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The Night Gardener

By Terry Fan and Eric Fan, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 48 pages, $21.99

Explaining the purpose of art within modern society is a lot to ask a children's book. The Night Gardener, written and illustrated by the Fan brothers, somehow manages to pull it off. A boy wakes up to find the tree outside his window transformed into an owl. Then, every night, another tree or shrub is carved into a different creature. It's unlikely that you're ever going to see a topiary artist get a one-man show at MoMA. But as an illustration of how the creative impulse can transform a physical space, inspiring the people who live there, it's perfect. The Fan brothers have crafted a perfect and timely parable.

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Tokyo Digs A Garden

By Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka, Groundwood Books, 32 pages, $18.95

It's a classic set-up: An old woman gives a boy some magic beans, which he plants in his backyard. Only in this story they don't grow into a vine that leads to riches, but a multitude of plants that turns the city into a garden. That Tokyo and his family decide this is a good thing makes this book fantastic. It allowed Phoenix and Frida to realize that the space around them wasn't always a city. They were stunned to learn that our backyard used to be under Lake Ontario and that Taddle Creek ran through our neighbour's house. Highly recommended for every kid growing up surrounded by pavement, steel and concrete.

Malaika's Costume

By Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher, Groundwood Books, 32 pages, $18.95

Most of the picture books we review here are on the magical and whimsical side. So I was surprised when Frida picked up this book and read it all on her own. There's no pink cover, unicorns or princesses. The text doesn't pull any punches. Malaika is a Caribbean girl whose mother has moved far away to Canada to support her family. That Carnival is coming and Malaika doesn't have a fancy dress or her mother to help her sew one, which only makes her miss mom more. This is actually a realistic portrait of the consequences of global immigration and economics. But it's also the story of how much little girls love their moms. Beautiful.

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