Book Review: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

As a child I adored scary fairy tales. Even the ones where the witch’s head got chopped off did not keep me awake at night. Tales in which horrid characters met a gruesome end, where good. Bad characters were supposed to meet a gruesome end. Those tales reiterated to me that bad deeds would be punished, that you had to be good and kind and fair. They taught me right from wrong, exactly what fairy tales had been doing for generations. In fact, their raison d’etre was likely to teach morals to many generations.

Remember the scariest tales told by a campfire? Tales so deliciously exciting that you wouldn’t walk alone through the woods anymore, back to your tent or cabin? Such is the story of The Night Gardener. A very scary page turner that tight rope walks the line between sci/fi-magic-fantasy-folk tale-and-legend. Fine writing, masterful, Harry Potteresque storytelling. 
Jane Yolen in her powerful book Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood says “A shadowless man is a monster, a devil, a thing of evil. A man without a shadow is soulless. A shadow without a man is a pitiable shred. Yet together, light and dark, they make a whole.” The story of The Night Gardener is whole. Even the physical book is delicious with the gnarly tree and the metallic figure on the cover and its pitch black page edges are perfect and foreboding.

Molly and her brother Kip have come across the sea from Ireland to England. Of course, as is the case in most good stories for children, their parents are no longer around. They are somewhere, lost at sea - neither here nor dead. Molly needs to look after Kip now, make sure her cripple brother will be safe. They need a home, and food. 
The two find a house where no one else will work. The aristocratic family, living in a rambling, inherited mansion needs help and can’t afford to be picky so Molly and Kip find both lodging and food to keep them safe.

But we soon find out that, in this mansion, no one is safe. Horrible secrets lurk in the shadows and on the lawns around the house. The ghost like tree lures with promises and wishes. This is a tale of greed and wanting more. ‘What is the difference between a story and lie?’ Molly asks of the storyteller Hester Kettle. And this story lives up to its own answer: ‘a story helps you to face the world’. It weaves a strong tale where all ends are tucked in, where every character is accounted for, every action sees a suitable reaction. 
My reaction as a reader? I couldn’t stop turning pages!

In Touch Magic, Jane Yolen states that “[W]hen the modern mythmaker, the writer of literary fairy tales, dares to touch the old magic and try to make it work in new ways, it must be done with the surest of touches. It is, perhaps, a kind of artistic thievery, this stealing of old characters, settings, the accoutrements of magic. But then, in a sense, there is an element of theft in all art; even the most imaginative artist borrows and reconstructs the archetypes when delving into the human heart.”
That’s why I found it satisfying to read Jonathan Auxier’s last pages in which he credits many other tales for helping him to create this new one. One that many young readers will love. One that just won the TD Canada Book Award. And one to which, according to Auxier’s website, that Disney just bought the rights. So, do a young reader a favor: have them read the book so they can see the pictures in their own mind before the movie is made.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to rush off to read his other books: Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes, and - out in April 2016 - Sophie Quire & the Last Storyguard!

Puffin, ISBN 978-0-670-06772-5

A Brush Full of Excitement!

One of my latest books is the biography of Canadian artist Ted Harrison. This book is proving to be a welcome addition in homes and schools everywhere and has been shortlisted for almost every possible children's book award in Canada. Thanks to Ted Harrison's inspiring story and to the gorgeous design by Pajama Press, this book is rapidly becoming very popular.
This is what Pajama Press' website says about it (
Ted Harrison’s brightly colored and wildly imaginative paintings set in the Yukon have become synonymous with the North. His instantly-recognizable images of the land of the midnight sun hang in galleries and private collections around the world. But how did a boy who grew up in a drab mining town in northeast England become one of Canada’s most beloved and decorated artists?
A Brush Full of Colour is the story of a boy whose passion for learning would save him from a life in the coalmines. The books by the American writer Jack London and Canadian poet Robert Service fired his imagination with scenes of the wilderness and the Klondike Gold Rush. He trained as an artist, and a stint in the British Intelligence Service allowed him to travel. But Ted never stopped dreaming of the North, and when he saw an advertisement for teachers in Northern Alberta, he jumped at the chance to emigrate to Canada, where the biggest adventure of his life would begin.
Margriet Ruurs and Katherine Gibson trace the life of Ted Harrison and the influences that would lead to his unique style as an artist. Filled with full-color examples of his vivid art, and with a foreword written by Ted Harrison, A Brush Full of Colour will provide inspiration for a new generation of budding artists.
Click here to view our gallery of Ted Harrison-inspired art created by Margriet Ruurs and the kids and parents at North York Central Library in Toronto.
Awards and honours:
2016 Rocky Mountain Book Award nominee
2016 OLA Forest of Reading Silver Birch Non-Fiction Award nominee
2015 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award Shortlist
2015 Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award nominee
2015 Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada Information Book Award nominee
2015–2016 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Award nominee
2015 Spring Best Books for Kids & Teens Starred Selection
2014 OLA Best Bet
“An outstanding, well-organized biography… A joy to look at and an inspiration to read.”—School Library Journal
“Seldom does an artist’s biography for children offer so many beautiful reproductions of the subject’s work. Pair this inviting book with Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life’s Song (2009), another wonderfully visual celebration of an artist following his own path.”—Booklist
“A child-friendly introduction to an iconic, wonderfully accessible and quintessentially Canadian artist.”—Kirkus Reviews
“…a must have…The text is easy to read,comprehensive, and interesting…[A] beautifullypresented book…Highly recommended…”—Resource Links
“This outstanding biography does more than just inform the reader of Ted Harrison’s life in a well organized way. A Brush Full of Colour is indicative of the spirit and passion of its subject…Highly Recommended.”—CM Magazine
“This inspirational and informative biography includes many stunning examples of Harrison’s luminous artwork as well as resources, sources and a foreword written by the artist himself…”—Canadian Children’s Book News
“…this book is virtually larger than life…A Brush Full of Colour is an exemplary youngCanLit biography…”—CanLit for LittleCanadians
“The table of contents for this lovely new book from Pajama Press entices with the promise of a foreword by the artist himself, and then goes on to let the reader know that soon they will learn about Ted’s childhood, his world travels, his life in the north, and his life as a full-time artist.” – Sal’s Fiction Addiction
“Here’s a book that will be as interesting for you as it will be for your child. A Brush Full of Colour is a vibrant, fact-based picture book about Canadian artist Ted Harrison.” – Getting Kids Reading
Teachers, here is a page with activities based on the book:
CBC Radio Fan Choice Award
For an interview on CBC Radio about this book, click here to listen to the podcast: