There are favourite authors you always look out for. These are authors who, even if their latest publication is writing the instructions on the back of a ready meal packet, you will buy it, because their words just entrance you.
There are a handful of authors that jostle for favourite with me. I can’t pick just one, but I can say that Neil Gaiman is in that handful, and that when I found a copy of Instructions last week, and realised I had never read it, I whooped with pleasure.
I was further delighted by the fact that the illustrations are by Charles Vess, who I was introduced to by the beautiful work he did to accompany Gaiman’s Blueberry Girl (which we gave to my 12 year old for Christmas last year, because it is fitting and entirely right for her).
Instructions is a book that does exactly what it says on the cover.
Although it is not about how to prepare your ready meal (always be careful of the steam when you have to poke the fork through the cellophane. Just saying’)
These Instructions are both the key to understanding stories and a story in themselves. The joy of this is that it shows Gaiman’s deep familiarity with the structure and rhythm of traditional folk and fairy tales, and his confidence in playing with them to create something as old as the hills and yet quite, quite new.
The illustrations by Vess, hint at the stories the instructions come from, and allow the reader to people their imagination, and make the paths the story sets up ones they can explore in different ways time and time again.
The story is deceptively simple, but on reading and thinking and talking about it, it gives and keeps giving. It is like the best adventure.
This would be a wonderful teaching aid on the structure of stories, not only in primary school, but beyond. It is also, and I can vouch for this, a great story to share with your children, and one you will find yourself referring back to time and time again after the first reading.