Joesph Coelho and Richard Johnson
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This is Joseph Coelho’s first book as Children’s Laureate and what a truly magical one it is. Inspired by Joseph’s childhood growing up with his sister in a tower block on an estate in Roehampton, close to Richmond Park it is deeply personal and exquisitely told. The story – a modern fable – follows three children who live in a high-rise block, ‘Boring, hard and grey.’ but with a view to greenness beyond the drab grey, as they venture away from the suburban streets in search of a special tree with big leafy brows.
Having found what they were seeking,
the children tumble through a gap in its trunk into a magical world deep down where all kinds of creatures lurk.
There too on a throne sits an old tree-grown green man with bushy brows and he holds out something to the three. It’s a circular stone with a hole in the middle; this he gives the children and it’s as though he’s given them a new lens through which to view the world. For when they peer through the hole ‘the world goes upside-a-diddle’ and they suddenly see their own tower in a completely new light. It’s full of the love and laughter that they’d really been seeking all along: a place where everyday magic can happen once you know how to look.
Looking is assuredly what the artist Richard Johnson has done for his powerfully atmospheric, evocative illustrations. It’s so brilliant how his colour palette changes as the children move between their mundane urban home environment, the fantasy world and the natural one; this adds to the feeling of poetry in motion in Jospeh’s lyrical words. Richard includes details of architecture and sculpture (a version of Lynn Chadwick’s The Watchers) that make several links for this reviewer as well as the author.
Full of hope and enchantment, this timely story is a glorious fusion of words and pictures that blends the mundane and the dark with the magical and the triumphant, the urban and the countryside: nature and magic are everywhere if you know how to look. Unmissable this.