Through the magic mirror by Anthony Browne

cover image

Walker Books, 2009.
(All ages) Highly recommended. In Through the magic mirror, Browne's first picture book, published in 1976, nine years after studying graphic design at Leeds, the wonderful Toby goes through his magic mirror one evening while his parents are watching television, mum in rollers and dad smoking, and finds another world. But this world is almost the reverse of what he has at home. Here, the mirror reflects the back of his head, the lamp has a flower instead of a light bulb, the rainbow ends in the building, the sky is full of choristers and the mice chase the cat. Surreal images abound in this beautifully illustrated spare text of a boy lost in a dream world, at least until he returns home for tea.
I loved looking for the deference to the surreal painters, Dali, Magritte and others. Magritte's famous picture of a man looking in a mirror at the back of his head is used several times through the book, while the cover has the reverse image, evocative of the picture of Rene Magritte himself, by fellow artist, Lothar Wolleh. The choristers floating in space is suggestive of Magritte's Golconda (1953), while the pictures of the train is reminiscent of Magritte's Time transfixed. Sometimes there are nods to Dali's work, the flower coming out of the pavement, the tree on top of a building and so on, but the inspiration of Magritte's work stands out.
Readers will thoroughly enjoy this book, still in print after its initial publication in 1976, the first work of this important creator of picture books, now the Children's Laureate of the United Kingdom. Kids, teachers and parents will love looking at the symbolism, looking for the inspiration from art they know, and searching for art books to look at representations of the imagery found here while laughing out loud at some of the funny pictures. For followers of Browne's work, traces can be seen of his future work, the gorilla, Toby's clothing, and the image of the quiet boy or chimp in the landscape.
Fran Knight