Jim's Lion by Russell Hoban and Alexis Deacon

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Jim's Lion by Russell Hoban and Alexis Deacon

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Quite the most astonishing amalgam of short story and imagery; this book will be just about the most impactful you'll experience all year. Ignore what audiences it's tagged for below – it's unclassifiable, and beyond such flippancies.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 84 Date: June 2014
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406346022

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Shortlisted for the 2015 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal

You must find your finder for yourself. So says a nurse to Jim, who is lying in hospital, plagued by some unnamed disease and bad dreams. The finder in question will be an animal totem, a frequenter of a nice, safe and loved place in Jim's mind, that will be able to keep him optimistic, hopeful and perhaps even alive throughout the procedures to come. The title gives the name away as to what the lad sees approach him in his fantasies, but there is no clue there as to what we see approach us in the fantastic that follows.

I don't know how to put this, bar superlatives. This book floored me. The way it took a simple short story, and ran with it… Make no mistake, in no circumstances should this be spoken of as a work by Russell Hoban, for illustrator Alexis Deacon has done just as much if not more to make this a masterpiece. There aren't many words to it – the text starts on page thirteen, whereas the visual narrative started on page one with the dedications, and before the ISBN number and credits and so on. The story is scattered to the winds of the visuals, as they take over for spells, embellishing the words, enacting the least dramatic sentences in the most dramatic way.

It's no criticism to say the words needed embellishing – the punch of the story is there, but without the extra flavour of the artistry they would mean less. If there is a critique to make it is with the over-use of the word said, when a lot is 'asked' and more. But that's nothing as regards how highly I rate this – I don't think I've ever flicked through a book while typing my thoughts so often, to revisit the images, to confirm how great what I'd just experienced was…

What's more ridiculous in my mind, is that this is a reprint, with the author having died in 2011. More than that, it's been re-illustrated, by a new co-creator. And excuse me, Mr Original Illustrator, but I just cannot imagine anything superior to this version. The way the short story is broken up could be different, the whole emphasis of the book may be completely new, the whole mood of the piece is potentially fresh on these pages, as opposed to the original I sadly doubt I'll see. If this book tallied perfectly with the author's wishes, if he'd scripted every image and the collaborator had followed everything to a T, it would be worthy of five stars; the fact that Deacon presumably had to divert and diversify from an original take to make his own creation is just, to me, a further element that makes this book so jaw-dropping.

So, no, I'll conclude with the admission that I haven't talked much of the plot of the piece, either the words or the images. Well, it's an all-ages-friendly storybook with lots of pictures, so the words are those of hope. The images are those of surreality, of a ridiculously inventive and imaginative and illustrated dreamworld. The ill boy is tossed to and fro like a rugby ball; his tosses and turns in bed at night become circus acts performed by animals with him the talent scout – hence the rhino solving a Rubik's cube on the back cover; and the medical procedure so long delayed and damaged by anxiety becomes a complete and utter novel in pictures of finding oneself, of giving thanks, and, again, of hope. Before that match is made there is a counterpoint in charge of proceedings here that you just DO. NOT. FIND in books like this.

Oh, and a doctor last declared me perfectly healthy about a month ago. I dread to think of the impact this book could have on those who are ill, or those caring for such. Again – jaw-dropping. It makes me think this as less of a book, more of a cultural artefact, a piece of who and what we are, about who and what we are. If I have to call it merely a book, I assume at this midway point that it's my book of the year. Thanks Lion, thanks Jim, thanks Russell Hoban, and thank you Alexis Deacon.

And of course thanks to the publishers for my review copy. Can I stop shivering now?

I did think of this as kind of Pride of Baghdad by Brian K Vaughan meets A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness meets something regarding illness. Until - flip me, I discovered that the same pair have struck gold twice - Soonchild by Russell Hoban was loved by my fellow reviewer.

Buy Jim's Lion by Russell Hoban and Alexis Deacon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Jim's Lion by Russell Hoban and Alexis Deacon at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Jim's Lion by Russell Hoban and Alexis Deacon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Jim's Lion by Russell Hoban and Alexis Deacon at Amazon.com.


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