In an age when little eyes are increasingly captivated by the digital trickery of films and video games, this spellbinding collaboration between Angela McAllister and Grahame Baker-Smith’s breathes new life into the olde worlde children’s pastime of the magic show.
Playing up to the sheer theatre of a magic show, the opening page shows the lights going out, the next the curtains drawing open, before jugglers, mechanical animals and finally the magician, Abdul Kazam, burst on to the scene. A variation on the classic theme of belief and disbelief in magic, the story begins with Leon and his friends in doubt, complaining that ‘it’s not real’ and ‘it’s just tricks’. By the end of Abdul Kazam’s performance they are enraptured, their faith renewed. But if the beginning and the ending follows the usual conventions, what comes in-between, when Leon is invited on stage to ‘enter the magic’, certainly is not.
Leon, a willing volunteer to magician Abdul Kazam, climbs the ladder into the magic box, a small cut-out in the page revealing just a glimpse of the wonder that lies inside. As the page is turned, the face of the great magician peers through this hole – the last thing of the real world Leon sees as he falls into the ‘place between’. This is a kind of waiting room for magician’s objects and subjects before they are reappeared; a process through which Leon is guided by the magician’s assistant on a magic carpet.
Leon is taken through a world ‘alive with magic’, a limitless void full of physics-defying architecture, decorated with intricate golden treasures, glittering stars and elaborate patterns and populated by white rabbits, shadow puppets, djinns and genies.
The charming, imaginative narrative is expertly paced and great for reading out loud, while the glorious details in the illustrations are as perfectly magical as the tale itself. Using Photoshop to combine painted, photographic and digital elements, the mixed media methods of award-winning illustrator Grahame Baker-Smith really come into their own in this magic world, creating a dreamlike collage of multiple layers that feel three-dimensional. A turn of the page causes metallic, gilded elements to jump out as the light catches them for the first time, making each spread a rich and intricate source of wonder.
It is almost disappointing to see the door of the magic box shut on the place between, as Leon re-emerges triumphantly to rapturous applause, cradling a souvenir white rabbit. Parents and children will undoubtedly want to return and relive the magic time and again!