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The Bamboo Garden


Tori stood in the Griffins’ kitchen, holding Mama’s hand.

Even before she saw her, Tori heard the sounds of Polly Griffin: a great thumping of feet on the floorboards overhead, then the clattering of shoes down the wooden staircase into the kitchen. 

Brown braids flying, cheeks flushed red, Polly jumped off the bottom step and into Tori’s life.


It isn’t easy for Tori Takahashi and Polly Griffin to be best friends. There are so many differences—how they look, where they live, and how they feel about things. Yet, the thoughtful ways of one and the enthusiasm of the other make for a winning combination. 

Every week Tori and her mother ride the trolley through Berkeley to Polly’s house where Mrs. Takahashi cleans and sews for the Griffins. Tori delights in this magical world, especially planning adventures and sharing secrets with Polly in her bamboo garden. 

The hot, dry summer of 1923 makes the stalks taller and stronger, just like the girls’ friendship. Surprisingly, their biggest adventure is about to begin. All the signs are there: the strange weather, the troubling news delivered by a disagreeable neighbor girl, and a hobo’s remarkable gift.



The Bamboo Garden, richly detailed and thoroughly researched, brings to life the challenges of living in Berkeley, California during the early 1920s. Young people will identify with the injustices and prejudices so vividly described and gain a deeper understanding of how it feels to be an ‘outsider.’ Sue Austin has created a compelling story that both young and old will enjoy.”

…Margit E. McGuire, author of Storypath (A Problem Solving Approach to Teaching Social Studies) and Past President of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)  

“…it is a fine exploration of local history, including what was then commonplace prejudice and discrimination against non-Caucasians in California and, yes, Berkeley.”

Excerpt from Exactly Opposite, The Newsletter of the Berkeley Historical Society, Steven Finacom, Past President

“Not only does this fast-paced story provide insights about how people deal with prejudice as well as how a community manages a natural disaster, but it weaves a delightful narrative of friendship. It’s one of those curl-up-in-a-comfy-chair stories that prompts sheer pleasure.”

Jane Brem, Past Member of the Joint Committee of the Children’s Book Council and the National Council for the Social Studies to identify Notable Children’s Trade Books

The Bamboo Garden book cover

For ages 9 and up
Song Tree Books (Berkeley, CA), 2012
Buy the book at your favorite local bookstore or at AMAZON