'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 10 October 2022

Guest Review: Dr Belle Alderman on The Storyteller's Handbook

KBR is a longtime enthusiastic supporter of the National Centre of Australian Children's Literature, an institution that curates timely databases of children's books that feature Australia's culturally diverse population. 

Picture Books For Olders Readers is a collection they are currently lovingly compiling,  already accruing some 350+ titles with the help of 12 write-up contributors and numerous supporters around Australia who help fund the database. The anticipated launch of The Picture Book For Older Readers Database is around June - July 2023. 

As additions were made, Dr Belle Alderman AM, Emeritus Professor of Children's Literature Director for the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc pointed out the absence of reviews for one very special book, The Storyteller's Handbook by the magnificently talented, Elise Hurst. To make amends, we are featuring Belle's personal reflections on this unique, imaginative bedtime read. Enjoy!

The foil-decorated jacket cover invites the viewer into The Storyteller’s Handbook. Here viewers experience a wordless picture book featuring highly detailed Ink pen hatching and watercolours. These fill 128 double page spreads with 52 unrelated fantastical images. Hurst reveals that she wanted ‘to mix up the world, taking things out of their normal place and playing with size and expectations. I also love to have things interacting strangely.’

The saying, ‘the more you look the more you see’ is an apt description here. Each page features a juxtaposition of humans, animals and fantastical creatures engaged in activities in unusual locations, perhaps underwater, in the heavens, or on the streets. Each page offers yet another unexpected vista such as a duck in an art gallery looking at portraits of bears and alligators. Creator, Elise Hurst, says she created narrative illustrations as ‘a doorway to step through’.

Six stand-alone brief statements (referred to as break-outs) prompt thinking about what stories may emerge. There are many fantastical elements in the illustrations where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Creatures may be realistic, imaginary or anthropomorphised while settings are often a mix. Familiar animals feature such as bears, lions, foxes, rabbits, fish and birds along with molluscs and an armadillo yet these are often mis-sized, out-of-place, partly imaginary and exist within oceans, cities and streets that mix fantasy and reality. 

The cream-coloured pages are the perfect background for the intricate, often highly detailed line artwork and minimal colour that surprises, provokes and invites close examination. The Storyteller’s Handbook attracts multiple viewings and rewards re-readings.

Further resources, links and insights can be found via these links:

The Storyteller’s Handbook – Go behind the scenes with Elise Hurst, YouTube, From her studio Elise Hurst briefly describes her aims with this book.

Elise Hurst’s website, ‘How It Began: Beginnings of The Storytellers Handbook by Elise Hurst’, here Hurst talks about her sketch books and offers a Q&A between herself and Neil Gaiman who wrote a foreword for this book


Elise Hurst is an Australian fine artist, illustrator and author, specialising in books for children. Her most recent books were the award-winning Trying by Kobi Yamada, the illustrated edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and Girl on Wire by Lucy Estela.

She lives in a house full of books and paintings. From her studio, where black pens and oil paints spill across the desk, magical worlds leap into being. Like something out of Beatrix Potter or Narnia, her friends are rabbits and bears, lions and tigers--and they all have a story to share.

Title: The Storyteller's Handbook
Author / Illustrator: Elise Hurst
Foreword: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Compendium USA, $45.00
Publication Date: June 2022
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781970147766
For ages: 4 - 8
Type: Wordless Picture Book