cover image Instructions


Neil Gaiman, illus. by Charles Vess, Harper, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-196030-7

"Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before," invites Gaiman's poem, first published in A Wolf at the Door (2000), reborn as a lavishly illustrated small-format picture book. A bipedal, bushy-tailed cat, wearing attire befitting Robin Hood, enters a fairy tale landscape filled with subtle and obvious allusions to familiar characters and stories. A cottage door leads him into a hallway of dramatic arches where a cat with an injured paw becomes his companion ("if any creature tells you that it hungers, feed it. If it tells you that it is dirty, clean it"). The wanderers press on, encountering a castle containing three sequestered princesses ("Do not trust the youngest. Walk on"), a ghostly ferryman, and other creatures. Recalling his work on Gaiman's Blueberry Girl, Vess's compositions are distinguished by elegant, winding lines—gnarled vines, plumes of smoke, dragon tails—and intimate frames that evoke moments of gentle wisdom. Young readers should relish the chimerical vision while older Gaiman fans should grasp the underlying suggestion that the compass used to navigate fairy tales can also guide us in the real world. All ages. (May)