OPINION | READ TO ME: Dirty little girl saves the day and obeys Mom, too

"Lala's Words: A Story of Planting Kindness" by Gracey Zhang (Scholastic Inc., July 6), 4-8 years, 48 pages, $15.99.

“Lala's Words: A Story of Planting Kindness” by Gracey Zhang (Scholastic Inc., July 6), 4-8 years, 48 pages, $15.99.

This is a story in which a mother is wrong.

Her sweaty child Lala runs around their drab city despite blistering heat, tumbling for fun, tripping and tearing her clothes. Always busy, Lala carries pots of water to an alley, where she crawls on the dirt and concrete to coo at weeds. "You are stripy and lovely," she says, and the plants like that.

Mom lectures her about being rough and dirty.

But the plants sway and nod at the girl's kind words all summer. Turns out, the words she whispers to the plants are beneficial and so powerful that she doesn't even have to say them in person. That is a good thing for the plants, because Lala's mother gets tired of her "jibber-jabbering" and grounds her.

The day is dangerously hot. Lala worries for her plant friends, but there's nothing she can do but be indoors, obeying her mother. So she expresses her love for those she cannot be near. She whispers from her window throughout the day and after night falls.

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Next day, it's not so hot — because miraculous plants are shading the apartment house and shielding it from the sun. Overnight, the weeds burgeoned into massive tree weeds, science-fiction size. They have somehow come to find Lala through the dark night. It's not clear that they have uprooted themselves and are now planted next to the apartment; possibly their roots are still back in the alley and the fronds and leaves have simply stretched across the distance. All we see is a huge green canopy.

Whatever, Mother is apologetic. She hugs and praises Lala for being special and urges her to run outside and play.

I see several ways to interpret this event. Child stands up to authority to save the planet? Loving child teaches an adult about the power of kindness? Wise child sees the potential for green growth in an urban heat sink? Mothers don't know what they're talking about? Good little girl saves the world and obeys Mom, too?

Deciding what "Lala's Words" means could give everyone something to talk about.

Read to Me is a weekly review of brief books for young people.