrs. Siglin is well-traveled, so she writes knowledgeably on The Netherlands. Who knew that you buy milk and tomato sauce in boxes, or that a Nutella-like spread is cheaper there? (Like, seriously, just one more reason I need to go to Holland.) I think that may have been my favorite part. It was a very authentic story, and I highly recommend it.