The Night Gardener – Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book
Written and Illustrated by Terry and Eric Fan
Published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Grimloch Lane lives up to its name. The houses that line it are unkempt and the people who stroll the cracked sidewalks do so with their heads down and their shoulders slumped. In their picture book debut, the Fan Brothers introduce to this setting a magical gardener who becomes a catalyst for this community’s rejuvenation. In the opening spreads, readers meet William, who uses a stick to sketch an owl on the ground. William wakes the following day to find his owl represented in topiary art; the tree beside his window has magically changed overnight. With each passing night an additional tree is transformed – a cat, a rabbit, a parakeet and an elephant appear. Crowds gather on the streets and grow in size as the residents begin to take action, sprucing up their homes and forging new connections with one another. After a day-long celebration under a dragon-shaped tree, William spots and follows someone unfamiliar. Under the light of the full moon, the Night Gardener invites William to work alongside him; together, they fill Grimloch Park with leafy sculptures. Although the gardener moves on, William and the residents of Grimloch Lane are forever changed by his work. The illustrations, rendered in graphite and digitally colored, tell the story in this inspiring picture book, which invites close study and deep thinking about creativity and community.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classrooms
Close Reading: Illustrations. The Night Gardener is one of those wonderful picture books in which the more you look, the more you see. Invite your students to do a close reading of the illustrations, describing what they see. How do Eric and Terry Fan foreshadow the action of the plot through illustration? How do the illustrations reveal this community (the setting) and its transformation? What do we learn about character and character development through the illustration? How so the illustrations change over the course of the book? What is the relationship between the text and the illustration?
Duet Model Reading. Pair a reading of The Night Gardener with Lane Smith’s Caldecott Honor winning picture book Grandpa Green. Compare the process of creating the topiary and the roles of the topiary in these books. What is handed down across generations in each story? Compare the text and illustration and their roles in meaning making across the two books. As an extension, invite students to play with the composition of their own picture book that features topiary as a key component of theme, setting, or character development.
Topiary Text Set. You and your students may be inspired after reading The Night Gardener to learn more about the art of topiary. Use the resources listed in Further Explorations as a starting point to learn more about the history of topiary, how topiary is created, and the locations of famous topiary gardens. Take a virtual field trip viewing photos of topiary gardens and/or watch topiary artist Pearl Fryar describe his work. If you have topiary in your community, invite the gardener responsible for maintaining the topiary to visit the classroom to discuss his/ her work and/or arrange a field trip to see the garden first hand.
Gardening Text Set. As The Night Gardner concludes, we see the residents of Grimloch Lane happily engaged in evening outdoor activities. Many of them are working to further beautify their community through gardening efforts. Read this book as part of a text set on gardening to explore how planting fruits, vegetables, flowers, trees, and greenery can have a positive impact on a neighborhood. See our entries on Planting the Wild Garden, It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden, and Diana’s White House Garden for text set resources.
Tree Creations. Invite your students to imagine how they might sculpt a tree if they had the opportunity to work with the Night Gardener. You could leave their choice of subject open or you could ask students to create a tree that represents an aspect of their own character. After sketching several possibilities, students can create a final portrait of their tree using brown construction paper to create the stem and branches and green paint to create the leaves. As a larger project, you might choose to combine their individual trees into a class created mural of a topiary garden.
Bonsai. The “most magnificent masterpiece” created by the Night Gardener is reminiscent of a Bonsai tree (writ large). Invite a local Bonsai artist to visit your classroom and compare the processes involved in creating large scale topiary to the processes of creating Bonsai. What is involved in each of these art forms – how are they similar and how are they different? You might also choose to do a duet model reading with The Peace Tree from Hiroshima.
Color Text Set. As community members converge to admire the Night Gardener’s work, their surroundings begin to change. Notice with your students how the scenes become brighter across the book, moving from gray/green/blue tones to full color illustration by the book’s end. Gather together a collection of picture books in which color plays a significant role. For some examples from The Classroom Bookshelf see our entries for: Maybe Something Beautiful, The Noisy Paint Box, Extra Yarn, Sky Color, The Great Big Green, The Day the Crayons Quit, and Green. Discuss the role that color plays in the illustrations, plotline, characterization, setting, and theme. What aspects of color are explored in each book? Following this immersion in picture books about color, invite your students to compose and illustrate their own color-inspired stories.
Community Transformations. The Night Gardener is an ideal text to include in a text set on individuals and groups who have influenced community transformations. For more, see this teaching idea in our entry on Extra Yarn (include Maybe Something Beautiful in this text set, too).
Author/ Illustrator Website
The Cloisters: The Medieval Garden Enclosed
Railton: Town of Topiary
Newport Mansions: Green Animals Topiary Garden
The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden
National Geographic on You Tube: Pearl Fryar Topiary
Better Homes and Gardens: Graham Ross on Topiary
Ancona, G. (2013). It’s our garden: From seeds to harvest in a school garden. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Barnett, M. (2012). Extra yarn. Ill. by J. Klassen. New York: Balzer & Bray.
Campoy, F.I. & Howell, T. (2016). Maybe something beautiful. Ill. by R. Lopez. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Carbone, E. (2016). Diana’s White House garden. Ill. by J. Smith. New York: Viking.
Daywalt, D. (2013). The day the crayons quit. Ill. by O. Jeffers. New York: Philomel.
Galbraith, K.O. (2011). Planting the wild garden. Ill. by W.A. Halperin. New York: Peachtree Books.
Gifford, P. (2014). The great big green. Ill. by L. Desimini. Honesdale, PA: Boyd Millls Press.
Moore, S. (2015). The peace tree from Hiroshima: The little bonsai with a big story. Ill. by K.I. Wilds. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing.
Reynolds, P.H. (2012). Sky Color. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Rosenstock, B. (2014). The noisy paintbox: The colors and sounds of Kandinsky’s abstract art. Ill. by M. GrandPre. New York: Knopf.
Seeger, L.V. (2012). Green. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
Smith, L. (2011). Grandpa Green. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
About Erika Thulin Dawes
Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.
SLJ Blog Network