The Magic Crayon by Amy Sparkes and Ali Pye, Puffin Books
What's it about?
When Chloe's brother Jack is nasty to her, she gets her revenge by drawing a picture of a witch casting a spell on him. Chloe doesn't realise her crayon has magical powers until a real witch appears and runs off with Jack, who is now a frog. Chloe sets off to rescue Jack, armed with only her wits and her crayon. Will that be enough to win a battle against a witch? And what about the other creatures lurking in the shadows of the deep dark woods?
What can we learn?
There are no limits to the imagination or to what we can do with a crayon. Through its exploration of a loving sibling relationship, this story demonstrates how kindness and forgiveness are more powerful than magic. It also proves that stories and pictures, whether created by others or those we make ourselves, are of paramount importance and potent forces too.
What makes this stand out? It's amazing - so exciting and entertaining. The lively rhyming text is an absolute joy to read aloud. I'm always in awe when rhyming is done well, and this is a masterclass in how it should be executed. Its storybook qualities are amplified because it's narrated in verse, but at the same time you hardly notice it because it flows so naturally.
The Magic Crayon is incredibly atmospheric and full of suspense, and extremely funny too. The characters are brilliant and the connection the siblings share is realistic and moving. The plot is action-packed and full of clever twists and turns, and the illustrations are fabulous.
About those illustrations...
They are so dreamy and magical and perfectly suit the tone and theme of the story. Even the colour palette is gorgeous and every scene is captivating and full of fairy tale fun. I love the sparks that fly from Chloe's crayon and its creations and I love how her enchanted sketches look child-like and hand-drawn.
There are lots of interesting details such as the jars of peculiar objects on the witch's mantelpiece. We can see the three little pigs, Puss and Boots, three mice, bears and even a little girl who looks a bit like Goldilocks as we pass through the woods. Disembodied eyes float in the darkness or blinking from trees and plants. The forest floor is covered in little toadstools, many with tiny windows alight. The witch's house is made of gingerbread. All of these cameos and nods to classic tales enrich the wonderful fairy tale realm evoked by this story.
The items in Chloe's room include three bears, a unicorn and stuffed toys that resemble the troll and the wolf. We see her read a book with a wolf on the cover in her kitchen, and copies of Puss and Boots and Goldilocks and the Three Bears lie on her bedroom floor. This suggests that the entire story happens in Chloe's imagination. I love this ambiguity and books that leave visual clues for little readers. My kids spotted the troll and wolf teddies, the wolf book and Puss and Boots in the forest before I did. The tiny jumper "Froggy Jack" wears is adorable and his surprised and bewildered facial expressions are hilarious.
The title page is covered in scenes of Jack playing tricks on Chloe. My kids find these highly amusing and insist we spend a lot of time looking at this part before beginning the story. The conclusion hints at Jack's next trick and Chloe's next adventure. We love looking at this last page and speculating on what's about to happen. The almost-six-year-old always says,"can't wait to read THAT book," as she assumes there'll be a sequel (if you're reading this Amy and Ali - PLEASE do another one!).
Why we love it...
Just like its crayon - this book is magic! I love how this champions creativity and storytelling, and how Chloe's quick-thinking and kindess gets her out of every fix. So much happens and my kids are gripped from start to finish, no matter how often we read The Magic Crayon. They are almost four and almost six and it's fantastic when we find a book that they both enjoy equally, which is becoming more difficult.
The first time we read it, the eldest actually screamed at two parts (when we meet a wolf and when the witch pursues a fleeing Chloe and Jack). We've had laugh-out-loud books before, but never scream-aloud ones! My children love all the pictures that Chloe draws, but their favourite is the one that solves the witch problem, which elicits lots of laughter and comments (I won't spoil it).
Why you need it...
With witches, wolves, trolls, kissable frogs, magic, revenge and reconciliation, and a host of hidden fairy tale characters, I don't think a more thrilling tale exists!
About the author:
Amy Sparkes is a prolific writer of books for children of all ages. Amy regularly produces the 'Writing for Children' pages for the bestselling Writing Magazine and also runs writing workshops for aspiring children's authors. Her picture books have been shortlisted for several book awards, including the Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2013 and the Booktrust Best Books Awards 2014. We also have The Secret of Me, another picture book and Amy's debut middle grade novel, The House at the Edge of Magic, and love them both. Amy lives in Devon with her husband and six children. When she's not off on an adventure with them, Amy enjoys drinking tea, climbing trees and dancing. She is yet to master doing all three at the same time.
About the illustrator:
Ali Pye studied fashion communication at Central St Martins School of Art in London, worked as a copy editor and started a family before completing an MA in illustration at Kingston University. She graduated in 2010, gave up the day job in 2011 and now does what she loves for a living. Ali has worked with lots of acclaimed authors on many bestselling books (we have Girls can do Anything and Together We Can! by Caryl Hart and love them). Ali has also written and illustrated lots of her own books. Ali created the picture books Where is Fred?, Copy Cat, The Littlest Bandit and Rosie is my Best Friend, and all three books in the Harry Stevenson chapter book series. These all look adorable and I hope to get more of Ali's books soon.
The Magic Crayon was published by Puffin books on18th March 2021- see this book on the publisher's website