My psyche and I have got a right little gem for you today, courtesy of the kind folk at HarperCollins Australia, by a writing and illustrating duo that will knock your metaphorical socks off. Imaginary Fred is the combined work of Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, and two more reliably exciting names in children’s literature you would be hard pressed to find. Here’s an overview of this delightful and funny picture book, with the blurb from Goodreads, before my I let my psyche-pals loose…
Did you know that sometimes, with a little electricity, or luck, or even magic, an imaginary friend might appear when you need one? An imaginary friend like Fred. Fred floated like a feather in the wind until Sam, a lonely little boy, wished for him and, together, they found a friendship like no other. The perfect chemistry between Eoin Colfer’s text and Oliver Jeffers’s artwork makes for a dazzlingly original picture book.
Being reasonably unfamiliar with Eoin Colfer’s writing (having not actually read any of it, but knowing that he’s right famous among the younglings), the undeniably cheeky illustrations on the cover of this book drew me straight in and forced an “Oh look! It’s an Oliver Jeffers book!” from my tired, cynical, stony lips. That signature style of naïve line drawings held the promise of another giggle-inducing read with more than a few unexpected twists along the way. Happily, this is exactly what Imaginary Fred delivers.
Colfer’s writing divides its time between being touchingly lyrical and abruptly hilarious. I didn’t quite expect the plot to be so engaging, but the combination of word and image throughout actually had me leaning toward emitting that annoying and oft-used phrase that the young folk use – “Oh, the feels!” The ending of the book, you understand, takes a turn for the uplifting just when you think everything is going to pot and Fred’s story arc will end just as it always has when his little human friends no longer have any time for him.
So really, this book provides the whole package – a story that will appeal to kids; a word count that will engage young readers who are looking for longer, more involved stories for their parents to read to them and challenge young readers who are branching out into independent reading, as well as illustrations that really bring the story off the page and elevate it to truly memorable heights.
I’m just going to put it out there that Oliver Jeffers has somehow sneakily snuck his way onto my list of favourite illustrators without me even noticing. Honestly, those facial expressions. They crack me up every time. Brilliant.
I’ve nothing to complain about with the story per se, but I do fear that the format of this book may be one that school librarians have an awfully hard time trying to get kids to borrow. These are the picture books “for slightly older readers”, where the amount of text will put off kids who are still on picture books, but the picture book format will deter kids who could read the text easily, because they don’t want to be seen to be reading books for “little kids” when their peers have moved on to early chapter books.
I’d love to see this released in an early reader format to compliment the picture book format and ensure that ALL the kids get their grubby hands on Imaginary Fred, because it would be a crying shame for anyone to miss out.
I thoroughly enjoyed the interplay between words and pictures here, as I mentioned before, particularly the instances where keen-eyed readers will be rewarded by easily missed illustrative giggles. There is a cheeky tip of the hat to Colfer’s and Jeffers’ back catalogue hiding in the middle, an unsuspecting pig who is about to have a very bad day thanks to the alignment of the stars, and various toys and musical instruments that might appear, to the untrained eye, to be defying gravity.
Here’s my favourite illustrative side-note, anyway:
Yes, you’re right, I am utterly childish, but for some reason the inclusion of that one, particularly given that it has nothing at all to do with the story, made me laugh and laugh.
So that’s it really. If you’re a fan of Oliver Jeffers, I can imagine you’re going to rush out and buy this book even if I said it was a pile of old tosh, such is the power of a good illustrator’s work (and rightly so!). Luckily though, it isn’t a pile of old tosh – quite the opposite in fact – and it has been a lovely and non-onerous introduction for me to Colfer’s work. I may even pick up one of his big kids’ books now…or at least put one on my TBR pile.
Until next time,