Rock by Rock: The Fantastical Garden of Nek Chand

by Jennifer Bradbury (Author) Sam Boughton (Illustrator)

Rock by Rock: The Fantastical Garden of Nek Chand
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

This luminous picture book tells the fascinating true story of artist Nek Chand and how his secret art project--hidden away in a jungle--became one of India's most treasured wonders, second only to the Taj Mahal.

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.

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Publishers Weekly

The Partition of India and Pakistan looms behind Bradbury's warmhearted account of the life of Nek Chand (1924-2015), who built a secret sculpture garden outside Chandigarh. When Chand encounters a plot of forest that reminds him of the ancestral village he left behind, "missing moved from his heart to his hands, and his hands knew what to do." He begins using found objects and trash to construct paths and sculptures, and "the more he created, the more he wanted to make." When the expanding city collides with his hidden garden, the community embraces it, defending it from destruction. The vibrant color and layered spatters, scribbles, and patterns of Boughton's collage-like digital illustrations cleverly nod to Chand's mosaic-like sculptural work in images that conjure the clamor of city life and the respite of a secret garden. Back matter includes photos, additional context about Chand's life as a refugee of Partition, and a timeline. Ages 4-8. (Feb.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

A unique addition to a library's art and biography sections as well as being a great introduction to a found object art projects.—School Library Connection
Jennifer Bradbury
Jennifer Bradbury is the author of the middle grade novel River Runs Deep and of several critically acclaimed young adult novels, including A Moment Comes, Wrapped, and her debut, Shift--which Kirkus Reviews called "fresh, absorbing, compelling" in a starred review. Shift was picked as an ALA and a School Library Journal Best Book for Young Adults and is also on numerous state reading lists. A rock climber herself, she is also a teacher in Burlington, Washington, where she lives with her family.

Sam Boughton is an award-winning artist based in the UK. She graduated with a bachelor's in illustration from Bristol UWE then went on to be awarded a distinction for her master's in illustration from the Cambridge School of Art. In addition to holding solo exhibitions of her paintings, Sam illustrates and writes picture books. She works mainly in watercolor with an added element of collage. Visit her online at
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Atheneum Books
Publication date
February 20, 2021
BISAC categories
JNF007010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Art
JNF038020 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | Asia
JNF006060 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Art | Sculpture
Library of Congress categories
Rock gardens
Chandaigarh (Union Territory)
Public sculpture
Chand, Nek
Texas Bluebonnet Master List
2022 - 2023

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