Illustrated by Sam Boughton

About the book

When I wrote Outside In, I was inspired by the life and work of Nek Chand Saini.  I’d visited the Rock Garden several times while living in Chandigarh, India in 2005.   Ten years later I started writing about the place and its creator.  I found I had two stories I really wanted to tell.  The one I tell in Outside In features a fictionalized version of Nek Chand and his garden.  That novel is steeped in the real story of Nek Chand and his garden, but mixes in elements of The Ramayana as well as the journey of that novel’s hero, young Ram.

Rock by Rock:  The Fantastical Garden of Nek Chand grew alongside Outside In in my heart and mind.  There were elements of this inspiring story that I wanted to tell in a different way, and for a different audience.  So, as I wrote the novel, I also wrote a picture book biography manuscript.  Much to my surprise and delight, my editor Caitlyn Dlouhy decided to publish both.   I’m so thankful that she did, so thankful to Sam Boughton for her perfect illustrations, and so thankful that Nek Chand’s life and art and example will enchant and inspire young readers and creators.

“This story of Nek Chand’s desire to re-create his childhood home out of objects considered of no value, cast off, results in a glowing tribute to his vision.  Now, all who visit his Rock Garden experience a lifting of the the spirit that will inspire their lives forever after. I believe in the power of art to bring joy to others.  This makes me feel like a brother to Nek Chand!”

–Ashley Bryan, author and illustrator of the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book Beautiful Blackbird and Newbery Honor book Freedom Over Me

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.

  • Winner of the 2022 Washington State Book Award

  • 2022-2023 Texas Bluebonnet Master List

  • 2022 Bank Street College of Education Best Books of the Year