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The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  159 ratings  ·  52 reviews
The incredible story of the world's largest visionary environment: the Rock Garden of Chandigarh, kept secret by outsider artist Nek Chand for fifteen years.

After the partition of India in 1947, Nek Chand Saini settled in the city of Chandigarh, with nothing but stories brought from his homeland. Dismayed at his stark new surroundings, Nek began collecting river rocks, bro
Hardcover, 48 pages
Published February 13th 2018 by Candlewick Press

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4.28  · 
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 ·  159 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Alex (not a dude) Baugh
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, artists, india
Nek Chand loved living in his village of Berian Kalan in the Punjab region of India before the Partition of 1947. He especially loved listening to the ancient stories that were always being told there by the whole community. As a child, Nek began to build a world of his own based on the stories he heard along the river back, using rocks, sticks, and other materials found in nature. But, in 1947, when Punjab was split into two countries, India and Pakistan, Nek and his family were forced to leave ...more
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: informational
Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock, illustrations by Claire A. Nivola is about how the country of Punjab was split into two countries, Pakistan and India. The text follows a young boy Nek whose perspective provides insight into the history and consequences of this type of conflict. Though the text provides a history lesson, it also provides a lesson on the human spirit and the idea of belonging and what “home” means.

This text was found on Orbis Pictus Award recommended books list. I think this t
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This story follows a boy named Nek Chand as he grows up in the village of Barian Kalan in the Punjab region of what is now Pakistan. He had an ideal childhood, learning his people’s history and legends through the work and festivities of every season. When the Hindu people were expelled from the land, they traveled to India, where a disenchanted Nek hated the drab industrial landscape. Feeling nostalgic for his childhood dreams, he began building his own secret kingdom in the jungle outskirts. Y ...more
If there is ever any doubt in your mind about one person's ability to effect change in the lives of many, all you need to do is read a picture book biography. Authors writing picture book biographies and illustrators creating the artwork for these volumes, immerse themselves in a particular person's life, taking note of the historical context in which they lived. Everything must be as if we are stepping back in time. And when we do step back in time through the pages of a book, we are captivated ...more
Aliza Werner
An artist creating out of nature, recyclables, and trash. Pair with IN MARY'S GARDEN by Tina and Carson Kugler.
Stephanie Tournas
This lovely picture book biography brings to light a little known (in the U.S., at least) artist from India, Nek Chand. I loved reading about this creative, resourceful and thoughtful "outside" artist. As an imaginative child growing up in a small village, he was mesmerized by folk tales. After Partition, he struggled to make a living as a government road inspector in the new Indian city of Chandigarh. Missing his home village, he began collecting "broken pieces of village life" - chipped sinks ...more
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A nonfiction picture book look at the incredible Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Chand grew up happily in a small village in the Punjab region of India. He grew up there, hearing stories and building palaces on the sand near the river. As an adult, he became a farmer but everything changed when the partition of India happened in 1947. Forced from his home and into a city, Chand struggled to find the beauty he had grown up with. He finally discovered it in the jungle along the city’s edge. There he cu ...more
Nek Chand grew up in the Punjab and absorbed the stories and culture of his village and people. He became a farmer, but had to leave his home when the area was split into two countries – India and Pakistan. His farm was now in Pakistan and his people/religion – Hindu – were no longer welcome there. He moved to India’s first planned city, Changidarh, which was all cement and concrete and was nothing like the lovely, colorful village he had known. In his spare time over the years, Nek cleared land ...more
Becky B
A picture book biography of Nek Chand, a man who grew up in the region that is now part of Pakistan, escaped as a refugee when the countries divided, and settled outside of Chandigarh where he secretly started an art project he developed over years using only reclaimed materials. When the government found his massive art installation on their land they wanted to destroy it, but the people of Chandigarh had another idea.

This is kind of a crazy story. The art installation/rock garden that Chand cr
Once India was separated into two countries--India and Pakistan--Nek Chand Saini was one of those individuals who was forced to resettle in a different place. Because his village was in the Muslim section of Pakistan and his family was Hindu, they needed to move into a different part of India. Not only did the government destroy 26 villages to create the big city of Chandigarh where Nek's family landed, but Nek felt terribly lost without all that had been his home and he started a secret art pro ...more
Sunday Cummins
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The kind of book you'll want to use with students--of all ages. Read this aloud to students, letting them savor the author Rosenstock's language--"Nek played and planted, laughed and listened, as the ancient stories circled with seasons, beginning to end and back again." Share with small groups and ask them to contemplate questions like, "What is the role of art (or storytelling) in society?" or "How did Nek reveal his determination?" Use as a mentor text for writers. Read and then reread, slowi ...more
Nov 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cybils-2018
The Secret Kingdom is a picture book biography of Nek Chand who built a secret rock garden in the outskirts of Chandigarh. Nek Chand was born in a village of Berian Kalan in Punjab. He grew up listening to stories and folk lores that fascinated him. He channeled his fascination into building a castles, forts and figures using sticks and stones he would find on the river bank. In 1947, his peaceful life was shaken up with the Partition of India and Pakistan. His family traveled miles to relocate ...more
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This beautiful book is a lovely tribute to the power of art. Rosenstock's lyrical text is wonderfully illustrated in watercolor and gouache by Claire Nivola in richly detailed and colorful scenes tat beg to be carefully appreciated. I loved Nivola's earlier book, In My Father's Village and her style really shines here.

