Name of Book: The Night Gardener
Author: The Fan Brothers (Terry Fan & Eric Fan)
Illustrator: Terry Fan & Eric Fan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Audience: 4-8 years
Summary: One morning, Grimloch Street residents awaken to find that a once-ordinary tree has been turned into a work of art. A young boy named William is captivated by this tree, which has been turned into an owl. Day after day, their neighborhood is transformed, not just by the art of the Night Gardener, but also by neighbors beginning to work, play, and marvel over the trees together. One night, William discovers the identity of the Night Gardener, who invites him to become a co-creator. After a night of trimming and learning, William wakes to find a pair of clippers of his very own. The Night Gardener disappears, and his work fades from view, but the neighborhood and William have been forever changed.
Literary elements at work in the story (Genre/setting/characterization/plot/theme /point of view/style): The authors use the illustrations to tell this story, along with few, but meaningful words. When the story begins, Grimloch Street is depicted as bleak and colorless. The people are bundled up and have hats pulled down, and none of them are interacting. The work of the Night Gardener is shown in color, and as he continues to work, the book fills up with color! The reader also begins to see neighbors interacting, animals coming out to play, and a generally liveliness beginning to spread. So many rich details on each page mean that the reader can see something new each time the book is read! The gentle spirit of the Night Gardener is portrayed in his kind eyes and his invitation to William to help him. Through this invitation and teaching, William discovers his own abilities and gifts.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? There are no explicit references to diversity in this book. However, the neighborhood that begins to develop into community is made up of people with different colors of skin, different ages and abilities. We don’t know a lot about economics on Grimloch Street, but we do know that William lives at the Orphanage. For him to be welcomed by the Night Gardener as a co-creator, and to be gifted with his own pair of clippers was probably more meaningful because of his lack of other resources (family, money, etc).
Theological Conversation Partners: The Night Gardener, while not explicitly about faith at all, can inspire some great faith conversations. The creative work of the gardener can be compared with God’s creation in Genesis 1, examining ways that both God and the gardener bring light, color, order, and lively relationship to the world through their creations. William felt a call to follow the Night Gardener and learn from him, just as the fishermen followed Jesus in the gospels. The gift of the clippers enabled William to continue the Night Gardener’s mission even when he had gone; this can remind us of the early church after Jesus’ ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The last lines of the book, “But the people of the small town were never the same. And neither was William,” remind us of the ways that we are all changed by God’s invitation to new life. This book is a beautiful allegory for the way that change happens.
Faith Talk Questions
- What was William drawing at the beginning of the book? Compare his drawing to the first sculpture. Why do you think the gardener chose an owl for his first tree?
- Look at each picture of a new tree sculpture. What changes, from the owl to the dragon? What do you see when you look at the people?
- How did the Night Gardener react when William found him? Why do you think he invited William to help?
- How did the Night Gardener change William?
- How did he change Grimloch Street? (Look at the scenes at the very beginning and end to compare).
This review was written by Edye Bender, Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna and Program Director at Faith Presbyterian Church, Indian Land, SC.
The Night Gardener by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.