"Rabbit had a brand new job.
'I'm keeper of the Botanical Gardens!' he said,
waving to his friends."
--opening lines of "The Thief in the Botanical Gardens"
|Diane Rediofle Massie wrote and illustrated this who-done-it book for kids. It's about a rabbit who was made "keeper" of a botanical garden. Strutting proudly over the garden grounds wearing his sky-blue keeper's coat trimmed with gold buttons and braid, he decides the garden needs some rules. None of his old garden friends-- the frog, the turtle, a mother possum and her newborns, and a flock of crows-- understands what he what thinks a botanical garden ought to be. So a day into his job, the rabbit puts up signs all over the garden telling the frog NO SWIMMING, the possum family NO CLIMBING, the turtle NO SLEEPING, and, as for the crows who liked grubbing for worms: KEEP OFF THE GRASS.
How power corrupts is just the opener. Midway through the book, disaster strikes. On an inspection tour of the grounds, the rabbit is horrified to find that someone has nipped the flowers off the tiger lilies and that the begonias and zinnias have been eaten. After much finger-pointing at his old friends, the rabbit finally solves the mystery of the disappearing flowers. Then, like any good children's book, all turns out well in the end: old friendships are patched up and the rabbit announces to everyone's delight, "I'm taking down the signs. It's nicer here without them."
This is only children's book I know of that is set in a botanical garden. Maissie even uses the words "Botanical Gardens" in her title, certain that kids and parents know what such places are and try to do. Perhaps she was wrong. The book is out-of-print and is hard to get even through sellers of old books. With the renewal of interest in botanical gardens now would seem to be a good time for a revival of this book of the 70's with its timeless emphasis on virtues of friendship and repentance.