Sincere and full of heart, The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes has been capturing attention since its release in August 2015. Replete with intricate illustrations, a sweet story, and published by Flying Eye Books (imprint of NoBrow Press), this book is another successful addition to Flying Eye Books’ already extensive collection of visual titles. In an interview with Carter Higgins on August 25, 2015 for Design of the Picture Book, Hughes talked about her inspiration for the book, her creative process, and highlighted some of the illustrations from the charming book.
The Little Gardener is about an unassuming and “self-sufficient” man who loves to take care of the garden he lives in. Hughes said in the interview that “he is really just a symbol for the everyman, the underdog, you, me… our place as a human. It’s not about him, it’s about his vision, his hopes.” Hughes described the process for creating The Little Gardener as “an outpouring, I drew and drew and drew. […] this one felt natural to make, intuitive.” The images are very dense and intricate, and Hughes said it was a “meditative book to make— almost like making a mandala.” She admitted that she is scatter-brained, and that working with illustrations and text gives her a good balance: “having text keeps my brain focused when there are other ideas floating about. Because I also draw, I am able to tell the other story lines as well— they are quieter, but are still present for others to interpret if they have patience.” These other storylines come in the form of subtle references to her childhood home of Hawaii and other intricate details seen in the illustrations. In general, Hughes said her process starts “off with a general character and theme and it evolves— the writing is the last part, I think the feeling needs to be understood first.”
The Little Gardener is Hughes’ second book published by Flying Eye Books and NoBrow Press, who have each published numerous visual books. Hughes’ first book published with them, Wild (September 2013), shares similarities with The Little Gardener: They both center around characters that are one with nature and their environment, and they also mirror the personal struggles Hughes experienced at the time of writing. In the interview Hughes said, “Wild is about acceptance and tolerance, issues I was trying to practice myself. The Little Gardener was about keeping hope alive when I was faltering with my own.” With The Little Gardener, Emily Hughes and Flying Eye Books deliver a heartfelt story about working hard and remaining true to yourself.