Mrs Noah’s Garden

Authored by Jackie Morris
Illustrated by James Mayhew
Published by Otter-Barry

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What an absolute treat this book is. Following on from its predecessor Mrs Noah’s Pockets, it continues the story of warm, earthy, practical, and creative Mrs Noah.

Mother to a large family, unnamed, she is content to play second fiddle to the famous Noah. However, she has a rich inner life and a huge talent for creative problem-solving. Rather than pining for her former land or bemoaning the barren mountain top where Noah has landed them, Mrs Noah reaches deep into her capacious pockets, calls on all the fabulous animals she has brought with her, and with her children’s help, creates a garden, a haven, a place to call ‘home’.

Jackie Morris, a renowned artist, has wrought magic with her words here. I love the intertextuality of splitting the willow, and the silver bells and cockleshells. I love how the pregnant Mrs Noah waters ‘the seeds and the wonderful weeds’ and cares for her six children; and then at night takes out her sewing machine. She is never idle, yet through his gorgeous artwork, James Mayhew manages to evoke a woman who is serene and calm, despite the busy life she leads.

I love too, how, without any heavy-handed referencing, we see that the Noahs are a mixed-race couple and how their children’s skin reflects their beautiful, mixed heritage. We note how, without any fuss, a new baby has arrived into the family, just as Mrs Noah’s garden yields its bounty.

Mayhew’s rich, lush artwork brings an immediacy and vibrancy to the story. There is so much to savour in each spread. The collages are gorgeous. I love the little scraps of music manuscript that adorn some of the dragonflies and birds, and that act as labels for the newly planted seeds. The endpapers are an utter delight. We feel and smell the earth at the beginning. The landscape is bare but not barren. We revel in the kaleidoscopic beauty of the flowers, birds and creatures at the end.

The illustrations are a beautifully wrought mixture of paper and fabric collage, pastels, watercolours, patterns and printing. I have returned many times to the wonderful midsummer eve spread that evokes Gaugin and Matisse for me and yet is completely unique. There is an aura of peace, mystery and patient anticipation emanating from this image. This book is a work of love.

Teachers will probably find that this is one of those publications that inspires children to make art. It will stimulate classroom discussion and has huge potential for cross-curricular linkage and integration.