"It's time to go home now, Sasha.
We'll come back again next week!"
the ending of “Sasha Visits the Botanic Gardens” by Shamini Flint
|Imported wines and strawberries in winter. We used to think that things from far away places were better than anything we had here. Distain for anything locally made, grown, dispensed, or experienced was chic. Now though we’re rediscovering that those veggies grown at the co-op farms taste pretty good. The bouquet, aroma, and tastes of wines made from those grapes growing twenty miles from here aren’t half-bad either. And our nearby parks, museums, and gardens are worth a second look too. Local has become fashionable and interesting once again.
Shamini Flint extols the value of local wonders in her series of “Sasha” books. Flint, once a lawyer in the second largest law firm on the planet, quit her job to write children’s books. Her books aren’t about adventures to fantastical places. Instead they tell tales about the places she and her daughter Sasha can visit in their hometown of Singapore. “My main aim in writing these books,” Flint wrote in her blog, “was so that my own daughter (Sasha!) would feel comfortable in her own environment and feel a sense of belonging in her own backyard.”
“Sasha Visits the Botanic Gardens” is one of six books meant to introduce youngsters in Singapore to some of the wonders in their own city. Others in the series include Sasha’s trips to the zoo, the bird park, and the national museum. All of books are illustrated by Indian artist lpana Ahuja who uses watercolors that suggest the lushness, softness, and calmness that children might see and experience on their visits.
As I read “Sasha Visits the Botanic Gardens,” a slim book of ten pages of text and ten side-pages of drawings, I wondered how I might have approached writing a children’s book about such a formidable institution. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is one of the world’s most visited botanic gardens and always appears on those lists of the world’s ten best gardens or the places you must see before you die. Like the botanical garden I visit and write about, the Singapore Botanic Garden will be 150 years old next year. A century ago the garden pioneered a way of harvesting latex from rubber trees without harming or killing the trees. Later it developed a world-renowned orchid breeding program and it now has the largest collection of orchid species and orchid hybrids anywhere. More recently, it has taken the lead in developing a program to turn Singapore into a garden city.
Rather that using facts, history, and tradition to tell Sasha about the Botanic Garden, her mom Shamini chose to talk about the things her daughter would see. The book begins: “Sasha is looking forward to her visit to the Botanic Gardens. What will she see there? Trees, flowers, and beautiful birds.” And that’s what the book delivers. With her mom as guide, Sasha sees flowers, picks fragrant blooms from the ground, and plays among them. She sees an oriole, a kingfisher, a mynah, and a woodpecker. She lies on the grass and looks up at the patterns made by the leaves and branches of trees. When Sasha points to the Botanic Garden’s historic octagonal Bandstand and asks, “What’s that over there, Mama?” Mom foregoes an explanation of Bandstand’s history and architecture, and simply says, “It’s a shelter, Sasha. We can go there if it rains. But it’s not going to rain.”
“Sasha Visits the Botanic Gardens” is a book meant to stir a child’s wonder in an experience that is near-at-hand. Author Shamini Flint successfully transforms something local and accessible into a treasure that Sasha and other children will want to come back to again and again. The book’s themes -- trees, flowers, and beautiful birds work for Sasha as they would for any child who visits a botanic garden anywhere in the world.