Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 24 Oct 2023

The Concrete Garden by Bob Graham

Australian author and illustrator, Bob Graham is one of the contemporary greats of children’s literature and still going strong at the age of 80. Graham has an immediately recognisable style and is always an innovator and a champion of the underdog or the socially marginalised. It’s a measure of the man that when his picture book, Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child won the 2002 Kate Greenaway Medal recognising the year's best-illustrated children's book published in the UK, he donated the £5000 cash prize to refugees.

His latest creation for Walker Books, The Concrete Garden shows that Graham has lost none of his optimism or belief in children. The dedication at the beginning of the book is enough to tell us that even in the worst of times it’s possible to look for hope:

“For the Smart Street kids.

Written in the time of Covid.”

In the shadow of a huge block of flats, with adults still wearing the ubiquitous face masks that fear of Covid has forced us to accept, ‘after a cold, hard winter’ the children are finally let out to play.

Last out into the concrete playground is Amanda, carrying a huge cardboard box filled with coloured chalks. She picks her colours and starts to draw on the floor. 

Soon, the other children see what she’s doing and start to join her – adding their own creative touches to what Amanda has started. Flowers appear and some children add snails and mushrooms – and then exotic palms and foliage. Alfie the dog tries to join in but just smudges some of the chalk – but that doesn’t matter because the children’s imagination has taken over and even alien spaceships start to appear.

“A beautiful and exotic garden spread across the concrete. And the Queen of Swirls ruled.”

Meanwhile up on one of the balconies, Nasrin, ‘lonely for her mum in faraway Isfahan’, sends a photograph on her mobile phone of what the children have created to her mother. And, moved to tears, her mum sends it on to all the people she knows and soon:

‘The picture crossed deserts and mountains and oceans and cities.’

Soon, all the adults in the flats go to the balconies and are astonished – so astonished they burst into applause. The children below take a bow and flowers are thrown.

For three days the concrete creation rules until the rains come and wash the chalks away in rainbow colours…….

This is a wonderful, touching book full of hope for the future.

Available now from Walker Books, you will be able to get this from your local independent bookshop and if they don’t have it on the shelf, they will be happy to order you a copy.

What are you waiting for?


Terry Potter

October 2023