The Books

Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel

by Leslie Connor
Illustrated by Mary Azarian

One Potato Review

The mildness of this cover belies a pretty fierce story of one woman’s journey from the old world (where she could have chosen as her parting gift a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine: even these objects are invested with metaphorical significance far beyond their obvious prettiness) to New York, where she uses the eponymous shovel to plant (and sell) flowers, to the house in the country where she manages orchards, digs cellars, feeds stoves and builds dams against seasonal floods. And lest we remain doubtful of her formidable resolve, there is also considerable heartbreak in these pages, and multiple setbacks: even the shovel doesn’t make it through to the end without some reconstruction. The landscapes are also blessed with the obvious affection of Mary Azarian (who has illustrated Snowflake Bentley, and From Dawn Till Dusk, two other well chosen histories of rugged individualism), and if this all sounds a little like part of a Ken Burns documentary about feminism, or immigration, or nineteenth century American agriculture, this author and illustrator have nevertheless managed to tell an important and interesting story in thirty-two sparely written pages, and make it feel epic all the same. Like Barbara Cooney’s more famous (and similarly restless) Miss Rumphius here is a heroine who seems to be actually welcoming life’s challenges, and you don’t even have to sit through all the boring parts in between. Moving and memorable. Wow.