Books: Dynamic duo Eoin and Oliver's imaginary friend is sheer delight
Children's: Imaginery Fred, Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, HarperCollins, hdbk, 48 pages, €17.99
Two superstars of the children's book world, Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, have joined forces to produce Imaginary Fred, one of the best picture books of the season.
Colfer, the current Irish Children's Laureate, best known for his award-winning Artemis Fowl series, wrote the text, and Belfast-man Jeffers, who currently lives and works in Brooklyn, provided the illustrations. And what words and pictures they are.
Fred is an imaginary friend who appears "just when you need one" and when "the conditions are just right".
Fred is always happy to be summoned but sadly when a child finds a 'real' friend, he fades and eventually disappears until someone new wishes him up. He longs for a friend who will need him forever.
One day a boy called Sam summons him, a boy who shares all Fred's great loves - reading, music and trying "to understand how the toilet worked'' - the friend that Fred has been dreaming of.
Will Sam want Fred to stick around forever? Or will the imaginary boy be destined to fade and disappear yet again?
Colfer's writing is simple yet lyrical and full of gentle humour. Like all great picture-book texts, it leaves plenty of space for both Jeffers' illustrations and a child's imagination to breathe.
Jeffers' exuberant line-drawings and clever use of gently coloured pixilation for the imaginary friends are a pleasure to pore over. Like Quentin Blake, Jeffers can say so much using just a few carefully drawn lines.
Readers used to 'loud' picture books may be disappointed at first - this is not a full-colour rhyming extravaganza, full of dinosaurs, underpants and fart jokes; it is far more subtle.
Imaginary Fred is a quiet, heart-felt ode to long-term friendship and the power of the the imagination.
Like all great works of art, it has lasting appeal and I look forward to revisiting it with my children for many years to come.