Thursday, 12 January 2012


This one's a bit newer at least, although again Neil Gaiman is not exactly a struggling unknown. I picked this up when our local lovely independent bookshop was closing down and selling off its remaining children's stock. sob.
'Instructions' is a difficult to categorise curiousity, but one I am drawn back to and so, more importantly, are my boys. It is what it says; a series of instructions for navigating an adventure or possibly a life in a kind of fairy tale format with no particular order or end in sight. In the illustrations by Charles Vess, an heroic hybrid fox/cat (no- it is a cat I think- a Maine Coon perhaps) strides through a landscape inhabited by figures familiar by name or type from traditional tales around the world. It feels a little as though you've entered a Serious version of Shrek-land. The colours are muted, almost sombre; purposefully timeless, the pictures are just the right side of scary.

Sample instruction;

that giants sleep too soundly;
that witches are often betrayed by their appetites;
dragons have one soft spot,
hearts can be well-hidden,
and you betray them with your tongue.'

I can imagine that this sort of semi-profound semi-nonsense might really irritate some but it beguiles me. There is an undercurrent of humour throughout and a playfulness that stops it becoming pompous.

Were I a primary school teacher I can see this would be a fantastic starting point for a module discussing traditional tales, oral traditions and a spot of creative writing getting children to make their own book of instructions. That almost sounds like a criticism (!) but is not intended as such- it's not 'worthy'. I find both Bill and Eddie quite often coming back to this for more and it's one that, whilst not absorbing them for long periods, seems to spark off other thoughts and conversations. Eddie tends to like to spot fairy tale characters he knows within the pictures but Bill will ponder the 'answers' to the instructions and spin off on his own narrative tangent from it in interesting ways.

chewy. whimsical if that word doesn't make you wince. and  a Nice Object which would make a quirky Christening or new baby gift. I should add here that this is probably the gift for boys (although not by any means a book for just boys- but it is a definite 'he' being instructed) and Gaiman and Vess have collaborated on another title; 'Blueberry Girl' which apparently celebrates the mother /daughter relationship; I have yet to read but would love to hear comments from anyone who has.

'When you reach the little house,
the place your journey started,
you will recognise it, although it will seem
much smaller than you remember.
Walk up the path, and through the garden
gate you never saw before but once.
And then go home.
Or make a home.
Or rest.'

'Instructions' written Neil Gaiman, illus. Charles Vess, pub, Bloomsbury isbn 978-1-4088-0864-1

1 comment:

  1. If your children really love to read here's my site

    Free stories ages five on up