Review: The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock

The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock

The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola (9780763674755)

A nonfiction picture book look at the incredible Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Chand grew up happily in a small village in the Punjab region of India. He grew up there, hearing stories and building palaces on the sand near the river. As an adult, he became a farmer but everything changed when the partition of India happened in 1947. Forced from his home and into a city, Chand struggled to find the beauty he had grown up with. He finally discovered it in the jungle along the city’s edge. There he cut back the vegetation and built himself a hut. He started gathering items and bringing them into the jungle. Then he started building a secret kingdom, one that was undiscovered by anyone else for fifteen years. When the officials wanted it destroyed, the local community rose up to protect this outsider’s art.

Rosenstock manages to keep the complicated story of the partition of India to a scale that allows young readers to understand its impact on Chand, but also not get caught in the political details. She cleverly uses repetition of themes in the book, creating a feel of a traditional tale that suits this subject perfectly. She also shows the care and attention to detail that Chand demonstrated in his quiet work. There is a sense of awe around both his skill and his dedication to his vision.

Nivola’s art is fine-lined and marvelously detailed. From the lush jungle setting to the various figures he created. It is impressive that when the pages unfold to show photographs of the actual Rock Garden, there is no jarring moving from illustration to image. It flows naturally and yet allows the full images to amaze too.

A look at an outsider artist who created a world all his own. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.