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The Gardener of Alcatraz - A True Story




(pub 4.5.2022) 40 pages

Author: Emma Bland Smith

Illustrator: Jenn Ely

Character: Elliott Michener


"When Elliott Michener was locked away in Alcatraz for counterfeiting, he was determined to defy the odds and bust out. But when he got a job tending the prison garden, a funny thing happened. He found new interests and skills--and a sense of dignity and fulfillment. Elliott transformed Alcatraz Island, and the island transformed him."

Tantalizing taste:

"The island had changed in the nine years since Elliott had arrived.

The gray was gone. In its place was green. And other colors! Pink snapdragons. Red geraniums. Purple iris.

Elliott, too, had changed. He knew sedum from sage and dahlias from daffodils. He also had passion, pride, and solid skills. He could see a colorful future for himself – one that didn't involve breaking the law."

And something more: Emma Bland Smith, in the Author's Note, explains: "Researching this book involved many people and processes. I was excited to find valuable and revealing primary sources, such as prison reports on Elliott Michener, a recorded audio interview, and a delightful exchange of letters between Elliott and Warner Swoop.… Jenn Ely and I tried to be as accurate as possible in both text and art."

The bibliography of primary sources is impressive and such sources provide compelling details to the story. The Back Matter includes this excerpt from a letter Elliott sent after he moved to Southern California, married and led a productive life (one source said as a landscaper): "It continually amazes me that so many good things have happened," he wrote to Mr. Swope. "Ain't that sumpin'?"


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