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The Goblin and the Empty Chair
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The Goblin and the Empty Chair

by Mem Fox, Leo Dillon (Illustrator), Diane Dillon (Illustrator)

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In a time long past, in a land far away, a family has suffered an unspeakable loss.

But a lonely goblin has been watching. And he knows what to do to help them heal.

From internationally acclaimed picture book masters Mem Fox and Leo and Diane Dillon, here is a rich and moving original fairy tale about family, friendship, and the power compassion has to unite


In a time long past, in a land far away, a family has suffered an unspeakable loss.

But a lonely goblin has been watching. And he knows what to do to help them heal.

From internationally acclaimed picture book masters Mem Fox and Leo and Diane Dillon, here is a rich and moving original fairy tale about family, friendship, and the power compassion has to unite us all.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this original fairy tale, acclaimed author Mem Fox tell the moving story of a lonely goblin...The illustrations by two-time Caldecott Medalists, Leo and DIane Dillon, are wonderfully expressive paintings for which the couple is famous...While the simple text can be read by children on their own, the pictures, story, and subject matter make this a natural for sharing aloud with children of all ages. Recommended."-Library Media Connection

"The Dillons' characteristic clean lines and controlled palette mirror the tender emotion of the tale while providing young viewers with plenty of visual cues to guide them along the story...this gentle read will...leave listeners safisfied."—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Publishers Weekly
A green, sharp-clawed goblin who has exiled himself from society reveals his warm heart when he stumbles upon a farmer whose grief has overcome his will to work. The goblin waits for night, then pitches in: “He dug where digging was needed. He chopped where chopping was needed.” Sturdy ink and watercolor drawings by the Caldecott Medalists recall pages in a medieval book of hours, a thin panel along the top showing a sequence of actions, while the main panel captures a single instant. The goblin cares tenderly for the farmer's wife and child, too, trying unsuccessfully to serve without being discovered. Gathered at their table, the family sits “staring at the chair that had been empty all winter,” then sets food there for the goblin, who watches fearfully from outside. Readers will understand that the family is bereaved, and that just as the goblin provided each family member with what they needed, they are doing the same for him. Acceptance and healing are less common picture book themes; Fox (Time for Bed) handles them with particular grace. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Gwynne Spencer
This is one of those remarkable picture books that stuns the reader into thinking, or perhaps saying out loud, "Wow. I better read this again." On the surface it is a tale of a goblin who, despite his wealth and efforts to be helpful, considers himself too ugly to participate at any level in the real world, so he hides himself away in his castle. Counterpoint to that is a family whose loss (while untold in the text but inferred by a picture on one page) is unspeakable and bottomless. They set an empty place at their table each night to commemorate their loss. But in this particular story-piece, they invite in the goblin. Will he or won't he? And is his ugliness as bad as all that? Swathed in a scarf, his green skin and long pointy fingernails notwithstanding, he is welcomed to the human table. We never do see his face. But we know that all will be well. The ending picture, the denouement, is the back cover, in which the goblin welcomes the family to his castle. The illustrations are stunning and subtle, with a "preview" frame above the main picture of each page serving as narrative sidebars to the text, in this exquisite marriage of text and illustration. It is, at its heart, a story of how we all judge ourselves—too ugly, too fat, too old, too...something—and thus cut ourselves off from others. It is also a story of the power of pain to provoke acceptance, and that estrangement may (or may not) yield to hospitality and invitation. I would use it with older kids (high school) as well as to provoke discussion with adults with dysmorphic perceptions of themselves; I would read it to seven year olds and see what their reaction is, and to four year olds and then read it to themagain because they most assuredly would ask to hear it again, over and over. A mysterious, marvelous, perfect picture book, alchemical in its connection of text and art, transforming all elements into gold. Reviewer: Gwynne Spencer
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Fox begins this original fairy tale "In a time long past, in a land far away." Frightened by his terrible reflection in a pond, a goblin has decided to hide from the outside world and live alone. But after seeing a farmer put aside his tools, seeming to despair, that night the goblin digs, chops, and paints for him. Although he tries not to be seen, the farmer has spotted him. The next night, having seen the farmer's wife sigh and sadly set down her pail, the goblin waters, plants, and prunes for her. Again, although careful, he is seen. The following night the goblin sets himself to soothing and comforting their young daughter, who sees him as well. So when the family sits around their table the next day, "staring at the chair that had been empty all winter," they decide to set a place there. When the goblin finally gathers the courage to join them there, happiness replaces their grief. The book's large size gives the Dillon's ample room to create their visual story in large scenes, with contrasting action sequences in small friezes that run across the tops of the pages. These are framed in colored pencil borders with grotesque faces peering out to produce an aura of fairy tale magic. The large scenes are detailed images of interiors and decorative landscapes. Ink and watercolors create naturalistic, appealing characters. Although we never see the goblin's face, we are shown the smiles of the family as they remove the shawl he has used to hide it. Comparisons with other fairy tales and their morals are natural. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 1–3—Frightened by his own reflection, a goblin lives alone, hidden away from the world. One day as he watches from a distance, he sees a farmer who is so overcome with grief that he is unable to finish his work. The next day he sees the farmer's wife and the following day his daughter, both unable to set aside their sorrow and complete their chores. For three nights, the goblin does the family's work, unaware that each member in this silent, sorrowful family has seen him. At breakfast on the fourth day, as they stare at a chair vacant since the loss of a child in the winter, they rise and place another helping of food on the table. Then they open the door. Afraid to enter, the goblin hides, but when the family gets up to leave the table, food untouched, he joins them at breakfast. Each page contains a frame with a large square picture at the bottom and a top border illustration. Small goblin heads peer out from both sides of the frame. The stylized watercolor-and-ink illustrations, done in muted tones, are attractive but static, showing characters that seem to be posing rather than being caught in the action of the moment. Like the pictures, this quiet, simply written tale lacks real drama, but its message of kindness and compassion will appeal to many readers.—Barbara Scotto, Children's Literature New England, Brookline, MA
Kirkus Reviews
An unspecified medieval setting, an outwardly grotesque creature who is tender and compassionate, sad humans beset by difficulties, three tasks performed by the hero and a moral about looking beyond appearances; all of these are familiar elements in the fairy-tale tradition. Fox is a master at crafting tales that linger in memory over time, gently adding to the canon of classics. Her text is full of imagery and repeats several lovely phrases, with the theme of gentle kindness permeating the carefully chosen language. The Dillons' signature style raises the level of achievement even higher. Each page is framed in three parts with the text at bottom, a central watercolor illustration of a key event and its concomitant strong emotion and a border strip depicting actions that immediately precede the text. Gargoyles mirroring the emotions of the characters peek from behind each frame. The family's despair is never explained, but there is a pictorial clue that young readers will understand. A perfect combination of words and images. (Picture book. 6-9)

Product Details

Beach Lane Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.28(w) x 12.22(h) x 0.41(d)
AD660L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Mem Fox is an educator and international literacy expert, and her many acclaimed picture books for young children include Yoo-Hoo, Ladybug!; Hello Baby!; Baby Bedtime; the bestselling modern classics Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes and Time for Bed; and, for adults, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. She lives in Adelaide, Australia. Visit her at MemFox.net.

Leo and Diane Dillon are an award winning illustrator pair that have collaborated of book projects for more than fifty years, winning two consecutive Caldecott Medals for Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People's Ears and Ashanti To Zulu: African Traditions. They have also received five New York Times Best Illustrated Books Awards, five Coretta Scott King Honors and one Coretta Scott King Award and many other awards and distinctions. They live and work in Brooklyn, New York.

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