Reviews /

The Concrete Garden

Authored by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
Published by Walker Books Ltd

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In a large block of flats the children have been confined indoors all winter, then the doors open and they run out to enjoy the freedom of being able to play outdoors with their friends. Amanda brings a huge box of coloured chalks out with her and begins to draw on the playground. First,she draws a huge circle with smaller circles around it and Jackson adds a stalk which makes a dandelion. Other children draw mushrooms, flowers, a large snail, grass, a palm tree with a bird of paradise, butterflies, bees and even an alien spaceship. In no time at all the children have created a beautiful garden and Nasrin, missing her Mum who lives in Isfahan, takes a picture of the concrete garden and sends it to her. Nasrin’s Mum sends it to everyone she knows and the picture travels all round the world, bringing colour to dark places. All the residents of the flats lean over their balconies and applaud the children’s beautiful creation and the garden delights everyone for several days until it rains… and the children find new ways to enjoy the freedom of being out of doors.

This warm and wittily illustrated story was created at the time of Covid and there are hints of that in the images. But the main joy lies in Bob Graham’s trademark depictions of all the different children, bending over their drawings, absorbed in their work, or just playing football or riding their scooters. In making their garden they don’t realise that they are lightening lives that have been cramped and confined for a long time. Most of the images are unframed, spreading across the pages as the children relish their new freedom. A bird’s eye view double page shows the city streets grey and drab except for one square of colour reflecting its light upwards. There is so much for readers from 3 or 4 upwards to enjoy in the artwork, from the detail of all the different flats to the individuality of the children and, of course, the garden itself. Many books present a message of hope, but this one is splendidly down to earth, putting children and their resilience at the centre.

Longlisted for the 2024 Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration