07 December 2009

Book of the Week (41): "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by John Lawrence

A horse dashing through the night, a deadly black spot… Prepare for the adventure of your life. The wild, whispering sea dominates the book, as it did illustrator John Lawrence’s childhood, and he portrays it in all its moods; you can hear the rolling waves, and the cabins creak and experience the wonder and cruelty of sea life. We accompany the pirates' approach to the Admiral Benbow inn, the rowdy bustle of harbour life. The cast of unforgettable characters leap from the page; Lawrence’s vibrant woodcut engravings convey the rough-hewn, vivid lives of Jim and his pirates, and portrays the extraordinary Long John Silver, Jim’s nemesis and saviour, and one of the greatest characters you’ll ever meet, just as I imagined him, leaving him haunting you long after you close the book. Rarely have I seen illustrations that match more closely to my own ideal image of the story and its characters; they amplify the key scenes like the best music does in a film, so we feel we are peering over brave Jim Hawkins's shoulder as he writes. We creep through trees of the mysterious island itself, catching glimpses of shocking scenes, and stumbling upon the castaway Ben Gunn, who reveals an extraordinary secret. The text itself is beautiful; but the illustrations make is something special. A fantastic gift, perfect for pirates of all ages.

The Walker Illustrated Classics series of which this is a part is an amazing project, and they have matched artists to the texts perfectly, with each artist responding imaginatively to the text in a way that opens up new ways of seeing. Particular favourites so far are Chris Riddell’s rendering of Gulliver’s Travels, Inga Moore’s wonderfully evocative drawings for The Secret Garden, and the witty paintings and collages of Sara Fanelli that capture the mischevious spirit of Pinocchio. The series is hugely collectable, and gives both new readers and those familiar with the classics an ideal opportunity to discover some of the greatest children’s stories ever told, in beautiful editions that make turning each page a surprise and delight.

Recommended by Ariel Kahn

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