Sometimes a story holds a mirror up to nature; a reader identifies completely with the actions and emotions of a character. I’m currently reading a book (for adults) by Elizabeth Strout in which a woman takes a beloved dress out of the washing machine only to find hundreds of bits of white gunk on it because her husband had left a tissue in a pocket of an outfit that went into the wash. This has happened to me more than once, and made me laugh (when I read it).
But at other times, stories are so magnificently surreal that they provide complete escapism. Both the following stories are written in the first person – as if the main character is talking to the reader, which is a lovely device for newly independent readers, building an affinity from the beginning.
Louie Lets Loose: Unicorn in New York by Rachel Hamilton, illustrated by Oscar Armelles is about as far from reality as one can get, and is by the wildly talented-at-wacky writer Rachel Hamilton, author of The Case of the Exploding Loo. The story is told from Louie’s (the unicorn’s) point of view, which adds yet another screamingly funny side to the book, as he is completely un-self-aware – it’s naivety taken to a whole new level.
Louie hails from Story Land, where “mermaids, goblins and fairy folk were living in perfect harmony somewhere over the rainbow”, but sees an advert for the New York School of Performing Arts, and believes he is destined to go.
The premise becomes wonderfully more and more ridiculous, as not only does Louie end up in the big city, but there is already a famous unicorn taking all the starring roles, such as in The Unicorn, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Unicorn of Oz. Louie’s roomies at the school include a mermaid, a faun and a troll, but despite his lack of talent, and somewhat sad bunch of friends, Louie finds the gold at the end of every rainbow. He’s a unicorn with immense optimism.
Illustrations add extra laughs – his selfie in front of the Statue of Liberty is hilarious, as is the illustration at Central Park, mainly because the illustrator has cleverly superimposed Louie and other characters on top of black and white photographs of the real city.
For newly independent readers this is a laugh-out loud gem. Clashing real New York with the fairy dust and sparkles of an overly optimistic unicorn is incredibly silly, but shows lashings of imagination, fun and cupcakes. Read it and giggle. For 6+ years. There is a whole series to follow. You can buy a copy here.
Another story far from reality is There’s a Dragon in my Dinner! By Tom Nicoll, illustrated by Sarah Horne. Any book that features “pull my finger” on the front is asking for trouble.
Eric Crisp opens his Chinese take-away to discover a mini-dragon hiding inside, supposedly en-route to Mexico. This dragon is not a free toy, but a live talking dragon (who can even breathe fire), and it’s not long before he’s causing all kinds of trouble.
This book is immensely readable, especially for those readers gaining in confidence to read themselves. An array of hugely entertaining, yet believable characters from a Dad who coaches a losing football team, to a yoga-mad Mum, and a hugely annoying kid next door who has everything (except a mini-dragon!)
The chapters are short and snippy, the dialogue great, and the plot interesting enough to keep a child guessing. It’s written in Eric’s voice, which is warm and witty, and also includes lovely little details such as lists and recipes.
Sarah Horne’s illustrations intersperse the text and vary from little incidentals to full page pictures. The scene in the kitchen in Chapter One manages to sum up the characters of the entire family and the domestic setting, before the dragon even arrives. Once he does, Sarah has great fun with his flying technique, his chosen place to sleep, and his dance on the video game remote control.
The mini-dragon’s character is adorable – if ever your child nagged you for a pet, be ready for them to start asking for a mini-dragon. I quite fancy adopting one myself. He might eat through a washing basket of clothes, but I bet he doesn’t leave tissues in there. For age 7+. Publishes 11 Feb 2016. You can purchase a copy here. A series is to follow.