Years ago one of our neighbours would garden at night. He had his yard set up with powerful lights and most evenings, late into the night, you could see him out there working away.
He’s long since moved, but the other night we were walking by the house and I remarked to my husband that the night gardener’s yard is looking really beautiful.
The next day I went to the library and sitting on top of the shelf, centre stage, was The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers.
I had to have it! And I’m so glad I brought it home to read.
by The Fan Brothers
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
For ages 4-7
This charming book did not disappoint.
William, a young boy living in an orphanage, wakes up one morning to find the tree in front of his window has been clipped to look like an owl. He’s mesmerized and spends all day and evening staring at it.
To William’s delight and amazement, a new animal topiary appears every morning for the next week or so.
William finally meets the night gardener and together they create some beautiful topiaries in the local park.
The entire town and its citizens are changed, from a sad, down-trodden neighbourhood to a vibrant, caring, and active community.
The mysterious night gardener disappears, but he leaves William with a set of clippers and the last page shows William creating a fox from a bush.
WHAT I THOUGHT:
If you just give this book a cursory glance, you’ll miss its depth and richness. This book is meant to be scrutinized, absorbed, talked about and thought about.
There are just so many wonderful details waiting to be discovered.
The text takes a back seat to the illustrations. Drawn in sepia tones and soft greens, with splashes of colour throughout the book, the illustrations set the tone and tell the story.
We see a depressed town, heads down, glum faces, cracked pavement, grass growing in the sidewalk cracks. If we look carefully we might notice the night gardener has a shiny green leaf poking out of his jacket pocket.
If we look even closer, we’ll see that the new tree shapes are not chosen randomly. For the first few topiaries there are little clues to explain the night gardener’s choices. For example, William is forlornly drawing an owl in the dirt and that’s what appears in his yard the next day!
There’s one scene where William is looking out his window and beside him is a little photograph of two people. One presumes they’re his parents, which begs the question: What happened to them?
If you love to take your time with a beautifully illustrated book then I think you’ll love this one.
If you’re in a classroom, be sure to put the book under the document camera so everyone can clearly see the illustrations. After a first reading go through the book again and encourage the students to look closely and talk about everything they notice.
Ask lots of questions and encourage the students to ask questions, too:
Why do you think the author chose sepia and green? How do the colours help set the mood?
What do you think the time setting is? Why? Does it really matter?
How can we tell the town is depressed? Does it change throughout the story? Describe how the illustrations and text show the change.
What’s an orphanage? What do you think happened to William’s parents?
Who is the night gardener? Where did he come from? Where’s he going?
I’m sure as you read through the book with your students you’ll come up with lots more and better questions than I did.
Create some tree sculptures:
I think it would be wonderful to paint some brown tree trunks and then sponge paint some leafy animal sculptures in beautiful shades of green.
Draw contrasting self-portraits:
Divide a large sheet of paper in two, and challenge your students to draw a picture of themselves feeling glum, using only earth-toned colours. Chalk pastels would be a beautiful medium.
On the other half, repeat the process, but this time draw a happy portrait and use bright colours.
Talk about the way colour changes the feeling of the picture.
That’s about it, friends. If you get a copy of this gorgeous book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
You can read more book reviews here.
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