The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers (InfoSoup)
William wakes up one morning to discover that the tree outside his window has been changed into an owl topiary. Day by day, more topiary appear along Grimloch Lane. There is a cat, a rabbit, a parakeet, and an elephant. Then one day, there is a dragon, that inspires the community to hang lanterns in its branches and along the road. It is that night that William notices a stranger with a ladder walking along. He follows the man to the local park where the man turns and invites William to help him. It is the night gardener and William helps him until he falls asleep. The next morning William awakens to see the park transformed by his work. As seasons change, the topiary disappear but the community spirit doesn’t.
This is one beautiful book. The text is simple, allowing the detailed illustrations to shine. Still, the text has gorgeous moments such as William watching the first topiary until it was too dark to see it anymore. This book is slow and steady, magical but also homely. It is filled with community spirit that readers can watch build steadily as the night gardener gives his gifts.
The community spirit is shown as homes with boarded-up windows turn into a dynamic community right before their eyes. The illustrations are beautiful, filled with touches that show the where the gardener gets his inspiration. The illustrations tell much of the story, showing that William lives in an orphanage and vividly demonstrating the inspiration a community can get from art.
A gorgeous and vibrant read, this book can be paired nicely with Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green for a topiary triumph. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island by Dana Alison Levy
This is the second book in the Family Fletcher series and once again it is a treat to spend time with this dynamic family. This time they head to Rock Island, a place where Papa has been coming since he was a child. Rock Island is a small place where things are always the same. There is the same lighthouse, the same flavors of ice cream, and the same tiny house where all of the boys share a loft filled with beds. This year though, some things have changed. There is a fence around the lighthouse, so no one can visit it. A new family has moved in next door too, though they seem to be very annoying. The brothers themselves are also changing and heading in different directions for the first time on the island. Though one thing unites them all, the question of what is really happening to their beloved lighthouse.
Levy has once again written such a readable book. The Fletcher family is made up of gay parents and four adopted siblings of different races. Yet this series is not about growing up in a diverse and gay family, rather it is about a merry and very human family that is a joy to spend time with. The brothers all treat one another like siblings, meaning they fight, they apologize, they inadvertently hurt one another’s feelings. This series is about a real family, one that comes to life on the page.
Levy does deal very sensitively about race in this book. The scene is handled beautifully where at first readers will not realize what is going on, so their own understanding progresses at the same rate as the young characters who soon realize they are dealing with a bigoted bully. The issue is not minimized, but the family comes together to support their brother as he discovers the harshness of direct racism for the first time.
Smart and very funny, this novel for young people adds a winning second book to a series I hope continues for some time. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Delacorte and Edelweiss.