Sophie Johnson, Unicorn Expert is a beautifully conceived and executed picture book, and a thoroughly joyful reading experience.
Little Sophie Johnson is a unicorn expert, proudly announcing that she lives with 17 unicorns. A look at the pictures reveals that most things – your toys, dog, little brother – can be transformed into unicorns by the addition of a cardboard horn, or toothbrush if you’ve run out of cardboard. Sophie takes her responsibilities for looking after her unicorns very seriously, and has a lot to do. Teaching them everything they need to know, she starts with magic, and is so busy that she doesn’t notice when a real unicorn joins the party. Indeed, as Sophie plays happily all day, she never notices the little unicorn quietly participating in the action, though her baby brother and dog both do.
Ella Okstad’s gorgeous illustrations perfectly capture the bustle and liveliness of a nursery age child’s life, and the little unicorn – small, round, white but sparkling with magic – provides a small patch of unmissable quiet in the proceedings. At the end of the day, while Sophie is enjoying her tea, head buried in a unicorn book, the little unicorn trots out of the door, leaving slightly more possibility of return than that other magical visitor, the tiger who came to tea. The story is told through a particularly skilful combination of text and illustration, each supporting the other while still leaving gaps for the reader to fill in. It’s a delightful representation of ordinary life, but with the perfect emphasis on children’s awareness of the ever-present possibility of magic.