'The Storyteller’s Handbook' by Elise Hurst and foreword by Neil Gaiman is an astonishingly exquisite and unique book that has brought us countless hours of joy. Elise Hurst is one of my family’s favourite authors, so imagine our excitement when we learned that she was creating a book with a collection containing fifty-two of her intricate illustrations. These have been expressly created to spark the imagination and immerse the reader in fantastical worlds and adventures,
with a cast of characters including mythical creatures, animals, children and adults. Each wordless page is a feast for the eyes, brimming with details and nuggets that inspire questions and cause you to ponder, wonder and imagine.
Each night it has become a highly anticipated ritual for my younger daughter and I (we are often joined by my older children too) to open to a page, any page and “read” the pictures to become the storyteller. We are inspired with an instant stream of thoughts and wonderings in response to the illustrations. The breathtaking scenes included do not combine to form a narrative, hence any page at any time can be explored. The settings are diverse and include outer space, lakeside, the deep ocean and there’s even a library to name just a few. Be warned, the more time taken to savour this library (and this is the case for all the illustrations), the more extraordinary details are revealed, questions arise and stories are born. Within these images are a magical mix of characters, sometimes engaged in activities that would be deemed out of the ordinary, for example a young child reading a book underwater to a large threatening looking fish, however the mood captured seems one of friendliness between the characters rather than hostility, prompting wonderings about this context, relationship and how it may have come to be. There are stories within stories to unpack as observations are made about individuals, their emotions as well as the inclusion of animals in scenes engaged in actions that are uncharacteristic for them. Some characters appear to be on a journey, where are they going? Where did they come from? There are numerous visually stunning interactions between humans and animals, some are playful, others are surreal and all are a balm for the soul. My daughter has taken to naming some of the settings, people and embracing Roald Dahl creating some neologisms.
Elise’s illustrations are wondrous invitations to leave the confines of where you are and through the power of your imagination explore another place and time. They allow the reader to step into the skin of the characters, ponder their thoughts, reasons for their actions, reactions, what they might be feeling physically and account for this. They are invitations to consider each character’s feelings, the commonalities and differences between them. What would you ask them? How would you interact if you were physically part of the scenes illustrated. Stories might be inspired by a particular character’s point of view.