The Night Gardener

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Night Gardener Book Poster Image
Mysterious gardener brightens gray town in magical story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Introduction of vocabulary and concept of "topiary." Identification of various topiary animals. Historical details in art: clothing, cars, a tricycle, and so on.

Positive Messages

Art and beauty are transformative; they change outlooks and can alter communities that are depressed and hopeless. Grim circumstances can be altered. If you have a strong interest or passion, adults can mentor you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

William is in grim circumstances, a colorless orphanage, but notices the beauty that appears before him and changes because of it. He follows his interests, looking for new topiaries and following the gardener. (Parents should be prepared to point out that it's not a good idea to wander through town at night and stay out all night as William does, even though you're curious.) William learns how to make topiaries himself and carries on the tradition. The gardener helps the community by bringing it beauty and generously takes William under his wing to mentor him.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Night Gardener, a collaboration by the talented Fan brothers, is a lovely book about what can happen when a drab, depressed town is visited by a generous, spirited gardener who clips the trees into whimsical topiaries, bringing art and wonder. The book serves up gorgeous, evocative art, and an implicit socially conscious message about how to revive neglected communities or even just our depressed inner selves. When the gardener creates wonder, the people take time to notice and appreciate the new beauty around them. The detail in the art invites many close readings, making the book a smart and happy choice for a home library.

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What's the story?

In THE NIGHT GARDENER, William looks out the window of his orphanage at the grim, gray world and sees that, overnight, someone has clipped a tree to create a topiary sculpture of an owl. The next day, another topiary animal appears, and then more appear. The gray town brightens, the people celebrate, and when William spies the mysterious gardener, he follows him into the park and helps him clip more trees into fanciful shapes. The next morning, the gardener has vanished, but he's left a pair of shears for William as a present. Fall and winter come, stripping the trees of their leaves, and the gardener disappears form the town. But a bright, colorful spread of the town in spring makes it clear that "the people of the small town were never the same. And neither was William" -- who's pictured continuing the gardener's important work.

Is it any good?

In a lovely, generous-spirited book about the transformative power of art, a depressed town is changed forever after it's visited by a mysterious gardener who clips the trees into topiary animals. This debut picture book by two Canadian brothers who worked together on both art and story is spectacularly illustrated. Set on Grimloch Lane in an unspecified time with monotone period detail that evokes Dorothea Lange's black-and-white photographs from the Great Depression, we see cracks in the sidewalks, old tires littering overgrown yards, splintering fences, and people who are hunched and cheerless. But once the gardener clips the trees into topiary animals, color arrives and, with it, wonder, industry, and whimsy. The people paint their houses, fix their roofs, fly kites, have picnics, and are even inspired to hang Chinese lanterns by the topiary of the dragon. It's a gentle, magical tale of hope and cheer.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about topiaries. Have you ever seen one? How are they made?

  • Why are some of the pictures without color and others in full color? What's happening in the pictures with color?

  • Does the art make the story look like it takes place now or in the past? What clues can you find?

Book details

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