Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 05 Nov 2018

Mary and Frankenstein by Linda Bailey, with illustrations from Júlia Sardà

What an absolute gem of a picture book this is! From the stunning front cover – which is rich and textured – to the authors last note there’s not a false step or a stumble. The 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has led to a positive avalanche of books to mark the date but few can claim to be more of a triumph than this one.

Linda Bailey has taken the complex story of Mary Shelley’s journey to creating the classic and, with some judicious choices about what to leave in and what to leave out, has made that accessible to younger readers who will probably only know the name of Frankenstein as an association with a film or a story of monsters.

It’s hard to keep at the forefront of your mind the fact that Mary was only 18 when she wrote her famous book and that this was just one early milestone in what was a long life of tragedy, creativity and fluctuating political beliefs. The extraordinary circumstances of how she came to put pen to paper are now almost as legendary as the story itself and, in many ways, equally as Gothic.

Bailey shows us Mary as a young girl and how she loses her mother at just eleven days old and goes on to have a childhood dominated by a classic wicked step-mother and a father – William Godwin -  who is a public intellectual and something of a cold fish emotionally. Given her nature, it’s no real surprise that Mary wants to break free of these negative influences and find excitement, intellectual stimulation and romance.

All this comes along in the form of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who whisks away Mary and her stepsister to Europe where she first encounters the castle Frankenstein. It’s a name that will stay in her mind. On a second such adventure a year later – the fateful year of 1816 and the infamous ‘year with no summer’ - saw Mary and Percy join up with the mad, bad and dangerous to know poet, Bryon, Claire (her stepsister) and Byron’s doctor, Polidori, in the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva. Trapped inside because of the terrible weather, they began a writing challenge that would end up with Mary producing Frankenstein and Polidari writing The Vampyre – the forerunner of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

As Linda Bailey herself says:

“ Over two hundred years have passed since that night beside the lake. And everywhere around the world, people know Mary’s book. It has become a legend! It may be the greatest scary story of all time.

And now you know how it started…

It all began with a girl named Mary. She liked to daydream and imagine.

And she grew up to write Frankenstein.”

Mary’s story as told by Linda Bailey is astonishing enough but the book takes on a remarkable other dimension through the magnificent illustrations of Júlia Sardà. Based in Barcelona, Sardà’s online profile tells us that she began her career  “as a colorist in a studio which made the editorial merchandising for Disney/Pixar”  but is now working freelance. Her drawings are distinctive and evocative with an eye for the creative use of colour, unusual perspectives and a grand sweep that sees her illustrations spread over double pages and bleed from the edges of pages.

It’s an absolute must for lovers of book illustration and will be one that appeals across all ages. If you’re looking for a Christmas or birthday present your search has just ended…….


Terry Potter

November 2018

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