CM . . . . Volume XV Number 21. . . .June 12, 2009.
The Gargoyle in My Yard.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon, 2009.
112 pp., pbk., $8.95.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by: Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen.
She went inside a few minutes later, still not feeling great about the adventure she was about to undertake, traipsing through Toronto’s subway with a supposed-to-be-inanimate creature talking to her from her backpack. But she felt she might just be able to help him find the gargoyle he was searching for, and if he did find her, Katherine felt certain he would be able to leave her family, leave her backyard and carry on with his own life.
And that’s what they all wanted, wasn’t it, Katherine thought? For him to get unstuck from their lives, and get on with his own? She also knew her parents had grown fond of him, but she knew they were saddened by the changes in their lives. No parties. No friends to visit. No beautiful flowers. She missed having her own friends over for sleepovers. And it was getting harder and harder to come up with reasons not to invite people over.
No matter how she looked at it, Katherine had to admit it was difficult having a gargoyle living in her backyard.
One day, Katherine Newberry sees that there is a new garden statue in her backyard, a little gargoyle with folded wings and a small pouch at his side. Soon, Katherine also finds out that this statue is different from the others because the gargoyle is alive. After Katherine tells her parents, they all talk to the gargoyle and find out his name is Gargoth and that he is lost. He ended up in their backyard because Katherine’s mother spoke to him. Gargoth needs to find another gargoyle in order to move on with his life, but he needs the help of the Newberry family to do this. Gargoth does not understand modern human life and finds it hard to adjust, while the Newberry family must adjust to having a live gargoyle living in their backyard.
The Gargoyle in My Yard is a well-written and highly entertaining book. Philippa Dowding has created a cast of appealing and realistic characters which she uses to explore themes around homelessness, loneliness, appearance and tolerance.
The themes of the book are approached in an accessible and age-appropriate fashion, primarily by Dowding’s making a gargoyle one of the main characters. This gives enough contrast to allow younger readers to see and understand issues such as loneliness and judging someone based on appearances while still making the same issues interesting to older readers. Dowding enforces this in the way these issues appear in the story where they are firmly a part of the overall story, rather than a sideline.
The characters are realistic and well-written, with Gargoth the gargoyle feeling “human” in a short period of time. Readers can easily identify with Gargoth’s loneliness while understanding the reaction of the Newberry family to Gargoth. The humanness of Gargoth’s emotions provides a connection to the reader, drawing the reader further into the story and into a deeper understanding of the themes being explored. The struggles of the family to come to terms with a live gargoyle in their backyard clearly show how people can deal with new and unfamiliar people and situations.
The pace and structure enforce the themes of The Gargoyle in My Yard as they allow the reader to see Gargoth from multiple aspects, including how he appears when he first is discovered to be alive, as the family gets to know him and as he attempts to make sense of the modern world. Gargoth’s past is primarily revealed as the Newberry family finds out about it, keeping the setting in one place and one time period, which makes the book more accessible for younger readers.
Philippa Dowding has created a fantastic story which will appeal to a wide variety of readers.
Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen is a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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