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4.2 out of 5 stars20
4.2 out of 5 stars
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This book took me completely by surprise. I was expecting something darker, with more of a twist. But Gaiman once again gives us something new and different. On the dust jacket it says it is for 'All Ages', and it really is. It is instructions given as you journey out in life and come back home. It is magical, whimsical, enjoyable and fun. Wonderfully illustrated and written, the words of Gaimen and art of Vess present a single story that complement each other completely.
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Don't deny it. Everybody has had fantasies of wandering into another world, or at least a magically-enhanced pocket of our own -- and Neil Gaiman is an expert on both. His "Instructions" is a delicately illustrated, whimsical little picture book that takes you on a guided tour of a fantasy world, and Charles Vess' delicate, elegant illustrations mesh perfectly with Gaiman's words.

"Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before. Say please before you open the latch, go through, and walk down the path." Gaiman follows a cat-man in vaguely medieval clothes as he follows the various instructions. Obviously he starts off going through a mysterious door in a stone wall, which leads him into a world of ogres, palaces, wild woods, magic wells, princesses and red dragons.

Moreover, he gives you tips on the proper places to go and what you should do when you get there. For instance, he informs you what giant animals you are going to ride, what you shouldn't do (example: touch an imp doorknocker), and precisely what to say to whomever you meet.

Technically "Instructions" is a children's picture book, but it feels more like a whimsical poem with equally charming illustrations. Gaiman manages to make you feel like you wandered into a slightly tongue-in-cheek fairy tale and are just an observer rather than a full participant. It's a little like he's taking you by the hand and showing you the most interesting sights of the Fairy Tale World -- including some of the darker edges, like a haunted wood full of imps, or the incarnations of the year's months.

And Charles Vess' illustrations really give the book a magical air -- lots of gnarled trees, crows, clinging flowering vines, floating mists, green tinged forests and golden skies. His art tends to be rather delicate and full of dusty, vibrant colors -- and it often gives you the feeling that it's about to spill off the page.

"Instructions" is a pretty mundane name for a charming little picture book, with a lovely concept and even lovelier drawings. Lovely for the imaginative kid, and maybe a few adults as well.
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on 10 January 2011
Negative reviews aren't normally my thing, but I think fans of Gaiman and Vess's earlier collaborations deserve to know that this book is thin gruel indeed compared to their previous ventures into the realm of faerie.

Many of the same readers might already have the text of Instructions, which appears as a poem in Gaiman's short story collection Fragile Things. It's fine in and of itself, but it could only be considered a story in the loosest and most tenuous sense of that term.

I purchased this book hoping that it would be a storybook. Even at just 40 pages long, I have enough regard for the work of Gaiman and Vess to think them capable of weaving a bit of magic in that space. Unfortunately, despite the quality of the illustrations, this just didn't do it for me. The book didn't transport me into another world because there was - in my view, and maybe that reflects a lack of imagination on my part - not sufficient story to work with the pictures.

On the plus side, however, this slight disappointment has spurred me to dig out my old copies of Stardust, The Books of Magic and The Sandman, which are absolutely terrific. Timeless fairy tales for adults that are as good as anything ever produced in the genre. Gaiman's universe, as illustrated by Vess, is a truly wondrous place. Can't wait for their next full-scale collaboration.
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on 12 November 2010
First I have to say that I am a confirmed fan of Neil Gaiman and we have more books by him in our house than any other author, spanning the full breadth of his output. I have just bought this as a Christmas present for my son, aged nearly 4. He is too young at present to fully grasp the narrative arc of this book but I feel it is a story he will treasure throughout his life. My daughter has a copy of Blueberry Girl which sets out all the things any parent could wish for their daughters future and The Instructions is a companion piece for a son. I highly recommend this book!
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 10 April 2016
I love this, but my son didn't follow it at all. It's really wasted on young children (mine is 5).

It's not a story per se, but a series of instructions for the protagonist to follow taken from dozens of fairy stories - such as how to behave if you meet an animal on your journey do not look back, remember your manners (all lessons from various tales).

I found it hard to read aloud, getting the right tone, but it really is lovely to read on the page. It stirred up a lot of memories of half-forgotten fairy stories, morals and lessons, plots and characters.

Vess brings out the fairy tale nature of the book well, putting the feline hero into various scenes that conjure up stories.

I would recommend this for either older children and adults or teachers in primary schools to use with KS2 children. For pre-schoolers it will be confusing and not a successful bedtime read.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 May 2011
This really is suitable for all ages, there is not the weird menace or dark element of a lot of Gaiman's material (certainly his adult reads) and it is brilliantly illustrated including characters and elements from tales and fables many will be familiar with. The main character seems to be puss in boots, while red riding hood and the wolf, sleeping giants and wyrm dragons all make an appearence.

For fans of Gaiman there are elements which will be familiar from his books, such as the unnoticed door to a fantasy world or adventure (Neverwhere: The Author's Preferred Text and to an extent also Stardust) and friendly ghosts (The Graveyard Book). That said you dont need any knowledge of Gaiman's writing to enjoy this.

If you are reading it with a younger reader it is about one or two sentences to a page, so for someone learning to read it wont appear like it is too daunting, and the very full illustrations provide plenty of things to talk about or point out and branch out into other stories.
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on 15 July 2010
I've got a real soft spot for "Instructions" and it's nice to see the Stardust collaborators back together...a little sentimental but I don't have a problem with that myself :)
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on 2 March 2016
I just love this book.

It's advice for every adventurer to take to heart.

You can read it in five minutes, but you should take a good hour and really steep yourself in the beautiful illustrations and lyrical quality of it.
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on 16 November 2014
My daughter became completely addicted to this book as she tried to puzzel out its meaning. I have bought multiple copies for my friends kids. I think this is one of the best kids books I have ever come across.
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on 16 February 2013
Training to be a teacher has meant I'm constantly on the hunt for interesting books for children. Although this is fictionalised, it would be a fantastic way into the non-fiction writing of instructions.
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