‘He whose face gives no light,
Shall never become a star.’
This lovely quote from William Blake adorns the final page of A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard. Imagine if you will, an 18th century London inn, whose proprietor is none other than the great man himself. Overnight guests are in for an unconventional stay, in this B&B where dragons bake the daily bread and celestial angels plump the pillows. And all in Blake-inspired verse. Intrigued? Come on in.
This fabulously illustrated tale is told from the perspective of a young boy, who upon arrival is disconcerted to find that instead of a bed, he’s expected to sleep on a real bear, whose soft fur is a marked improvement on boring old blankets. His fellow guests are a talkative menagerie of animals, the most Blakean of which is a tiger. Addressing ‘William, William, writing late, by the chill and sooty grate,’ the grand feline begs his host for a bedtime story. And of course, Blake is full of wonderful stories, as well as poetry and magic, as he takes his guests for a walk on the Milky Way and they skip amongst the stars.
Yes, this book is bonkers, brilliantly so. A recent visit to the William Blake exhibition at Tate Britain left me wondering how you could introduce his visionary blaze to children. I could unearth no contemporary books but this 1981 gem burns brightly in the style of Blake’s poem, The Tyger, possibly the only of his works that younger readers are acquainted with.
The recipient of both the Caldecott and Newbery medals (a rare honour indeed), Nancy Willard’s lifelong fascination with the artist led to her constructing a six-foot model of Blake’s inn in her living room as inspiration.
Celebrating Blake’s lifelong championing of the creative spirit, this vintage book has been hilariously described as for ‘a tiny subsection of strange children.’
Yay for strange children everywhere!
A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt USA, 48 pages.