The goblin and the empty chair by Mem Fox

cover image

Ill. by Leo and Diane Dillon. Puffin, 2009. ISBN 9780670074211.
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. Mem Fox has crafted a memorable story in the classic fairy tale tradition, telling the tale of a kind-hearted goblin who is convinced that he is too ugly to be seen by anyone. He hides away in his castle, until one day he sees desolate farmer, who doesn't seem to be able to cope with his chores. The farmer's wife and daughter are also suffering from some unspecified loss. The goblin, working at night, helps them out, believing that the darkness will hide him. However the family members do see him and invite him into their home.
Fox's beautiful text is studded with memorable phrases, imagery and repetition. It is a delight to read aloud, slowly with emphasis. Beautiful framed illustrations by award winning duo, Leo and Diane Dillon, draw the reader into the story. Each page has a border strip showing what is happening before the text, and a larger picture that illustrates a key emotion of the story. A tiny gargoyle face on both sides of the picture is fascinating and adds to the reader's understand of the feelings that the text is expanding. Although the family's despair is not explained in the text, there are clues in the illustrations. It is these tiny pictures and clues that bring the reader back again and again to discover more richness in the book.
Both the text and the illustrations emphasise that appearances are not all important and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Compassion and caring for other people have the power to help heal a terrible loss and to join people together.
Pat Pledger