Can a non-fiction book for young readers make the real world feel magical?

When we first began talking to illustrator Kristjana S Williams about The Wonder Garden, we knew one thing: a book illustrated by her would be nothing short of extraordinary. As an established fine artist best-known for her textile, furniture and interior design, her work blurs the line between real and imaginary, and has the ability to transport you to another world: a sky filled with animals in hot air balloons, a technicolour jungle, or a city overrun with wild animals. Inspired by the landscape of her native Iceland, Kristjana’s inimitable style of collaged Victorian engravings and bursts of vibrant colour have won her multiple D&AD awards, a New York Festival Grand Prix and a shortlisting for the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

So, could we create a book that merged the magical world of her fine art with real information that readers as young as seven could enjoy? We knew that we wanted the book to be big, so that one felt as though they were traversing a real environment when exploring it; we also knew that it should print in five colours to best reflect Kristjana’s work.

Wide Eyed’s editorial director and award-winning author Jenny Broom set the tone for the text, with a plan based around five real habitats: a jungle, an ocean, a desert, a forest, and a mountain. Briefed to create a cast of real creatures from these habitats, Kristjana and her team hunted through hundreds of Victorian engravings to find flora and fauna, adapting animals and environments where needed. Working with esteemed designer Sinem Erkas, each page was artworked around Jenny’s lively, lyrical texts, which act as an anchor for the book, mooring it in a sandbank of fact.

We originally entitled the book The Animal Garden, the title of one of Kristjana’s fine art prints. Mid-way through the book, we settled on The Wonder Garden, feeling that this title better reflected its contents: a wonder-filled discovery of 100-year-old engravings, brought to life afresh with vibrant colour and text for young readers.

So, can a non-fiction book make the real world feel magical?

If it reflects the real world with a sense of wonder, I think it can.

Rachel Williams is the Publisher at Wide Eyed Editions, a new imprint of The Quarto Group. She and Broom will be speaking at The Bookseller Children's Conference on 29th September.