Mrs Noah’s Garden is the second offering from the wonderful collaboration between Jackie Morris and James Mayhew.
We first met Mrs Noah in Mrs Noah’s Pockets, saving the “more troublesome creatures” that Mr Noah was thinking of leaving behind when they were preparing to leave in the ark. She sews a coat with many deep pockets to hide them in and take with her. Here, we meet her again with her family, and all the creatures safely landed looking for a place to settle and make a home. She is once again in her coat with deep pockets but this time filled with seeds, because this story is all about Mrs Noah creating a new garden with her family.
As the garden blooms, the colours grow richer and richer throughout the book. If there was ever a book to inspire children to start gardening, this is it. It is the perfect book as a stimulus and starting point. This is, however, more than just a story about gardening. It is through Mrs Noah and her actions that we see how, through resilience, creativity and resourcefulness, something good and beautiful can grow. The story also has themes exploring families settling into a new country or new place and the importance of the natural environment, so it is a rich stimulus with an enquiring classroom to ask questions and explore these themes.
The language throughout is brimming with references to nature and the natural environment as we would expect from artist and writer, Jackie Morris. However, she also brings in some lovely little touches of humour: when Mr Noah sees Mrs Noah sewing he hopes for curtains at last, but of course, this is Mrs Noah sewing, and it is a beautiful awning to eat under outside in the garden with her family. Here we see a special surprise shared too: Mrs Noah’s newborn baby. There is also a lovely nod in the book to the well-known nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, which makes this a lovely interactive part of the story with young children.
So these rich layers of language within Mrs Noah’s Garden give texture, which of course is where we see how perfectly the words and illustrations are working together as James Mayhew has used collage for the illustrations throughout. This gives the illustrations a beautiful layered effect as he also creates his textures and patterns on paper using lino patterns and printmaking. Alongside the linocuts, he uses other textures too. He uses fabric and so there is a nod to Mrs Noah and her craft. He uses musical scores too, which if you explore other work by James Mayhew, you will find out that he also creates art to music on stage with an orchestra. It is well worth spending time exploring the collage illustrations closely to look at this kind of detail.
This book inspires children to create real gardens outside, collage gardens using a collage of different materials and stories about these creations. It is a story to encourage children to be creative, just like Mrs Noah and her garden. Mrs Noah’s Garden celebrates nature and life through the lyrical storytelling of Jackie Morris and the colourful illustrations of James Mayhew. Mrs Noah is an exceptional character, and I sincerely hope we will be meeting her again in another story one day.
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