Genre: Picturebooks

Picturebook Trio: A Night Gardener, a Gryphon, and a Whisper

There are picturebooks…and then there are Picturebooks. I bring Three special titles to you today.


This picturebook might be my favorite picturebook of 2016. THE NIGHT GARDENER is absolutely gorgeous in its design, word/image interaction, and limited but rich textual narrative. It is a gift waiting for the reader to open, and I would not be surprised to hear that others have had profound experiences with this story.

First, I noticed that the way the book opened was unique. Whereas in other stories there might be a buildup to a grand event, this narrative stepped into its beginning rather quickly—in fact, on the second page. At the same time, the build up begins with the extra-textual materials of the book, which I loved. The copyright page itself features an important double page spread.

In other words, the book designers don’t waste any space in advancing and illuminating the meaning of the narrative.

And there are multiple meanings one might take away from this gem of a book by the Fan Brothers.

For example, the Night Gardener is bringing a kind of reformation and revival of beauty to the small town in the book. But two characters are affected in the story—our protagonist, William, and then the town as a whole. First, William is awed by the work of the Night Gardener and eventually pursues and finds him, deciding to help him in his work. Then, William plays a role in continuing the important work of the Night Gardener within the town. The magic and beauty and wonder that the Night Gardener brings through his “transformations” and “works of art” begin to change everyone—in a lasting way. There is a lot more to say about this simple and yet profound story, but I’ll stop there.


This book is actually written by a friend of mine, Vikki Vansickle, whom I met in Toronto when she was a bookseller! What we both shared in common is that we had both completed an MA in Children’s Literature and we always had wonderful bookish chats when we met. I’m absolutely thrilled to say that If I Had a Gryphon is lovely, charming, and whimsically wonderful!

The rhyme and rhythm of the narrative pairs perfectly with the pictures, and there is much to see in these illustrations! Whimsical, bright, and vivid—these illustrations pop off the page and pull you into the dreamlife of our protagonist. The fact that the story is told in verse adds another enjoyable aspect to the book.

Read the words out loud and you’ll be captivated by their rhythm, humor, and ability to bring these mythical creatures to life on the page. Poetry for young people can sometimes be daunting and hard to understand, but the rhymes of this book remove any stress related to poetry and provide a fantastic experience with verse. Sometimes a poetry book might have stellar illustrations but mediocre text, or wonderful text, but pictures that are not as strong as they might be. If I Had a Gryphon receives gold stars on both fronts!


The Whisper is a new addition to my school library and it is gorgeous! Whimsical, imaginative, and full of wonder, this gem of a picturebook tells a story that invites endless interpretations and curiosity. Its cover boasts a girl in a red hood, holding an open book with a crown on its cover, a crown floating above the girl’s head and also a fox at her side. A bunch of grapes hover over the fox’s head, slipping in an intertextual reference to Aesop’s fables (a preview of something that will happen later in the story).

Everything about the book promises a luxurious experience—pictures filled with detail that will keep you reading for a long while, and if you are looking for an opportunity to create your own stories, you will look no further. The endpapers alone kick off the story and provide a puzzle for the reader to unlock. My favorite part in the story is the double page spread at the beginning when the girl is rushing home with the special book on loan to her from her teacher. The fox balances on a wheel as he “scoops” up the words of the story in his net.

Each picture in the book invites its own narrative…or all the stories connected? No matter—your imagination is the key to unlock it all, and it becomes a marvelous experience the more you read.

Why is it called The Whisper? Well, you’ll just have to find out.

Have you read any of these picturebooks from 2016? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please tell me what you thought of these beautiful titles!

What Katie Read

The Rich Beauty of The Crystal Mirror by Tim Malnick & Katie Green

The Rich Beauty of The Crystal Mirror by Tim Malnick & Katie GreenThe Crystal Mirror on November 13, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Picturebooks
Pages: 96

Suggested age range: 6 and up

I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Book: This is a delightful and thought provoking collection of beautifully illustrated stories that will keep readers thinking long after the last word is read. Just the kind of book we at Spirit of Children’s Literature appreciate! Not only are the textual parables enchanting and rich, but the visual stories provide a true feast of saturated colors, gorgeous backgrounds and borders, and fantastic details.

Here are just a few of my notes about several of the stories.

