|Written by Stephen J Brooks||Illustrated by Linda Crockett||Published by Purple Sky Publishing 2007|
Unicorns are sometimes most effectively portrayed through a childrens' book. Adults sometimes look for too many "why"s and "how"s. Unicorns aren't about that: they simply are, to be admired and wondered at. Unicorn Races is a beautifully created fusion of word and picture. It tells, with no more complexity than it needs, the tale of a young girl named Abigail, who, when her mother bids her goodnight and closes the bedroom door, takes on her night-time role as a princess of the faerie realms. Her unicorn escort transports her to the enchanted woods where she presides over a race between six unicorns. The book is less a story than it is a glimpse into another world: one of colour and magic and beauty. It's an escape into a realm which is not only attractive but safe - Princess Abigail's night-time realm is a place free from the harsh and cynical realities of this world. There's no conflict or competition there, even though the book describes a race: it really doesn't matter who wins: it's the race and the enjoyment of it that's important: the excitement and the fun of it.
As an adult, I was delighted by the book. Every page is a lavishly coloured picture full of depth and charm, and the text flows easily: the whole forming a beautiful picture. It's a warm book: the story is a welcoming one that invites you in. If you're a parent in the habit of reading to your children, it is a pleasure to read. It is easy to read, but not in the sense of being simple or remedial: the story is well-crafted and has a comfortable cadence. I often read to my six-year-old daughter, Jade, at night: some books, after a long day at work, can be an effort - I don't find it easy to read aloud; sometimes stumbling and having to re-read a sentence because it didn't run the way I expected. Unicorn Races hasn't tripped me once.
I found myself much in sympathy with the views of the author. Stephen Brooks is a US federal agent and someone who has seen much of the world, both good and bad. He understands that children can be forced to grow up too quickly, and that there is a lot of value in make-believe worlds where "children are safe to wander and explore." You don't always need danger or conflict to make a good story.
Linda Crockett's artwork is perfectly in tune with the story: the illustration is rich and warm, full of colour and detail. Though the story is set at night, the images are full of light, almost shining from the page. Thought her style is very different from Thomas Kinkade, her work has a similar warm glow - small wonder her work wins so many awards.
Of course, this is a book intended for children, and my opinion as an adult is largely irrelevant. The true reviewer should be my daughter. Jade is so entranced with it that Prince Caspian, the book she had been listening to each night with great enthusiasm, has not been picked up since the review copy of Unicorn Races arrived: it has now been read cover-to-cover three nights running, and has been requested for tomorrow night too. I don't really think a children's book can have a higher recommendation, can it?