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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A Mind Full of Pictures

“Make a Picture For Us, Horace!”

Horace? Have you ever heard of Horace Pippin?

Take your children on a journey back in time to learn about a man compelled to make pictures from a very young age. I let A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin ($17.99, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 5-8) simply wash over me as I read about an artist whose works I now so want to discover and enjoy.

9780375867125From the team behind the Caldecott Honor-winning A River of Words (that would be Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet) comes this remarkable, uplifting story of an African American WWI veteran who couldn’t stop drawing even with a war wound that badly damaged his right arm. I found myself rooting for this determined and resourceful man and was thrilled when fame finally caught up with him.

There are just so many interesting elements in this absorbingly written and creatively imagined and illustrated picture book. These include newspaper headlines, quotes, glimpses of the artist at work, some of his art and back pages with notes galore from both author and illustrator, further reading suggestions, websites and a map of where in the U.S. you can see Pippin’s art. Suffice it to say you will not be disappointed when reading about Horace’s youth in first Pennsylvania then New York, his assorted trials and travails following WWI all the way up to his eventual recognition some four plus decades later as a folk artist when he was once again living in Pennsylvania. The way this award-winning team of Bryant and Sweet have managed to capture the essence of all that was Horace Pippin, from his love of the feel of charcoal to his impressive drive to retrain himself to draw inspired by an iron poker, deserves tremendous praise.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin  and am delighted Pippin’s talent has been brought to the fore so everyone can have the opportunity to admire and enjoy his unique American art.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

If you are interested in reading more about other celebrated African Americans, please click here.

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