The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, A Changing India, And A Hidden World of Art

THE SECRET KINGDOM:
NEK CHAND, A CHANGING INDIA,
AND A HIDDEN WORLD OF ART
Written by Barb Rosenstock
Illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, ages 7-10)

 

The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock cover art by Claire A. Nivola

 

The very first line of THE SECRET KINGDOM: NEK CHAND, A CHANGING INDIA, AND A HIDDEN WORLD OF ART written by Barb Rosenstock and beautifully illustrated by Claire A. Nivola, is so lilting, so rhythmic, you know you’re in for a treat before you even turn the page.

The book tells the true tale of folk artist Nek Chand. In the small village where Chand is born, recycling and repurposing objects is a way of life. Dented buckets become scarecrow hats. Scraps of fabric become blankets. Sticks become toy rafts. And woven throughout the texture of daily life, there are stories. Stories of kings and goddesses, geese and monkeys, jungles and temples fill Chand’s imagination until one day, using sand and sticks and rocks, he builds the world of his imagination on the banks of a river. When partition splits India into two countries, however, Chand and his family are forced to leave their village behind for the cold concrete of India’s first planned city, Chandigarh. Nivola’s watercolor and gouache illustrations show the stark contrast between the colorful village of Chand’s childhood and his life in the city, where variations of beige reign.

 

Int spread from The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock w/art by Claire A. Nivola

THE SECRET KINGDOM. Text copyright © 2018 by Barb Rosenstock. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Claire A. Nivola. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Chand feels he doesn’t belong in the city, but then, he claims a patch of unused jungle on the outskirts of town. Over many years, using found objects and half-dead plants, he builds a secret kingdom of walkways, sculptures, arches, flowering plants, and trees. It’s a place where stories come to life, where castaway items are reborn, and where Chand, at last, belongs. Though his garden comes to cover many acres, Chand’s creation remains a secret for 15 years. When it’s finally discovered, government forces threaten demolition, but the people of Chandigarh step in. Chand’s secret kingdom comes to be known as “The Rock Garden of Chandigarh” and, to this day, draws visitors in the thousands from all over the world.

 

THE SECRET KINGDOM. Text copyright © 2018 by Barb Rosenstock. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Claire A. Nivola. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Rosenstock’s text paints a vivid picture of Chand’s life in India as he battles “clouds of mosquitoes and slithering cobras,” walks past “plowmen singing behind oxen” and gathers “broken glass bangles in red, blue, and green.” With the added visual of Nivola’s illustrations, this story of a man who, quietly and with determination, created the world he imagined–simply because it brought him joy–truly comes to life.

THE SECRET KINGDOM. Text copyright © 2018 by Barb Rosenstock. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Claire A. Nivola. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Read a review of Barb Rosenstock’s The Noisy Paintbox here.

 

  • Reviewed by Colleen Paeff

 

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The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock

NOW A 2015 CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK!
Starred Reviews – Publishers WeeklyBooklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

A Junior Library Guild Selection

The Noisy Paintbox: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Mary GrandPré (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99. Ages 4-8) is a wonderfully inspiring historical biographical fiction picture book.

Young Vasya (or Vasily) led a staid, privileged life in 19th century Moscow, that is until his aunt presented him with “a small wooden paint box.”

“Every proper Russian boy should appreciate art,” said Auntie. She showed Vasya the correct way to mix colors on the paint-box palette.

Vasya felt the colors spoke to him. They jumped out of the box and made sounds that only he heard, sounds that could be translated onto canvas. Fortunately, Vasya’s Auntie recommended his parents put him into art class. For the Russian elite, however, art was no substitute for an acceptable career like law which Vasya pursued as was expected of him. It was only after attending an opera that it was clear to Vasya that music and the emotions it evoked inside him could be expressed through art. His old noisy paint box that had been brought to life by the orchestra could not be ignored.

After quitting his job teaching law, Vasya moved from Moscow to Munich to study from great artists of the time. Everyone wanted this talented man to adhere to more traditional styles of painting, but Vasya and his artist friends could not conform. “Art should make you feel,” Vasya told them, “Like music.” Kandinsky’s influential new abstract art evolved from the emotions he experienced from color, music and the world around him. Though at first not easily understood, abstract art “sparked a revolution in the art world.”

Fans of Mary GrandPré will once again be treated to beautiful artwork that, like its subject, is never boring. As an artist bringing another artist’s work to life, GrandPré’s illustrations perfectly convey the emotion and vibrancy of Kandinsky’s creations.

In Rosenstock’s Author’s Note in the back matter, she goes into more detail about Kandinsky’s emergence as an artist and the speculation he may have had a genetic condition known as synesthesia where one sense (in his case listening to music) triggers a different sense. Rosenstock explains that individuals with synesthesia hear colors, see music, taste words, or smell numbers. –

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read more about Kandinsky here.

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