Emily Brown and her old grey rabbit Stanley first featured in That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown. In this new picture book the pair are trying to get to sleep but a Thing keeps disturbing them – first it wants its cuddly, then its bedtime milk, then its cough medicine. Emily Brown and Stanley valiantly set out (encountering wolves, a polar bear, bats and witches) the requisite three times and return with each item. But nothing satisfies the Thing who eventually admits that the real reason that he can’t sleep is because he is scared – of Things. Emily Brown points out that he is a Nice Thing and that she and Stanley get to sleep by thinking of Nice Things. Thus reassured, the Thing falls peacefully asleep.
From the opening ‘Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Emily Brown and an old grey rabbit called Stanley’, Cowell’s narrative is both deeply rooted in the conventions of folk tale (those three journeys) and yet refreshingly contemporary and colloquial in tone. At the same time she plays wittily with the notion of a ‘thing’ – from the nameless dread of ‘things’ to the Thing who doesn’t know if he is scary or nice to Stanley who is a ‘thing’ but also Emily Brown’s trusted sidekick. Such layers of richness are confidently matched by Layton’s brilliantly anarchic illustrations which combine the solidity of collage with a scribbly line, pastel and wash. Different point sizes are cleverly used in the build up to crescendos in the story.
Emily Brown and Stanley are most appealing characters and, like Sendak’s Max, more than a match for wild Things.