Drawing, Paul Kidby, and The Diary of a Mad Brownie

The Summer 2015 issue of Drawing magazine, featuring an interview with British artist and illustrator Paul Kidby, arrived at my house on the same day as the Kidby-illustrated middle grade fantasy novel The Enchanted Files: Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville (Random House). Kidby is best known for his illustrations and book covers for the late Terry Pratchett, and their working relationship (along with Kidby's working methods) is the subject of the interview. There's a great origin story: apparently Kidby waited in a signing line for three hours to share his drawings with Pratchett, who called him two weeks later to say that they came the closest to how Pratchett himself pictured the characters in his head. And a bittersweet ending: The Shepherd's Crown (HarperCollins in the US, Doubleday Childrens in the UK), whose cover art (in the UK, at least) shows teenage witch Tiffany Aching surrounded by the Nac Mac Feegle--and a cloud of bees, publishes today.

As for the Mad Brownie, his name is Angus, and he's the first in a series of books about creatures of myth and legend (next up: the Runaway Griffin, May 2016) by Bruce Coville. As far as such creatures go, brownies--who secretly neaten and spruce up human homes--would seem to be the sort you'd want to have around (I would, anyway). But Angus brings the McGonagall family curse with him from Scotland when he travels through the Enchanted Realm to America, where the youngest McGonagall female of age, 11-year-old Alex Carhart, and her family now live. And she's a slob (that's not the curse). Together they must break the curse etc. It's fast-paced and funny (Angus is introduced to what he refers to as the intermagoogle), and I like that the whole family, including the cat, gets involved in the story.

The Enchanted Files books are told in diary format, "with supporting documents" ranging from encyclopedia entries to letters, text messages, and notes--so there's lots of variety in the reading, supported by the interior art and page design. Angus even draws a floor plan of the Carhart's house, with helpful labels ("Dining Room: Large table. Seems to be used more for homework and art projects than for eating on"). That said, the audio of Diary of a Mad Brownie, presented with a full cast, is also well-reviewed--so you can't go wrong either way. Recommended for readers (and listeners) who like both middle grade family and school stories, as well as light fantasy.