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

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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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Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light

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Louise-Loves-Art-cvr.jpgCELEBRATE THE LOVE OF ART

Author/Illustrator Kelly Light has created characters who are both lovable and relatable in Louise Loves Art, (Balzer and Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins, $17.99, Ages 4-8). Truly a work of art, Light’s first picture book, Louise Loves Art, will leave you satisfied, and wanting more at the same time. With a sparse text, (only about 130 words), you’d think it would be difficult to tell much of a story. Fuhgeddaboudit! (Sorry. Fellow former Jersey girl, Light, must have brought it out in me). This is a story brimming with a child’s passion for creative expression as well as a tale of sibling dynamics.

As the title says, Louise loves art. She draws all kinds of things, a frog, a sailboat, and her little brother Art. Young readers will enjoy seeing her work displayed throughout the house. Art watches and idolizes his big sister, as she tries to create a masterpiece: a picture of her cat.

To be a great artist, you have to notice everything.
Every line…
every curve…
Wait–hold that pose! I will capture your cat-ness!

But while Louise is engrossed in finding the perfect place to display her pièce de résistance, she fails to notice Art, his attempts to get her attention, and “his own” creation.

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Interior artwork from Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light, Balzer & Bray ©2014.

Unlike Art’s inability to capture his sister’s eye, Light has no trouble getting our attention on and off the page. Frequently seen sporting red lipstick and matching eyeglasses, while on her book tour, Light told me, “Strong, by Lush Cosmetics, is the color of lipstick I like. Louise is a strong character.” Yes, she is, and with her primarily black and white and red all over style of artwork, Light makes that very clear. Using a black Prisma color pencil on vellum, scanning her drawings into the computer, and coloring them in Photoshop with “Louise Red” (also known as Pantone 1788), has her illustrations popping off the page.

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Interior artwork from Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light, Balzer & Bray ©2014.

Louise inspires her brother, and Light’s book encourages children across the country to pick up a pencil and draw. In a time when art classes are being cut or eliminated from schools, it’s good to shed a little “Light” on the subject.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher