Friday, July 28, 2017

The Music of the Night: The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers

William looked out his window to find a commotion on the street.

Grimloch Street is a bit grim. The old houses are gray and run- down, and the townspeople in sight seem downcast, too, as at twilight William sketches an owl in the dirt with a stick. But when William leaves his drawing and goes up to his bedroom to sleep, something seems to happen overnight.

William hastily pulls on some clothes and dashes down to the street where he sees...

A tree shaped like an owl.

The wise old owl had appeared overnight as if by magic.

William is mystified by the sudden manifestation of the owl tree and determines to solve the mystery. For the next three mornings, he sees a figure he remembers --an old mustached man in a Derby hat, carrying a long ladder. William finally follows the shadowy figure and watches as the clandestine gardener puts up his ladder and climbs up with his shears to shape bushes and trees into topiaries of animals of all kinds.

His neighborhood is nightly transformed, especially Grimloch Park, which blooms with fantastical figures--rabbits, dragons, and cats. Not surprisingly, the town is spruced up by its residents to fit its fancy trees.

And then one night, as William shadows the night gardener, he turns and speaks to him.

"There are so many trees in this park. I could use a little help."

Under the light of the moon they worked deep into the night.

And one morning William awakes to find the old man gone, but beside himself a gift--the gardener's shears. Now William is the Gardener, in the Fan Brothers' The Night Gardener (Simon and Schuster, 2017). Executing in delicious pen-and-ink retro-styled illustrations, cross-hatched and detailed drawings of tall, frame houses and fantastical leafy creatures and varied townspeople, done in soft muted tertiary colors that invite scrutiny of every page, the artist transitions the town through the seasons. School Library Journal likens the Fans' illustrations to the style of a "more cheerful Edward Gorey," while the New York Times Book Review places the Fans's art as "halfway between traditional old engravings and the looser lines of more modern artists, and describe their "lovely, luminous effect." The Fans' fantastical topiary tale has a beneficent magical mojo working that portrays the mythic power of artistry to transform its world.

For more "Music of the Night," share this tale with Lizi Boyd's noted Flashlight and Mortecai Gerstein's lovely The Night World. (see review here).

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