The Night Gardener

There's magic in topiary--taking something free and alive like a tree and transforming it, with the snip of sharp blades, into a dragon or elephant. More broadly, there's the magical-seeming power of art to surprise and delight and transform a community.

In this deeply lovely picture-book debut by Canadian author-illustrators Terry Fan and his brother Eric Fan, there is one such maker of magic on the glum, rather monochromatic Grimloch Lane of yesteryear: an older Asian gentleman who shapes trees into owls, cats and rabbits in the night while people are sleeping. One morning, a boy named William wakes up to a commotion. He looks out the orphanage window, then races outside to find a big tree shaped into an enormous owl. Each day after that, there is a new topiary creation to discover: "Something was happening on Grimloch Lane./ Something good." The Fan brothers capture the thrill of stumbling upon something unknown and unexpected... something that is not magic, but feels like magic. The gorgeous graphite illustrations are exquisitely detailed, and the greenish gray hues of the moonlit night scenes in particular evoke the hush of darkness, allowing readers to almost hear the Night Gardener's steady scissor snips.

In the end, William spots the bespectacled topiary artist, with his ladder and tools, and becomes his co-conspirator. As the whole town comes out to marvel at the elaborate, leafy menagerie they created, the previously muted artwork blooms into full color. After the night gardener works his curious brand of magic, no one--not the town, not William--is ever the same. The Night Gardener is visual storytelling at its best. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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