The Fan Brothers/Helen Hancocks


The Night Gardener


Ella, Queen of Jazz

The Night Gardener and Ella, Queen of Jazz are exquisite publications, tactilely embroidered for those who love the physical feel of a book : both in hardback and suffused with  poetic or realistic illustrations – especially the former – these are books unafraid to permeate image and plain text with metaphor and the consequence of behaviour for their younger readers.

The Night Gardener by siblings Terry and Eric from Chicago, conjures the infectious magic of Raymond Biggs’ The Snowman, though the illustrations, rendered in graphite and coloured digitally, are significantly more detailed, specifically the nocturnal scenes and the almost Edwardian urban setting.

On Grimloch Lane, a mysterious gardener, working by moonlight like a nature loving Banksy, is turning trees into animal topiaries – a rabbit, a cat, a parakeet, an owl – magnificent arboreal masterpieces, which prompt an outburst of celebration among the villagers.

The brothers Fan achieve a notable efflorescence of colour ironically once the seasons change, and autumn denudes the trees of their verdancy, but it is – for the reader – a lesson in the nature of ephemera.

Ella, Queen of Jazz, has a more serious story to relate in that the racism which threatens to derail Ella Fitzgerald’s burgeoning career in a West Hollywood night club, the Mocambo, is stymied by the intervention of Marilyn Monroe.

Hancocks’ illustrations,  crayon, watercolour, ink and pen, combined digitally, capture the ambience of a multi-cultural society on the cusp of huge change, and Fitzgerald’s story is recalled almost like a comic strip.

Published to coincide with the centenary of Fitzgerald’s birth, Hancocks addresses a serious issue which afflicted black musicians on the East and West Coasts when bebop was revolutionising jazz like Fitzgerald, Miles David, John Coltrane and, tragically, Billie Holliday, who was arrested and handcuffed to her hospital bed as she lay dying.

Ella, Queen of Jazz has an important story to tell, and Hancocks does it without excessive piety.

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