Hold on Tight: A Review of ‘The Night Gardener’

“The tighter you squeeze, the less you have.”–Thomas Merton

Reading Level

Grades 5-8

Review and Comments

The story of The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier is one of darkness and mystery.  Set in VIctorian England, Molly and Kip have set out looking for work and are accepted by the Windsor family.  The new job is brings on a terror that the two children were not expecting.

When Molly first arrives at the home of the Windsors, she immediately notices how dirty it is and how it looks as though it hasn’t been taken care of in ages.  Slowly, she realizes that something is amiss.  The old pictures of the family show them as younger looking, healthy and vibrant.  Now they look pale, sickly, and their eyes look lifeless.

Molly and Kip are disturbed by nightmares each night and each morning Molly must wipe away muddy footprints on the stairs and down the hallway where the family sleeps.

Slowly, Molly and Kip piece  together the past tragedy, the current goings-on, and the ominous tree that grows outside the house. They are terrified to find that the tree is taken care of by a creepy ghost-like man they call the Night Gardener.

The story is filled with lots of adventure,  near-misses, and creepiness that will keep kids interested until the very end.  I think boys and girls will equally be attracted to the story and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

This was my first encounter Jonathan Auxier and I can’t wait to read some of his other novels.  He has a wonderful way of telling stories, and in this novel, he was able to allow for some great discussion points that I’ll include below!

Possible Concerns

  • This is a relatively creepy story so there are certain points in the story that are intense, but nothing is over the top.  It is age-appropriate.
  • Master Windsor’s family was “murdered” by the Night Gardener and he was the only survivor as a child.  The story is recounted and is probably the creepiest point of the story.
  • Some of the characters die.

Further Discussion

  • Why do Kip and Molly have to leave Ireland?  How do you think they felt being alone and in a different country of people who were not very welcoming?
  • How is Molly’s story-telling a true gift from God?  How does story-telling play an important role in the story?
  • How does greed play a major role in this story?  How could many of the problems have been avoided if greed weren’t a factor?
  • Some people believe that fairy tales should not be read in school. Read this quote by G.K. Chesterton: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”  How does this quote apply to this story?  Why is it important for kids to read stories like The Night Gardener?

Catholic Resources

General Teaching Resources

    • There are tons of resources for teaching the novel from TeachingBooks.net.
    • Watch this homemade book trailer for The Night Gardener.  

    • Follow Jonathan Auxier’s blog, The Scop.
    • Draw a plot line and explain which parts of the story match with the different points in the plot.
    • Listen to Sarah Mackenzie’s interview with Jonathan Auxier on her Read-Aloud Revival Podcast.  You can listen here.
    • Pretend you are Molly. Write a letter to your parents about what your life is like after the novel is finished.
    • Read another of Jonathan Auxier’s books (Click on picture for affiliate link.)


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