The collection opens with “The Cuddliest Monster in the World,” which might seem silly at first, but illuminates rich themes about getting lost on our way, compassion, and the strength of loving others. I adored the ending of this one! “The Master Painter” lauds the power of creativity and the endless beauty of the world around us. What happens when that is hidden from us? “Polly, the Girl Who Was Always Changing” reminds readers of just how tricky it can be to navigate the intricacies our own developing identity, and this quest to “finding oneself.” There are intriguing ideas in these tales.

Spirituality in The Crystal Mirror: Rich, spiritual themes abound in this collection! This isn’t a religious set of stories, however; these tales cross cultural and religious boundaries, reflecting the beauty of ideas that are relevant across people groups and countries. Malnick and Green showcase themes that young and old readers alike can understand such as searching for one’s identity, longing for the unknown and unexplored, or approaching the world with the freshness and vision of a child.

Who Should Read This Book: Both young and older readers alike would appreciate and find delight and wisdom in the pages of these stories. I think this book would especially be fabulous as a shared book or as a read aloud with a class. The stories beg to be discussed, and I could even see extension and arts-based response activities revolving around the text.

The Final Word: The Crystal Mirror is a book I’ll be returning to again. There were some stories that I though, “Wait! I want more!”, but at the same time, the gaps left open could generate interesting discussion. I see myself sharing it with young readers of all ages, and it would work well as a read aloud. Its visual aspect opens up the potential for all kinds of arts-based activities, and let me tell you—these illustrations are amazing! Tim Malnick and Katie Green have put together a gorgeous book with stories that don’t always get tied up neatly, but still work. I’d have to say my favorite story is “The Story of Oswald Bat.” Go check it out. Thank you, Vala Publishing, for sharing this book with me!

You can check out the website,

What Katie Read

Cat vs. Aliens: Mr. Wuffles (2013) by David Wiesner

Cat vs. Aliens: Mr. Wuffles (2013) by David WiesnerMr. Wuffles by David Wiesner
Published by Clarion on October 1, 2013
Genres: Picturebooks
Pages: 32

Suggested age range: All ages!

The Book: Sporting a black fur coat and white “boots,” the feline, Mr. Wuffles, is picky about his toys. He only likes one toy, and it just happens to be a spaceship manned by real aliens. When Wuffles plays a little too rough with the ship, the aliens have to journey outside of it in order to make repairs. Fleeing from the fearful and monstrous Mr. Wuffles, they slip into the wall and meet other foreign creatures. However, these creatures also fear and battle the cat, and with their help, the aliens may just be able to outsmart Wuffles and make their ship ready for the trip back to space.

Spirituality in Mr. Wuffles: Could this story carry an alternate title? Could it also be called “How People Who Are Different Unite to Battle a Common Enemy”? I love the part in the story when the aliens encounter “cave paintings” that convince them there are others here who have had to escape Mr. Wuffles and his “violence.” As a result, different groups are able to connect and even forge friendships in the midst of not speaking one another’s language. There is an interesting thread of community, connection, and helping out those in need in that adds richness and depth to this picturebook.

Exploring This Book With Readers: “Reading” this book may actually take a little longer because it doesn’t have words. Wordless picturebooks sometime require the reader to work a little harder, because readers have to follow the visual text so closely to keep up with the story. Wiesner has created many amazing and award-winning wordless picturebooks, and Mr. Wuffles is no exception. This is another detailed and multi-layered story that will invite multiple re-readings and sharings with others. Readers could create their own written text to accompany the pictures in this story, and the speech bubbles of the aliens and their ant and ladybug friends could also be filled in with English phrases. There are definitely some brilliant activities that could accompany this journey with Mr. Wuffles.

The Final Word: This is a clever and humorous wordless picturebook that I find myself returning to again and again! Mr. Wuffles may not seem like a scary cat, based on the cover, but if you look a little longer and more closely, think about it. His head is covering the bottom half of the cover, and those yellow eyes are staring at…YOU! Are we (the readers) invited to consider the perspective of someone smaller, someone who might be an alien whose ship needs repairs? It’s something to consider. Regardless, Mr. Wuffles is a new picturebook certain to delight and inspire all ages!

Are you familiar with Wiesner’s wordless picturebooks? What did you think of Mr. Wuffles?


What Katie Read
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