This lavishly illustrated picturebook about facing your fears featuring a monster in the dark has all the elements of an epic with a hero battling something which at first seems too much for him to handle, but which is overcome by the end of the book.
The narrative is spare, and satisfyingly the pictures carry much of the story, allowing the sense to be amplified between text and image. The said images are multi-layered, featuring Richard, wearing pyjamas and a dressing-up lion headdress and his toy lion, Lionheart. There is a noise under the bed and Richard runs. It is soon evident that he is running in a dreamscape that flips into nightmare. Luckily his toy lion has become a ‘real’ lion of mythical proportions, so together they are able to navigate the pages that are by turn mystical and fearful.
The resonances for an English audience around ‘Richard Coeur de Lion’ may not be so immediate for Irish children, but the power of the huge roar which is the climax of the story will be relished by young children whether they know about Richard the Lionheart or not. The frisson of fear when the monster finally appears, just at a point where Richard seems to have forgotten to be fearful, will be enjoyed by a young audience, framed as it is by the lack of fear in Richard himself and couched in the security of the warm and positive narrative. A rich and engaging story, perhaps not a bedtime read for the most nervous!