Every time I walk through these doors something incredible happens. I go on AMAZING adventures.
Come with me and I’ll show you…”
Thus begins Willy’s Stories by former Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne – I don’t think that it spoils anything to say that Willy goes on his adventures by reading books and that those doors that he speaks of probably belong to a Library…
In this beautiful celebration of storytelling and imagination every page turn brings with it a new adventure. There’s a shipwreck, a tornado and even a tumble down a rabbit hole; it doesn’t take long for readers to recognise that Willy is standing in for such stalwarts of Children’s Literature as Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood and Peter Pan to name but a few. Even the marbled endpapers hark back to a kind of golden age of Children’s Literature and hint at the richness within.
There are ten adventures in total, each treated as a double page spread with text on the left hand page mirrored by one of Browne’s resplendent full page paintings on the right. The text relates a key scene from the adventure and poses an open ended question enquiring what might be about to happen next or what ‘would YOU have done?’ The very size of the illustrations and the clever use of perspective echo this textual invitation to put yourself in the story – the reader already finds themselves on the deck of the Hispaniola or looking up at Willy from further down the rabbit hole because that is exactly where the illustrations place them. There’s a real immediacy to the scenes being depicted and the quandaries that Willy finds himself in so that the illustrations appear as a moment frozen in time – all the easier for the reader to take such an opportune moment to jump into the story themselves. Clever use of size and facial expressions also let us know how worried or intrepid we should be feeling about a particular adventure. This combination of words and pictures certainly goes a long way to achieving that elusive ‘synergy of illustration and text’ that forms one of the cornerstones of the judging criteria.
The judging criteria also refers to the visual experience of the book and how well it offers new experiences – it seems to me that this is something that Willy’s Stories does very well. The raison d’être of the whole book is about offering the reader multiple new experiences via each of the stories (and making these perhaps previously intimidating texts more accessible). It also hints at the collaborative nature of reading – that these stories represent a wealth that can be shared and that we can all enjoy.
As with all of Anthony Browne’s work the illustrations are packed with details: In the paintings books stand in for the rungs of ladders, the walls of buildings and even sea gulls. I spent an enjoyable lunchtime with one of our shadowing groups spotting all the book references, though our favourite detail was the distinctly banana-ish looking tip of Captain Hook’s hook! It’s a constant joy of Anthony Browne’s work that just when you think you’ve exhausted all the possibilities you find something new. Indeed, I’ve only just noticed whilst writing this that Willy’s back pack and the door handles in the opening spread are in fact books!