This offbeat folktale opens as Arnica, a kind and lovely princess, falls in love with the footloose Poor Johnny. Fortunately, Arnica’s dad is the modern sort of king, and agrees to their marriage on condition that they take some time to think about it first: Poor Johnny must wander, and Arnica must wait. Enter a witch with a hundred faces, and a team of footballing bandits and this becomes a timeless, hilarious tale of adventure, true love, wisdom and ducks.
This story is skilfully told – there is the story of Arnica and Johnny, and there is also the voice of the person reading Arnica’s story to another. This reflective second layer adds in much of the wisdom, comic relief, and a crucial bit of distance to the scarier parts of the story.
Illustrations are both timeless and very modern, underpinning the eccentric folk-tale feel of the narrative. Jacqueline Molnár has made something truly beautiful here. It is hard to choose a favourite spread, but for my money it’s the footballing bandits.
The book itself is beautifully designed – it is fully illustrated, but is closer to the shape of a chapter book. Hardcover binding and heavy glossy paper make the most of sumptuous colours and artful brushstrokes. Perfect for young readers aged 8-10.