Instructions by Neil Gaiman

cover image

Ill. by Charles Vess. Bloomsbury, 2010. ISBN 9781408808641.
(All ages) Recommended.
'Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before,
Say 'please' before you open the latch, go through,
walk down the path.'
With these words, the reader is transported into a magical world of strange beings and faintly familiar surroundings. A wonderful Puss-in-Boots, accompanied by a cat friend, make an adventurous journey through a wondrous land. Following the advice for travelling, which includes taking nothing, eating nothing, minding their manners and helping any creature that they can, the pair go past Winter's realm, through the wild wood and up to a castle. They pass princesses in a tower, the twelve months and wild wolves. Finally after advice to 'trust your heart and trust your story' the pair return to the little house that now seems much smaller than they remember.
This is a charming story that resonates with the reader. Gaiman gently encourages the reader to be brave and to take risks, but not to offend others while doing so. I loved the advice that the travellers were given, and consider that Gaiman's hints about good manners, helping those in need and not always trusting what you are told are useful ones for everyday living. Gaiman has a distinctive voice and this book would be superb to read out loud.
Charles Vess has illustrated the journey in dreamy watercolours. I found myself thinking of the Puss-in-Boots type character long after I finished the book, imagining the journey and seeing the inquiring look on its face. I particularly loved the little pictures of the cat companion and while the frightening forest scenes gave me a little shiver, they weren't too scary for the younger reader. The journey home was illustrated with exuberance: the ride on the wise eagle and the silver fish were dramatic and beautiful.
Instructions is a keeper.
Pat Pledger