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THE SECRET KINGDOM by Barb Rosenstock


Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art

by Barb Rosenstock ; illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

Pub Date: Feb. 13th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7475-5
Publisher: Candlewick

Rosenstock weaves the story of folk artist Nek Chand Saini and the magnificent secret garden he built in Chandigarh, India.

Now spread over 40 acres and open to the public since 1976, Nek Chand’s Rock Garden is a world of palaces, temples, and villages, showcasing over 5,000 creative sculptures of people, animals, and whimsical creatures, all made from discarded industrial items and household articles. The spare, lyrical text brings forth the stories that Nek Chand grew up with and evokes the village that stayed with him long after he and his family had to flee during the Partition of India in 1947, “walking for twenty-four days across the new border into India. Nek carried only village stories in his broken heart.” When his garden, built illegally on government ground, was discovered and threatened with destruction, the people of Chandigarh rallied, preserving both his job and the garden. Nivola’s delicate and detailed watercolor-and-gouache illustrations feature people with dark hair and skin of different shades of brown. They show authentic snippets of pre-Partition village life as well as the surreal landscape he built; these are complemented by a double gatefold of photos of the actual garden. There is no glossary, but most of the few Punjabi words in the text are easily assumed from the context. Readers may wish for maps of India and the garden.

Compelling, delicate, and spare, this book brings both artist and garden to life.

(bibliography, author’s note) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)