Willy's Stories by Anthony Browne

Anthony Browne and Willy feel like family to me since I have been reading Browne's books to my children for over two decades. If you are not familiar with the work of Browne, and if you love beautifully illustrated, thoughtful picture books, PLEASE read my past reviews of his works. We first met Willy the Chimp in 1984 when Willy the Wimp was published. Three more books about Willy and his friends followed then, in 1997, Willy the Dreamer was published. Browne, who almost always has simians standing in for humans, is a very painterly illustrator, if that's not too much of a conundrum. Willy the Dreamer is a magical walk through scenes inspired by the dreamscapes of painters like Magritte (a banana replacing Magritte's iconic green apple), Rousseau and Dalí as well as books (Alice in Wonderland, which Browne illustrated in 1988) and movies based on books (The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Tarzan). In 2000, Willy's Pictures paid full tribute to the painters who influenced and inspired Browne with a glimpse into Willy's sketchbook. While recreating great works of art like Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Marriage, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Seurat and the Mona Lisa, Browne works in his trademark gorillas and chimpanzees along with a lot of playfulness, including funny captions for Willy's pictures. And, if you are truly a fan of Browne's work, you will spot the recurring patterns (like Willy's sweater vest) and images that are woven into all of his books.

With Willy's Stories, Browne shifts from the world of art and paintings to the world of words and books. Willy's Stories is dedicated to "all the great writers and illustrators who have inspired me to make picture books" and begins with Willy telling us that, "Every week I walk through these doors and something incredible happens. I go on amazing adventures." With his ten favorite stories from childhood, Browne (and Willy) take readers on a journey through each book, or at least the first page of the book. Willy's Stories reminds me a bit of that fantastic Chris Van Allsburg book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick a book with is only a title, a caption and an illustration from each story, left behind by a mysterious author. 

The illustration for each of the ten books in Willy's Stories shows Willy as the main character, with books hidden, or not so hidden in the illustration as well. The text for each page begins with a variation of, "One day I went through the doors and found . . ." Willy goes on, imagining himself as the protagonist, sharing suspenseful scene from the book that is sure to pique reader's interest, especially because he always ends with a cliffhanger moment and a question for the reader. With Treasure Island, Willy recounts the moment that stowaway Jim Hawkins is about to be discovered in the apple barrel on board the Hispaniola. In Robin Hood, Willy retells the moment when, after agreeing to carry Robin across the stream to keep his fine clothes clean, he seems to be on the verge of giving him a good dunking.

Brown ends Willy's Pictures with images of the original works of art referred to in his illustrations.Rather than ending Willy's Stories in this way, Browne instead shows Willy walking out of the library, a stack of books in his arms. These books include, among those already mentioned, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Robinson Crusoe, Peter Pan, The Tinderbox, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Rapunzel and my childhood favorite seen below, The Wind in the Willows. I can't think of a better way to engage a child's imagination and spark a love of reading than by reading this marvelous picture book to her or him over and over and over.

Willy's Books:

Source: Review Copy

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