Fiona Mountford reports on a publishing phenomenon
Literary figures are notorious for having trouble declaring their love. Take Hamlet, or even Mr Darcy, until he emerges dripping and renewed from the lake. So, it's good to encounter a contemporary literary hero with no such inhibitions, whose only problem is that stretching his arms wide just isn't enough to quantify his affection.

Enter Little Nutbrown Hare, star of the best-selling Guess How Much I Love You (written by Sam McBratney, a former teacher from Northern Ireland, with pictures by Anita Jeram, a professional illustrator). Never mind that this book was originally targeted at under-fives; it is estimated that over half the sales have been made to adults for other adults.

You can't argue with hard facts: Selfridges says it was one of its best- selling books for Valentine's Day, and last week's Booktrack Hardback Bestseller List saw our furry friend and his father Big Nutbrown Hare hopping around at number15. This is unheard of in the world of children's books, as are the sales figures. In hardback, the book has sold a staggering 3.1 million copies around the world.

All of which naturally demands tie-in merchandise, hence a gift pack containing a toy LNH was launched this month (when the toy was sold separately it also managed to enter the Hardback Bestseller List. Don't ask). "Deluxe" packs, with BNH accompanying LNH, will be on sale for Christmas, with publisher Walker expecting partners, rather than children to be the lucky recipients.

The Hares are liable to produce a range of responses, from "Ahh" to fingers heading swiftly in the direction of throat. The general consensus among my lab rats was that while the pictures are passable, the words leave something to be desired. "`I love you as high as I can HOP!' laughed Little Nutbrown Hare.' `But I love you as high as I can hop' smiled Big Nutbrown Hare" is a sample exchange.

But I must have encountered a demographic blip, because according to Henryk Wesolowski, sales and marketing director for Walker Books, it is in the words' very simplicity, "including those six words in the title", that the appeal lies. If only Othello had changed his mind and finished up by saying "I love you right up to the moon - and back"...

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