Daylight fades with the sky turning dusky shades of red, purple, blue, orange and yellow painted by the rays of the setting sun. Flocks of birds gather in groups, resting in tree tops. Burrows, holes in trees, beds in ponds, rivers, streams, lakes, fields and forests are sought. Humans and most of their natural world counterparts are ending their day looking forward to hours of rest. As each drifts off to sleep they do so certain when they awaken their surroundings will be as they were unless weather or the seasons make their mark.
Imagine if you will, upon waking, finding something so extraordinary you have to pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming. The Night Gardener (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, February 16, 2016) written and illustrated by The Fan Brothers (Eric Fan and Terry Fan) explores the idea of a single significant act of beauty as the beginning of marvelous changes. Something or someone is working a kind of enchantment.
William looked out his window to find a commotion on the street.
Dressing with the speed of lightning he ran out of the orphanage to discover the tree outside his building was no longer an ordinary, everyday kind of tree. Its leaves and branches had been formed into the shape of a huge owl watching the world in its infinite wisdom. It was no wonder William could not take his eyes off this work of art until he fell asleep full of anticipation.
Each morning a new creation greeted William and the people residing on Grimloch Lane. It might be something as normal as a house cat or as exotic as an elephant. The topiaries were not the only thing new in this community. More and more people were taking the time to look at these reshaped trees. Life in this community was shifting from gloomy to bright.
On the sixth morning, two trees had been joined together in a fantastic display. A creature from legend flew above the street. That night people did not want to go to sleep. They celebrated their good fortune well after dark.
On his way back to the orphanage William saw a silent unfamiliar figure walking down the street. Something prompted him to follow. As the mysterious stranger walked through the gates to the park, he turned to William and spoke. His words, his work and his gift altered the heart of one boy and minds of many now and forever.
Terry Fan and Eric Fan, The Fan Brothers, use easy conversational sentences encouraging readers to turn pages seeking the newest leafy monument fashioned by the night gardener. Pacing is enhanced with pauses in those short phrases through the use of punctuation. This writing technique allows for the stunning pictorial narrative. Here is a sample passage.
That night he went to sleep
with a sense of excitement.
The following morning,
William was not disappointed.
Rendered in graphite and colored digitally the opened dust jacket (and interior illustrations) conveys a sense of extraordinary, magic in the night, from left to right, back to front, with two majestic trees on the left and William gazing at the transformation of one on the right. The full moon adds to the atmosphere of change in the offing. On the book case against a background of charcoal gray, the pale blue green is used to create a branch of oak leaves and acorns on the left. To the right a single wide branch, bent to form an oval frame, surrounds a hat with a tiny bird perched on top. Beneath them is a pair of hedge shears. The opening and closing endpapers are patterned with light gray drawings of curved tree branches, leaves and the tiny bird on a pale sage green background.
With a page turn we see the publication information tucked into the lower left hand portion of a double-page spread showing Grimloch Lane in dull gray-brown, homes in need of repair, people walking down the street with bowed heads. In the far left-hard corner, someone is walking into the town carrying a rolled blanket and ladder over their shoulders strolling with the assistance of a walking stick. The dedication page introduces us to William drawing his version of an owl in a sandy patch in the grass. The stranger passes him on the sidewalk.
The next full page illustration is of the Night Gardener sorting his tools under the light of the full moon. The story continues on the title page with the next full two-page image. The Brothers Fan use exquisite artwork, four separate pictures, to begin their story without the use of words.
The use of matte-finished cream-colored paper enhances their illustrations alternating in size from single page images to two-page pictures or a smaller visual surrounded by the background color. With the revelation of each topiary more color is added reinforcing the impact of the gardener. The Fan Brothers also increase the amount of people appearing in the pictures. The people are engaged in making improvement to their homes, the community and their ability to enjoy life.
Readers will enjoy looking at all the intricate details; a picture of a couple next to the orphan boy in his bedroom (his parents?), the repeated appearance of the little girl in pig-tails and striped shirt, the arrival of multi-colored birds, a white rabbit sitting quietly beneath the rabbit topiary or the significance of a pig and rooster joining the crowd and the numbers 69 and 71 on two of the doors. One of my many favorite illustrations is of the Night Gardener. It is a close-up of him turning toward William. His face is framed by the light of the full moon with a tree trunk and leaves to the right. He is wearing his hat. On one shoulder his bed roll is perched and over the other is his satchel. You can see he is carrying his ladder in one hand and using a walking stick with his right hand. His eyes and the shape of his mustache portray a smile in his words.
You will be filled with expectations or at the very least look for small pieces of wonder in your world when you next wake up after reading The Night Gardener written and illustrated by Terry Fan and Eric Fan. One person intent on sharing their gifted skill can make an eloquent statement resulting in permanent change. The kindness of one toward another who needs it is immeasurable. I find the bridge between generations to be particularly moving. This title comes with my highest recommendations.
To learn more about The Fan Brothers, Eric Fan and Terry Fan and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. At the publishers website eight more illustrations are available for you to view. Please stop by Twenty by Jenny for an interview with the brothers. Enjoy the video which depicts how the brothers collaborate.
UPDATE: Enjoy Five Questions With Eric & Terry Fan July 11, 2016