One delight in our home is discovering a new author that gives us a most excellent read. Sometimes we are invited on a fantastic adventure and sometimes we are simply welcomed into someone’s life to walk alongside them. This month we have thoroughly enjoyed The Lizard Garden by Anne E. Phillips.
The Lizard Garden takes us to the Netherlands with the Smith Family. Twelve year old Charlotte Smith and her family are spending the summer in the Netherlands due to her father’s work. What an amazing way to spend your summer! The Netherlands!
The Smith family has rented a home for the summer along a canal. Mrs. Smith has piles of books about the Netherlands, art, the Dutch resistance during WWII, and windmills. There are plans to enjoy a relaxing summer and to embrace, enjoy, and learn the Dutch culture.
Charlotte’s summer break, however, is overshadowed by her deepest longing. Charlotte’s family has a history of moving frequently due her father’s contract work. A year in Boston, a year in Seattle….always moving. Charlotte longs to settle down in a small town, to hang posters on her wall, to make friends for a lifetime.
Soon, Charlotte has more on her mind than just where they are moving to next. A tragedy strikes that sends Mrs. Smith back to the States leaving the rest of the family in the Netherlands. Charlotte, along with her older brother, Milo, and younger sister, Alice, are staying behind with their dad. Charlotte is tasked with extra responsibilities to help out and keep things running smoothly.
It doesn’t take long for the adventure to start: shopping when you don’t understand the language, dealing with siblings, interrupting a bit of illegal gambling, and an unexpected dip in the canal. Then dad gives an assignment to rival the best homeschool mom to be found.
Will the Smith’s survive a summer abroad without mom? Can Charlotte come to terms with the upcoming move? How much Nutella can they pack in their suitcases? (Just kidding. Although this is the question my children would be asking! Read the book and you will understand.)
The Lizard Garden was an absolute delight to read! I read it aloud and all of my children from ages five to sixteen enjoyed it. Every night someone was always asking for one more chapter. Each evening when we read, Sam (5) could always tell me exactly what happened at the previous reading. We looked up art mentioned in the story, learned a bit about life in the Netherlands, and even found a new recipe.
Anne does an excellent job at showing sibling relationships that had my older ones laughing and nodding in agreement. She also does a beautiful job of showing Charlotte’s heart and her struggle. I think that will speak deeply to children. Not just those who perhaps have moved often but any child who has dealt with loss in some way. That fear or knowledge of having to say goodbye to someone or something you love deeply is profound.
My older children and I discussed The Lizard Garden and what we enjoyed about it. It is like The Moffats or The Melendys in how it simple joins in the life of a family and walks with them. Life, simple family life, is never dull or boring. There is always a bit of adventure around the corner. I think as you read The Lizard Garden you will find yourself smiling and laughing. At the end, I found myself with a tear or two. The Smiths are a great family. I’d love to be their neighbor.
The Lizard Garden worked very well as a read aloud. I could easily hand it off to my nine year old to read independently. But I imagine you will want to read it yourself. Let me know if you do!