Miss Jaster's Garden
N.M. Bodecker ~ Golden Press, 1972
I imagine someone going into a used book shop or logging onto whatsthatbook or e-mailing Loganberry with this question... "I'm looking for a book, um, and it was something about an old lady who lives in a big house and she has a hedgehog with a garden on its back." EXACTLY! (Now that I look on Loganberry's "Stump the Bookseller" section, a few people have done just that!) I, for one, do not remember a sprouting hedgehog from my childhood, but this book was one of many great scores at the previously-mentioned PTO sale this past weekend. Searching around the Internet reveals this is a most-beloved and remembered book, even getting a reprint in the early 2000s. Sadly, it's right back out-of-print, and going for far too much again already. So, I hope you don't see this post and remember how much you loved this book when you were little then log on to buy one, because they are a wee bit costly.
That said, where to begin. I never, ever turn down an over-sized Golden Book because 99 times out of a hundred, it's going to be something I love. I don't believe I even opened this one until I got it home, so confident of 60s and 70s Big Goldens I am. Bodecker was an author and illustrator of many things including writing The Mushroom Center Disaster with illustrations by Erik Blevad and illustrating The Tales of Magic series by Edward Eager (though the new editions have cover art by Quentin Blake, Bodecker's original drawings still pepper the inside) and Holl's Sylvester: The Mouse with the Musical Ear (which is overdue for a review, here). This seems to be one of only a handful that he both authored and illustrated himself, and a lovely little story it is, too.
Meet Mrs. Jaster, a half-blind, old sweetheart who lives by the sea and loves to tend her garden, play her piano and feed saucers of milk to the local hedgehog. Until one day... while wearing dark glasses in the sun, two of her loves combine on accident.
These glasses made everything look brownish-gray, the same color as the empty flower bed she was about to seed, and the same color as Hedgie, who was asleep in the middle of it.
The flower bed was on the south side of the house, a protected nook out of the wind, and full of sun. It was the first spot Miss Jaster planted each spring. She raked the bed lightly with a small rake. She sprinkled the seeds evenly: Marigold and Baby's Breath and patches of Sweet William. She showered it all generously with her watering can, never suspecting that a small, spiky animal was in the middle of it.
At first Hedgie though of moving to a safer spot, but his quills did need combing, and he rather enjoyed having his back scratched. So he stayed. He hardly felt the seeds at all; they were like dust settling among his quills. As for the shower from the watering can, it was like a gentle rain-- not at all unpleasant after the heat and dust.
One thing leads to another and soon Hedgie is blooming and being falsely accused of garden stealing. Fear not, however, as there is a sweet finish with milk saucers into infinity. A wonderful story with dainty watercolor and ink drawings to match. Particularly of note are the mapped endpapers which show the plan of Miss Jaster's garden as prepared for The Royal Horticultural Survey. Splendid!
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