Instructions: Safely traverse enchanted lands

children's fantasy book reviews Neil Gaiman Instructionschildren's fantasy book reviews Neil Gaiman InstructionsInstructions by Neil Gaiman

I am a sucker for illustrated children’s books. I get quite attached to specific editions and consider it a tragedy when some of my favorite tales are reillustrated. It’s the cinematic equivalent of colorizing Casablanca. Imagine my joy to discover that Neil Gaiman, who I love, had paired up with Charles Vess on children’s books.

The two geniuses came together to create Instructions, a short tale for a reader of any age who wants to safely traverse enchanted lands. Like a fairy tale version of Where’s Waldo?, the story and illustrations cover at least three dozen fairy tales and other stories. Every time you go back to this book, the illustrations will reveal another hidden figure tucked away in the branch of a tree, or peeking out from behind a building. I had the fancy upon reading this that Cimorene from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede would have kept this in a pocket to safely guide her through her journeys.

I would recommend Instructions for anyone who loves fairy and folk tales. The more you have read, the more you will get out of this book, which makes me feel perfectly justified in keeping it on my bookshelf as an adult.

Instructions — (2010) Ages 4-8. Publisher: Trust Dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story. A renowned storyteller whose words have transported readers to magical realms and an acclaimed illustrator of lushly imagined fairy-tale landscapes guide a traveler safely through lands unknown and yet strangely familiar… and home again.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. I love this poem. I think I first read it in one of those Datlow/Windling anthologies, though darned if I can remember which one.

  2. Oooh, this sounds great. I wonder if my almost-4-year-old would be ready for this.

  3. I don’t think there would be anything I wouldn’t show a 4yo, IIRC–but he or she might not catch all the references. ;)

  4. I think your four year old will love it for the artwork. I agree with Kelly about not getting all the references, but I think it would be great to read this with a small child, and then read the other stories to them as well and watch the get the references later.

  5. I think this book should be on the shelf with the rest of the graduation gift books. It works on a lot of different levels.

    The illustrations are wonderful.

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