I Believe in Unicorns


A tale of the transformative power of stories, told by British Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo and award-winning illustrator Gary Blythe

Eight-year-old Tomas hates reading. He would much rather be clambering around his beloved mountains. But when his mother forces him to visit the library, he can't help but listen to the enchanting tales the librarian spins as she sits on a lifelike wooden unicorn. When war comes to their village, it is Tomas's newfound love of books that ...

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A tale of the transformative power of stories, told by British Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo and award-winning illustrator Gary Blythe

Eight-year-old Tomas hates reading. He would much rather be clambering around his beloved mountains. But when his mother forces him to visit the library, he can't help but listen to the enchanting tales the librarian spins as she sits on a lifelike wooden unicorn. When war comes to their village, it is Tomas's newfound love of books that helps save the library's holdings from destruction. Set against a backdrop of encroaching war, I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS is an eloquent reminder of the power of storytelling to alter our lives.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Joella Peterson
Tomas Porec is eight years old when he first went to the public library and saw the wooden unicorn. Tomas hated books and reading. He would rather be outside, playing in the mountains around his home. However, when he sees the unicorn and the local librarian who would sit on the unicorn while she led storytime, he comes to love not only stories, but books as well. Tragedy comes in the form of war, and the town must work together to save not only the unicorn, but also the books from the library. This tribute to libraries and the power of reading will touch many readers. Some pencil and watercolor illustrations are done in black and white while other illustrations are in full color. These illustrations not only show the majesty of unicorns, but also the despair that comes from war. (One illustration shows two beautiful unicorns while another is of Tomas walking through his bombed village.) This story about the power of a story will touch many readers.
School Library Journal
Gr 2-6-In this layered faux memoir, a young man remembers when, as an eight-year-old, he experienced the power of story. Tomas would rather be roaming around the mountains but reluctantly listens to the village librarian as, perched on a life-size carved unicorn, she tells the story of how the last two unicorns missed Noah's ark (some readers may recognize Shel Silverstein's poem later set to music and sung by the Irish Rovers), then swam until they no longer needed legs and became narwhals. The librarian also tells a graphic story of brown-shirted men who burned her father's library and shows a scorched copy of The Little Match Girl he pulled from the flames. When war later comes to Tomas's unnamed European village, the library burns, but the librarian and the children and their families save the books. The well-intentioned voice of the man recounting the past sets wartime horrors at a remove, but this is a stiff story for children who don't have much knowledge of World War II. The stories of the past, the present, the unicorns, and the war are a lot to pack into a short chapter book. Blythe's sensitive crosshatched pencil, black wash, and full-color watercolors depict the village and the animals with enough drama to entice second and third graders, but the book's actual readers may be older.-Susan Hepler, formerly at Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a fictional episode inspired by several true ones, people band together to save their library after a sudden attack leaves their small town in flames. At first, young Tomas, who narrates, has no interest in going to the village library, but that attitude changes completely after he hears the new librarian tell stories from a wooden seat shaped like a unicorn. Eventually, she invites Tomas himself to read from a battered copy of "The Little Match Girl" that, she explains, had been rescued from a book-burning in her youth. Then an attack by air and land shatters the mountain valley's peace, and when Tomas hurries into town afterwards, he joins his father and other survivors in braving the fire to carry the library's books-and, finally, its unicorn-to safety. "Buildings they can destroy. Dreams they cannot," the librarian proclaims. Modeling forms with scribbly lines, Blythe alternates black-and-white vignettes with wordless full-spread scenes in color; like Morpurgo, he suggests a European setting but no specific locale for the story. And like Jeanette Winter's The Librarian of Basra (2005), the idea that saving literature is as heroic as saving lives comes through loud and clear. (Fiction. 9-11)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763630508
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 10/10/2006
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 807,329
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 7.58 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Morpurgo is the award-winning author of more than ninety books and a former British Children's Laureate. He lives in Devon, England.

Gary Blythe has illustrated numerous picture books, including THE WHALES' SONG by Dyan Sheldon, which was awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal. He lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

So I found myself being drawn inside the main library and walking past the bookshelves toward this excited huddle of children in the corner.

Wanting to keep well out of sight, I half hid myself behind a bookshelf and looked on from a safe distance. As I watched, the children began to settle down, each of them finding a place to sit on the carpet. Then, quite improbably and inexplicably, they were all hushed and still and attentive. That was the moment I first saw him, sitting there in the corner beyond the children. A unicorn! A real live unicorn! He was sitting absolutely still, his feet tucked neatly underneath him, his head turned toward us. He seemed to be gazing straight at me. I swear his eyes were smiling at me too. He was pure white as unicorns are - white head, body, mane, and tail - white all over except for his golden horn and his little black hooves. And his eyes were blue and shining. It was some moments before I realized he was in fact not real, not live at all. He was too still to be real; his gaze was too constant and stony.

I suddenly felt very cross with myself for having been so stupid as to believe he could have been alive in the first place. Unicorns weren't real. I knew that much. Of course I did. It was quite obvious to me now that this was in fact a wooden unicorn. He had been carved out of wood and painted. But as I came closer, he seemed so lifelike. He looked the way a unicorn should, so magical and mysterious, and if he'd gotten to his feet and trotted off, I still wouldn't have been in the least surprised.

Beside the unicorn, and just as motionless, there now stood a lady with a bright, flowery scarf around her shoulders, her hand resting on the unicorn's flowing mane. She must have noticed me skulking there by the bookshelf, still hesitant, still undecided, because suddenly she was beckoning me to join them. Everyone had turned to stare at me now. I decided I would make a run for it and began to back away. "It's all right," she said. "You can come and join us if you'd like."

So it was that I found myself moments later sitting cross-legged on the floor with the others, watching her and waiting. She was patting the unicorn and smoothing his neck. She sat down on him then, but very carefully. She was treating him as if he were real, as if she didn't want in any way to alarm him. She soothed him, brushing his forehead with the back of her hand. Her hand, like the rest of her, was small and delicate and elegant. All around me now was the silence of expectation. No one moved. Nothing happened. No one said anything.

Suddenly the girl sitting next to me - Anna, it was - spoke up. "The unicorn story, Miss! We want the unicorn story!" Now everyone was clamoring for the same story. "The unicorn story! The unicorn story!"

. . .

That same day, I borrowed my first book from the library. I chose Aesop's Fables because I liked the animals in them, and because the Unicorn Lady had read them to us and I had loved them. I read them aloud to Mother that night when she came up to say good night to me. I read to her instead of her reading to me. It was the first time I'd ever done that. Father came and listened at the doorway while I was reading. He clapped when I'd finished. "Magic, Tomas," he said. "That was magic." There were tears in his eyes too. I hoped it was because he was proud of me. How I loved him being proud of me. And Mother hugged me harder that night than she'd ever hugged me before. She could hardly speak she was so amazed. How I loved amazing Mother.


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