Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Night Gardener written and illustrated by Terry Fan and Eric Fan

William's street, Grimloch Lane, is pretty dull and gray to look at and could certainly use a little color and some cheering up.  Things are so dull that William doesn't even notice the stranger with a mustache walking down his street carrying a ladder and a rolled up clothe over his shoulder on evening.

But the next morning, William and the rest of the people on Grimloch Lane can't believe their eyes: overnight, just outside the Grimloch Orphanage where William loves, the tree in the yard has turned into a leafy owl.  It was like magic.

Soon, more and more trees are turned into topiaries night after night; there are cats, bunny rabbits, parakeets, an elephant, even a giraffe.  And the best part is that by transforming the trees into something different, the people of Grimloch Lane begin to come out of their homes and to talk with each other, and the next thing you know, their lives are transformed along with the trees.

Then, one day, as he is heading home, William spots a man with a ladder and wonders... Sure enough, he has discovered who is transforming all the trees and not only that, the Night Gardener teaches William how to turn trees into topiaries.

But as the season's change and the leaves fall, the trees revert back to just trees.  Now, however, William has a gift from the Night Gardener - his own pair of gardening shears and a newly learned skill.  When the next spring finally arrives, William puts his topiary skills to work, transforming Grimloch Lane and the people who live there once more.

I love a book that leaves me feeling really good about the world, and this one certainly did that.  In fact, as soon as I finished it, I went back and re-read the story, then went back and explored the illustrations.

The story itself is simple, the text is spare, but the message is powerful - one person can not only make a difference, but can teach others how to do the same.  It reminded me of that old proverb: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.  

But it is the illustrations that really carried the book for me - in fact, this could almost be a wordless book.  From the gray graphite illustrations, to the gradual addition of color as more trees are finished and more people gather to look and socialize with each other, to the beautiful full color digitalized illustrations in a neighborhood that has come to life, each image let the story unfold quietly and gently.  Even the falling autumn leaves, and leafless trees, of winter continue to hold the promise that something exciting and magical is coming.

And if you look closely, you will notice that Grimloch Lane is a nicely diverse neighborhood.  The Night Gardener is a book that kids will definitely want to read and talk about again and again.  Don't be surprised if your young readers want to visit a real topiary garden.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was borrowed from a friend

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