Rock by Rock: The Fantastical Garden of Nek Chand
In the bustle of the busy streets of Chandigarh, India, Nek Chand saw something no one else did. Where others saw rocks and stones, Nek saw the boyhood village he missed so dearly. Where others saw broken plates and glass, Nek saw laughing men. And where others saw trash, Nek saw beauty.
Nek Chand’s incredible rock garden, built from stone and scraps and concrete, began as a way for him to express his long-felt grief at having to leave his boyhood village due to the violence caused by the partition of India. What began as a secret and personal (not to mention initially illegal) project became so much more, not only to Nek but to all of India.
What I loved: This is a solid nonfiction picture book that tells the story of this incredible passion work. The story builds slowly and captures the basic elements that led to Nek's leaving of his village, in terms of the separation of religion into the two countries, and then the steps that he took to begin creating his incredible garden. The reactions to it were interesting, with some celebrating and some wanting to change or destroy it, and ultimately, it shows the power of people standing together for what they believe in. The backmatter shows images from the actual garden and adds to the story in the book as well as includes a timeline for when things were happening.
The colorful images add some whimsy and imagination to the nonfiction story, and the text is clear and easy to read. The length would make this work better for older picture book readers of elementary age and could be helpful in classroom lessons around art, religion, and history.
What left me wanting more: While the distant language was helpful in presenting historical events without much emotion/opinion, it would have been helpful to get more into Nek's mindset as he created this garden. I also would have loved more detail on what he was creating in the story. The pictures at the back were helpful in capturing the impressive nature of his creation, and I would have loved that feeling earlier in the book.
Final verdict: An intriguing story of passion, art, and community, ROCK BY ROCK is a great nonfiction read that will work well in the classroom and for elementary school aged picture book readers.