The story is fascinating and heartfelt, clearly written and affecting. A photographic fold-out of the site is tremendously effective. Excellent back matter includes a bibliography,
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: childrens, memoir
Some people are driven to make art, with no expectations for sale or fame. I had heard of the Watts Towers in LA ( and the bottle houses of Grandma Prisbrey ( , but not Nek Chand of India who created a similar whimsical world out of found items. This book tells his story and inspirations, with lovely watercolor and gouache illustrations. One quadruple-page spread shows photographs of the world he created, followed by a ...more
RLL220_Amanda Alvarado
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Secret Kingdom is about Nek Chand Saini who lived in a tiny village of Berian Kalan. Nek spent his childhood listing to ancient stories that he loved. His village was perfect until The Punjab split into two countries Pakistan and India. Nek found acres of jungle and started building his own secret kingdom. The illustrations are painted with rich watercolors. Most of the background is white so it allows the illustrations to stand out. This book would be appropriate for ages 7 to 13. Teachers ...more
Aug 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: kids, non-fiction
Unique story about a person of which I'd never heard. Love that he turned junk into art, and seeing the actual photographs of his work was a treat. Gotta say, though, that I'm not a huge fan of breaking laws. Even to create art. I think it given a bad message to say that he built all this despite laws saying he couldn't. Really, it wasn't his space. He trespassed and basically stole the land. Not cool. Still, I think it's great that he created what he did, so that's a thing. But please, people. ...more
Lesley Burnap
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ned Chand was forced to leave his home when Pakistan split off from India. Relocated in a place far from and much different from home, Ned secretly began to build the kingdom he remembered from stories combined with his true home. When the government threatened to bulldoze it, supporters who were also relocated came out of the woodwork to be at home at his beautiful creation.

Complete with real photographs of his art and told in lyrical language.

Use to teach collage, or art from recycled materia
Sue Poduska
Aug 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author paints a fascinating picture of the life that Nek lived. The reader is transported to a world unlike the one they live in. Beautiful and detailed illustrations show both the familiar and unfamiliar. The villagers dress differently from Westerners, but the trash they collect is trash the reader might see near home. This is a fantastic way to introduce kids to Indian culture and also an amazing way to show how perseverance and the human spirit can win.
Joan Marie
I love the way this nonfiction is written. It's really a lyrical, narrative biography about a self-taught artist, Nek Chand who brought beauty to an otherwise colorless, barren world for those displaced from their homes. Illustrations add to the delight.

Here's an example of the lyrical text:
"In the village, Nek played and planted, laughed and listened, as the ancient stories circled with the seasons, beginning to end and back again."

Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I like the story and I like that it mentioned the partition without directly focusing on it. With other similar titles coming out on the topic, it's nice to have some that are not deeply depressing or distressing for young readers.

The centerfold photographs were lovely. I was reading it and kept asking myself what the Secret Kingdom looked like and then there was the large foldout with real pictures.

Art. Recycling. Social and governmental issues. It has a lot in a little book.
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
True story - Even in war and displacement one can build, create and love the beauty of not only what grows but to create from discards, art. Art can be a remembrance of the things we love. I love the dedication of Nek Chand and what he has created in a part of the world where war is still going on - 71 years and then some. It's a children story but there are several subtle messages that I love.
Cheriee Weichel
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I haven't yet met a Barb Rosenstock book I haven't loved. This might be the best one yet. It tells the story of Nek Chand, folk artist extraordinaire, who created a hidden world that reflected the multiple stories of the town he grew up in.
Claire A. Nivola's illustrations are stunning. The full spread of photographs near the end of the book shows the magnitude of the work.
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fun random kid's biography. I've certainly not been to the garden in this book. But I've been to and which have kind of a similar flavor. It was a fun book and yet passed on a bunch of history and societal change at the same time. With quite good enough art.
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Biography of Nek Chand Saini and the Secret Kingdom he created. Tells his story from childhood through fleeing to India and then the years creating this artwork.
Beautiful illustrations support the text.
Biographic info at the end following the story.
Fold out pages with actual photos of his artwork.
Uprooted by the partition of India in 1947, Nek Chand Saini carries the stories and memories form his heart. He used discarded construction materials and created sculptures of animals and people, which eventually grew into a 13-acre wonderland.

#garden #art #India #recycle #Rockgarden
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Story of Nek Chand Saini a man who created his own world in remembers of his home in Pakistan where he used to live. And has to move to Indian because of deportation. Sad but great work of art and love for the home can be seen in this book!!
Myra Benedict
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
A amazing story that is so true because of the Separation of India and Pakistan many people had to leave their homes but the memories stayed in them forever and this man turned his memories into his world .a fun story
Mary Lee
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Pair this book with OUTSIDE IN by Jennifer Bradbury. Nek Chand is the historical character who saves the life of the fictional homeless boy in OUTSIDE IN.

Also perfect to show how the experiences of someone's childhood can turn into their lifelong passions.
This is a fantastic example of how children's biographies can be accomplished, with enough background information, images, and supplemental information at the back to give more concrete context. Now I'll be doing a bit of research on the Rock Garden, getting to know this international treasure.
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