Hi! Katje here.
Getting back into the swing of things with a Book of the Week post, I’m going to be talking today about The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jen Wojtowicz and illustrated by Steve Adams. The Boy Who Grew Flowers was an instant favourite for me and remains one of my top Barefoot Books to this day. I constantly recommend it to people of all ages, because it’s a beautiful story not only for kids, but for adults too.
(I last talked about this book in my post on World Kindness Day, but this review is more in-depth.)
A bit about the book: The Boy Who Grew Flowers is a story about “feelings and firsts” that is designed to teach children compassion and to let them know that it’s okay to be different. I’d personally classify it as an “American folk or faery tale,” as it’s obviously set in America, but has the trappings of a fairy story. It’s full of beautiful illustrations and has a simple, but deep and meaningful story. It’s a good book for kids aged 4 to 10 years, but of course can be enjoyed at any age.
Story Summary: Rink Bowagon lives with his strange family on Lonesome Mountain. His uncle tames rattlesnakes, his cousins and brothers are shape-shifters, and Rink himself sprouts flowers all over his body every full moon. Rink enjoys school even though he doesn’t have any friends; the other children think his family is too weird to talk to him much.
When a new girl comes to school, Angelina Quiz, Rink immediately likes her, and notices several small details about her, including the fact that one of her leg’s is shorter than the other and she wears a flower behind her ear. Angelina comes from a dancing family and loves music, but when the dance comes up she says no to everyone who asks her to go, saying she won’t be able to dance with her legs different lengths.
Rink is driven to do something nice for the kind girl in his class, so he rushes home and works for three days building her a pair of snake-skin shoes from the supplies in his family’s house. One of the shoes has a higher heel than the other, so when Angelina wears them her feet will hit the ground evenly.
Rink is so enamoured with Angelina that when he thinks about her wearing the shoes and dancing, he sprouts a bouquet of pink roses from his head, even though it’s not the full moon. He goes to visit her and gives her the flowers and the shoes, and Angelina asks him to the dance, teaching him all the steps she’s known by heart her whole life. They have a wonderful time, and they sit and talk, sharing their secrets with each other. Angelina reveals the flower behind her ear grows out of her head.
Rink and Angelina live happily ever after: they remain friends until they are older, and then later they get married and have seven children, all of whom are especially gifted with plants. They start a family gardening business and live on Sweet Blossom Hill, once known as Lonesome Mountain.
Why I think it’s special: There are a lot of beautiful messages in this book. Rink comes from a family deemed strange, but throughout the story he learns to find strength in that strangeness, in his own differentness from other kids. When he reveals his strange secret to Angelina, he finds that she’s not so different from him. This teaches kids that we’re all a little weird, and that we don’t have to be ashamed of our weirdness, because chances are what makes us different is also what makes us special.
I think this book also teaches us that just because someone’s different, doesn’t mean they don’t have value, and that we should be compassionate when dealing with people who challenge our expectations. This is an important thing for children to learn, as I’m sure most of us remember the agony of being the “new kid” in class. If you don’t get accepted, the school year can be very difficult.
As well, I think this book is good at breaking down gender stereotypes. At no point is it suggested that Rink is less of a boy because he grows flowers; the only reason it’s seen as strange is because sprouting any kind of plant out of your body is considered strange. But it’s never used to make him seem less manly, like if he were sprouting weeds or something that would be more acceptable. As well, Rink is a gentle and loving child, and he is never bullied by his family for being like that, being told to be more manly. He is allowed to be who he is, and who he is is special.
Finally, I think this book also works well at breaking down the stereotypes that cover a certain type of person in America — the rural family. The stereotype of the rural person in America is one of someone who is uneducated, bigoted, and someone who lacks value in society. This book shows that this is simply not true, and even if people are different, they still have things to contribute and we should honor that.
How are you different from others? What makes you a special person?