National Poetry Month Kid Lit Review of “Instructions” by Neil Gaiman

This is a magical poetic guide for any child who has dreamed of traveling into fairyland. Although one might encounter dangers there, they are not serious, especially if you follow the simple instructions.


The illustrations by Charles Vess evoke the settings of fairy tales past, with recognizable characters and settings.

Picture 1

The words by Gaiman harken back to A.A. Milne and Lewis Carroll, both of whom also issued exhortations to help children avoid getting eaten by bears and such. Gaiman advises:

“Remember your name.
Do not lose hope – what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts.
Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn.
Trust dreams.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.
Do not forget your manners.
Do not look back.
Ride the wise eagle (you shall not fall).
Ride the silver fish (you will not drown).”


Discussion: Gaiman’s instructions are a bit more mystical than A.A. Milne’s, but still, I think you can see the parallels in this excerpt from the poem “Lines and Squares“:

“Whenever I walk in a London street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street,
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, “Bears,
just look how i’m walking in all the squares!”


Similarly, Gaiman’s words remind me of the wonderful exhortations by Lewis Carroll in “Rules and Regulations,” as is shown in this portion of the poem:

“Drink tea, not coffee;

Never eat toffy. 

Eat bread with butter. 

Once more, don’t stutter. 

Don’t waste your money, 
Abstain from honey. 

Shut doors behind you, 
(Don’t slam them, mind you.) 

Drink beer, not porter. 

Don’t enter the water 
Till to swim you are able. 

Sit close to the table. 

Take care of a candle. 

Shut a door by the handle, 

Don’t push with your shoulder 
Until you are older. 

Lose not a button. 

Refuse cold mutton. 

Starve your canaries. 

Believe in fairies. 

If you are able, 
Don’t have a stable 
With any mangers. 

Be rude to strangers.”

Instructions from "Instructions"

Instructions from “Instructions”

Evaluation: If you have a child that dreams of other worlds, this might prove to be the perfect little guidebook.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2010

Product Details

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Hardcover: 40 pages
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061960306
ISBN-13: 978-0061960307


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8 Responses to National Poetry Month Kid Lit Review of “Instructions” by Neil Gaiman

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I probably would have enjoyed this as a kid – I was more into fantasy then!

  2. I too would have been obsessed with this as a kid. Will keep it in mind to gift to kids I know — it looks quite imaginative!

  3. Too bad my kids are a bit too old to enjoy this. It sounds mysterious, fantastic and so very interesting. Forget the kids – I might get if for myself!

  4. See, I knew there was a reason why I never step on the sidewalk lines. 😉

  5. We’re picky about fantasy books.Some work for us and some don’t. Not sure about this one.

  6. I would like to look through this one!

  7. Jenners says:

    I think Gaiman could be a modern Roald Dahl … with his sense of wickedness and mayhem.

  8. bookingmama says:

    The book looks lovely but I’m pretty sure the neither one of my kids would relate to this book.

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