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  • Writer's picturePicture Book Snob

How to take care of your unicorn

Margaret's Unicorn by Briony May Smith

"My whole world changed the day I found a baby unicorn tangled in the weeds and thorns."

What's it about?

After moving to the countryside, a little girl called Margaret goes exploring. To her surprise, she observes a herd of unicorns flying, "to Unicorn Island on the last summer wind." On the way back to her cottage, Margaret finds a baby unicorn tangled in some weeds. She takes the unicorn home and with the help of her family, looks after him. Grandma knows all about unicorns and tells Margaret to feed him flowers and water that has been "touched by moonlight." Margaret and the unicorn play and explore together every day, although as spring approaches, she wonders what will happen when the other unicorns return. Meanwhile, Margaret feels more settled in her new house, referring to it as "home" for the first time in the story's concluding lines.

What can we learn?

Magic can be found where you least expect it. Moving house may be hard, but a new place will eventually feel like home. Margaret's Unicorn also teaches the correct way to care for a unicorn and what makes their horns glow (you'll have to get the book to find out).

Margaret's Unicorn by Briony May Smith, Schwartz & Wade, Walker Books

What makes this stand out? This is an extraordinary story that transports readers to rugged fields filled with thistles and heather, where mythical creatures hover on the horizon. Margaret's Unicorn is experienced with all of the senses. You can almost feel the freezing cold ocean spray, the damp mist rising from the hills, and the soft, silky unicorn gently nuzzle you. A combination of powerful, poignant storytelling and stunning illustrations make this an exceptional work of art.

About those illustrations...

The images are incredible - they are so striking with a wonderful colour palette, and exude warmth and affection. Not only is the unicorn adorable, so is Margaret. I love how they are both drawn and how happy they look together. As mystical as the unicorn is, there is another magical force which pervades this book - nature. Star-lit skies glitter and autumn is bathed in a golden glow. There are tranquil blankets of snow that melt into flashes of yellow from gorse and dandelions, and buds bursting open to announce the arrival of spring. On every page the enchantment that can be found outdoors and in wild things and places is celebrated.

Margaret's Unicorn by Briony May Smith, Schwartz & Wade, Walker Books

Why we love it...

Margaret's Unicorn is just so beautiful. It's written in a masterful, evocative and lyrical style that reads like a long poem. It isn't possible to list all my favourite lines as there are so many, but here are a few examples of Briony May Smith's skill with language: "I picked up a horse chestnut, opened it carefully, and touched its soft inside, which felt like a little fairy fur coat."

"'A fire,' I'd tell my unicorn, "is the best thing to cosy up to.' We'd curl up together and listen to the rain tap-tap-tap on the window. 'Isn't that the loveliest sound?' I'd say."

"On the first day of spring, as we sat on the hill, the unicorns floated down from the sky like snowflakes."

I love the effect this story has on my kids; how quiet and thoughtful they are as we read it. Something about Margaret's Unicorn makes me so nostalgic for the stories I loved as a child, and for childhood itself. Despite the supernatural aspects, it feels so real and authentic. Every time I finish reading this, it's as though I have just experienced something as rare and uncanny as Margaret's encounter with the unicorn. Margaret is a brilliant character; her instinctive kindness and empathy are excellent qualities. It's fantastic to see how much respect she has for the unicorn and his boundaries, and how well she understands him.

Margaret's Unicorn by Briony May Smith, Schwartz & Wade, Walker Books

Why you need it...

As far as I'm concerned, EVERYONE needs this book, whether they have children or not. This is definitely one of the best books I've ever seen. Longer than the average picture book, this is aimed at age four and upwards. My children are almost four and almost six and it's perfect for them. It's ideal for enticing emerging readers too. Margaret's grandmother is a unicorn expert who helps and advises Margaret on unicorn care more than anyone else in the family. Margaret's Unicorn is a lovely exploration of the bond between grandparents and grandchildren and would make a great gift from a grandmother. This is a book to be treasured, and a future classic which will be adored for generations to come.

Margaret's Unicorn by Briony May Smith, Schwartz & Wade, Walker Books

About the author and illustrator:

Briony May Smith studied Illustration at Falmouth University and was Highly Commended for the Macmillan Children’s book prize in 2013 and 2014. Briony’s work is inspired by fairy tales, folklore and life in the country. Briony has illustrated a number of acclaimed and popular picture books, including one of our favourites, Stardust by Jeanne Willis, and Imelda and the Goblin King, which she also wrote herself.

Margaret's Unicorn by Briony May Smith, Schwartz & Wade, Walker Books

Margaret's Unicorn was released in the US by Schwartz & Wade in September 2020 and will be released in Ireland and the UK by Walker Books on 3rd June 2021

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