In the Night Garden

At first glance, In the Night Garden by Carin Berger reads as a lyrical good-night book with what appear to be digitally created collage illustrations, using scanned papers and found objects to add texture to the artist’s crisply drawn shapes. 

A second look at the art — and at the book’s front matter — reveals that every star and flower and curling vine is, in fact, hand-assembled cut-paper collage, so clean and precise that I mistook it for machine work. Berger’s other books also make use of this technique, pulling from what appears to be an inexhaustible library of found images, papers, and textures to make something new. However, while books like All of Us and Goodnight! Goodnight! frame Berger’s collages against open expanses of color, each spread of In the Night Garden is completely full of collaged shapes and textures. 

Elegant compositions and subtle shifts between blue and black and gray guide the reader through each rich page. The art never feels overwhelming or crowded, despite the detail, and the cool, dark color palette conveys a gentle mood that is in keeping with the calming bedtime text. Sharp-eyed older children or repeat readers might also enjoy the black cat that serves as a guide on every page of the book, including the cover hidden beneath the dust jacket. The cat is sometimes a small, domestic companion, wandering on rooftops or curled in a child’s bed, but sometimes it appears only in shadowy silhouette, or as part of a natural phenomenon. A smiling feline face marks the center of a shooting star on one page and blows snowy wind through the trees on another. In this way it not only serves as an engaging character leading readers through the text but also personifies the nighttime sights and sounds that Berger tells us are nothing to fear, and are in fact our friends.  

While Berger’s beautiful collage technique and the careful design of the book itself are more than Caldecott-worthy, it is this last — the cat, and its function in the story — that makes In the Night Garden into a truly excellent children’s book. It is a hide-and-seek game, a relatable character, and a unifying thematic element all in one. It is easy to envision children, caregivers, and educators enjoying repeat reads, because both the book as a whole and each individual element carry evergreen appeal.

[Read The Horn Book Magazine review of In the Night Garden]

Rachel Blier

Rachel Blier is a children's librarian at Mt. Lebanon Public Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She earned her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh and studied literature and illustration as an undergraduate.

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