Doubleday, £25, 240pp. £22.50 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Playing the Shape Game, By Anthony Browne with Joe Browne

This lovingly compiled book should soon persuade readers that Anthony Browne, the current Children's Laureate, is an illustrator of genius. Drawing on the surrealism of Magritte and the narrative powers of Victorian genre paintings, every detail in his many picture books tells its own story. Foregrounded figures are regularly explained by the various goings-on behind their backs, with "spot the difference" a constant theme as one illustration succeeds another, often outwardly similar until readers have a closer look.

Browne's particular forte is his depiction of gorillas so compellingly lifelike that younger readers on first viewing sometimes close a page in alarm. These are partially based upon his own father, "a big, strong, quite fierce-looking man, with an aggressive streak which he saved for the rugby field, the boxing ring and the war zone". But Browne remembers him with nothing but affection.

As a child, he saw this father die in front of him from heart failure. Years later, in his monumental retelling of King Kong, the final picture of the dead ape is almost unbearably moving. His father's spirit lives on in the thousands of other gorillas Browne has since drawn, sometimes taking main stage on the page but at other moments popping up in tiny detail, whether squashed up as a hamburger or concealed in a coat hanging in the background.

The book's title refers to a game played during childhood with his older brother: one draws a shape and the other has to turn it into something else. The psychotherapist Donald Winnicott used a similar technique in his "squiggle game", with young patients who found it easier to draw their feelings than talk about them.

Browne is more interested in art as a pathway to creative humour rather than to personal therapy, and the wit he brings into his pictures is of the highest order. Many of his best illustrations are reproduced here in full colour, with the accompanying text providing a useful commentary when it comes to searching out trees turning into bodies, kettles into cats, or lamp-posts into flowers.

His progress as an illustrator started after art college at the Manchester Infirmary, producing medical illustrations based on sketches taken during full-scale operations. Three meticulously drawn sequences from a liver operation are included here, but none from the time when, finally tiring of this job, he would add hidden figures showing "little people clambering out of an open thorax, swinging from a ribcage or peering into an ear".

By now it was high time to move on, swapping packed lunches eaten in the mortuary for work in advertising, which he hated. Moving on to greetings cards, he was soon spotted by a canny publisher. His subsequent career saw him twice win the Kate Greenaway Medal before becoming the first British illustrator to be chosen for the mightily prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2000.

Browne's brilliance as an illustrator is not alas matched by an ability to produce lively prose. This text, written in conjunction with his son Joe, often groans under the strain of its verbosity. But in between references to the "fluctuant nature" of the relationship of words to pictures or the clarity of an illustration's "communicative attributes", there is enough fascinating detail from and about a great artist to make the journey worthwhile. Devoted fans have taken their own trip around his work many times; new readers should start with one of his numerous picture books without delay. They will not be disappointed.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor