The Night Gardener
Eric Fan and Terry Fan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
William resides in Grimloch Orphanage and as he gazes from his window one morning he discovers that overnight an enormous owl has been fashioned from the foliage of the tree outside. Now if one turns back to the dedication page it’s evident that the same child has been at work, drawing a similar feathered creature in the dust, and that passing by, is a bowler hatted man carrying a ladder and a bag of tools. The title page shows that same man working with his shears on the tree in front of the orphanage building.
Awed by this seemingly magical happening, William spends the day staring at the piece of topiary, and at bedtime he goes to sleep ‘with a sense of excitement’.
The following morning another amazing sight meets William’s eyes and, the scene has taken on a rather more colourful appearance as other members of the community too, have come to wonder at the sight.
Subsequent mornings bring further wonderful creations (the spreads, in tandem take on more colour)
and as William ventures forth, excitedly following the crowds, he discovers that not only have some of the neighbours been doing a spot of grooming of their own tatty-looking abodes, but also the topiarist has created his best work yet and celebrations are in full swing.
As night envelops the town, William returns home and en route, encounters a certain gentleman who is about to change his life for the better (well strictly speaking, he’s already done that and that of the other community members)
but the gifts he receives, as the seasons change the look of the foliage, will have a lasting effect on everyone in the neighbourhood, not least of whom is William.
This is a superb demonstration – visual and verbal – of how a caring adult, art and a touch of magic can transform the life, not just of one small boy, but also, of a whole community. The text flows perfectly but its combination with the Fan Brothers illustrative artistry puts this into a realm far above most picture books.