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The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold, with marvellous illustrations by Emily Gravett, has been picked several times this year for awards and as people’s children’s book of the year. I found it in the library last week and just had to squeeze in a read, even though the pile of unread books on my bedside table is rapidly threatening to kill me it’s so large.

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I loved it.

The Imaginary tells the story of Amanda and her imaginary friend Rudger. It tells the story from Rudger’s point of view as one day he springs into being in Amanda’s wardrobe.

Amanda and Rudger have a fine time playing all sorts of amazing games, mostly ones fuelled by Amanda’s fertile imagination. Then one day a mysterious grown up called Mr. Bunting appears at the front door. He says he’s doing a survey, but it soon becomes very clear that he isn’t. Mr. Bunting is a sinister individual who can not only see Rudger, unlike the majority of grown ups, but also seems to have a troubling imaginary friend of his own.

Rudger and Amanda have their friendship tested to the limit by what happens next.

This is a beautifully written, eerie tale which reminded me somewhat of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline in tone. It has that gloriously inventive but macabre feel to it that makes it a real page turner.

I loved the character of Rudger and indeed all of the imaginary friends who appear in the book are brilliantly written and appear, at times, more real than their human counterparts.

The illustrations by Emily Gravett are perfect. I have been a fan of Gravett’s work for a long time and in this, longer book, she sustains the emotional pitch of the book throughout and delivers a perfect balance of beauty and strangeness that complements the writing to a T.

This is ideal as a chapter or transitional book for readers aged 7-10. I’d recommend it for younger readers as something that you might want to read aloud with them. It is quite scary in places so if you have a child of the timid persuasion you might want to vet this first. The scariness is really well done and gives a real sense of tension to the story.

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