Fortunate is the author who happens to have a book illustrated by the über talented Sue deGennaro. What I love about Sue’s work is that she takes risks and uses so many varying styles and mediums – it’s like opening a beautifully-wrapped present every time you spy her name on a cover.
These striking illustrations were an absolute joy to meander through. Featuring a 1920s-Pinocchio-come-Swiss-Alps-come-Italianesque style (yes, I am taking creative license on my presumed illustration-inspiration!), the delicate shapes, lines and colours deGennaro uses are absolutely scrumptious.
But what of the story?
Happily, Tony Wilson has penned a fabulous story that no doubt provided such illustration inspiration. In his story, we meet a horse racing emperor who is so good at racing horses, he’s won every single race except the Cristobel Cup. Sending his royal trainers on a grand hunt to find a horse capable of the Cup, the Emperor is charmed by some ‘international’ trainers who wear fancy hats and smile a lot.
The trainers (who appear to have been heftily trained in psychological warfare) warn the Emperor – ‘This is a very magical horse.’ Indeed. It would have to be, being that it’s made of wood, and is designed to hang damp clothes on.
The moment when young Frankie the stablehand goes to mention his mum has one of those in her laundry is laugh-out-loud funny. Watching the clothes horse train for the big race is laugh-out-loud funny. But the last line of the book – post-race – is beyond that. It’s spurt-your-coffee funny.
I love this book. I love the tone, the humour, the voice, the images. I’m also absolutely loving the page layout. Obviously reluctant to place a single comma into the striking landscapes of deGennaro’s work, text columns down the page edges provide the perfect spot for wordage, while smiling eyes can scan the imagery, completely unfettered. Brilliant.
A must-have for any picture book lover. And get one for the kids, too.
The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse is published by Scholastic.