by Chrysa Smith
I’m a born and bred New Yorker. For better and worse, it’s my stomping grounds. It’s the place where I lived, grew and worked, and like most early life experiences, is deeply imbedded in me. So, when I decided to write The Upside-Down Gardener, I decided to set it in a city garden—NYC to be exact. I hired friend and illustrator Pat Achilles (achillesportfolio.com) to illustrate the story. And a marvelous job she did. It was so good, in fact, that a couple years later–right about now, The New Yorker magazine has a similar concept on the front cover. Flowers growing in the subway. Mine are upside-down. Theirs are right-side up. Coincidence? Probably. I sure hope so.
So, it’s fun, as an author, to see similar ideas ‘bloom’ in other venues. The New Yorker is clearly an adult publication. In fact, Pat Achilles has contributed several comical cartoons there. But the same concept that appeals to adults: beautifying the subway just a bit. Making it lovelier, also appeals to children. One of the things I speak to in my school visits is asking ‘what if?’ What if cats were flying around your house when you got home from school? What if the apes at the Bronx Zoo were released into your school? What if flowers were magically growing in the subway? These questions beg stories to be told—stories that make imaginations soar and shake up the cobwebs in brains that come from a lack of imagination in adults—and probably too many video games in kids.
Adults take themselves so seriously at times–especially these days. Taking things a little lighter and enjoying self-deprecating humor can be the beginning of great things. My thwarted gardening experiment gave rise to me calling myself ‘the upside-down gardener.’ I’ve called myself by so many names (some I won’t mention), that one stuck and gave me the idea to create a story about it. A story I took, asked ‘what if?’ and took off.
I knew the concept was good. Now, after seeing something similar on the cover of the prestigious New Yorker magazine, I know I’m in good company.