Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

Magritte, Midas and a magical book from Belgium

Posted on | October 4, 2012 | 4 Comments

The Magical Life of Mr Renny by Leo Timmers (translated by Bill Nagelkerke) is a modern day take on the King Midas story, an exploration of the seductive power of stuff, but how what really matters at the end of the day is not what we own but rather the friendships we foster.

Mr. Renny is a highly skilled but penniless painter. “Mr. Renny was such a good painter that whatever he painted looked just like the real thing.“. Despite their beauty, his paintings don’t sell and Mr. Renny is left hungry and virtually destitute.

A stranger appears and promises that from now on, whatever Mr. Renny paints will turn into the real thing. Mr. Renny can’t believe his luck. First he paints food, but soon he’s painting cars, ships and anything and everything else that comes to mind. Unfortunately his interest in each new acquisition quickly wanes.

An old friend, Rose, visits one day, hoping to buy one of Mr. Renny’s paintings. Mr. Renny is very fond of Rose but he cannot give her what she wants – his painting simply don’t stay paintings. How can Mr. Renny give his friend what would make both of them happy? What can Mr. Renny do to cure himself of the magic gift which has now become a curse?

A clever twist ensures a heart-warming end to this humorous story, which allows us all to indulge in fantastical daydreams about what we’d choose to acquire if we could have anything in the world. Whilst there is philosophical meat at the centre of this story, it’s told with charm and tenderness, avoiding all hints of heavy-handed moral overtones.

There are nods to the Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte (Leo Timmers, the book’s author and illustrator is himself Belgian) and the bright, juicy and rich illustrations will have children pouring over them as they enjoy cataloguing Mr. Renny’s creations.

Mr. Renny paints on stretched canvases so that’s what we did too…

A very simple activity, but we had fun talking about what we’d paint if we had the same magical powers as Mr. Renny.

The pictures are now hanging on the girls’ wardrobe – I used glue dots to hold the light canvas frames in place, and now M and J have another reminder of a lovely picture book we’ve shared up in their room.

Whilst we painted we listened to:

  • Ceci n’est pas une chanson from the album L’union fait la force (12 chansons évoquant la Belgique et ses personnages célèbres : Jacques Brel, Magritte, Eddy Merckx, Hergé, Franquin)
  • The album Picasso, that’s who! by Hope Harris – songs about all different artists.
  • Rose of my Heart by Johnny Cash


  • I didn’t play this song because it is just rather dreary, but if a Paul Simon song about Rene Magritte is your thing, then it’ll be a real treat :-)

    Other activities which would be fun to try alongside reading The Magical Life of Mr Renny include:

  • Creating a pretend play market stall – Ikat Bag’s post will give you lots of great ideas.
  • Trying still life painting with the kids – I love the idea of all of us sitting down together, painting the same object and seeing how things turn out. Irresistible ideas for play based learning shows how it worked out in her classroom.
  • Making a rose out of paper – Barista Kids has an easy tutorial.


  • When did you last paint with the kids? What are your favourite painting activities?

    Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Magical Life of Mr Renny from Gecko Press. I was under no obligation to review the book and I received no money for this post.

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    Comments

    4 Responses to “Magritte, Midas and a magical book from Belgium”

    1. ReadItDaddy
      October 4th, 2012 @ 9:12 am

      Leo Timmers is brilliant, his style is the style I most try to emulate whenever I do any digital painting. It’s so slick.

      Lovely book, definitely going on the list!
      ReadItDaddy recently posted..Usborne "Look Inside: Your Body" by Louie Stowell and Kate Leake (Usborne Publishing)

    2. Zoe
      October 4th, 2012 @ 9:15 am

      Great to hear you like Timmers, ReadItDaddy. I’d describe his style (at least in this book) as slick and glossy.
      Zoe recently posted..Magritte, Midas and a magical book from Belgium

    3. Library Mice
      October 4th, 2012 @ 10:53 am

      It is a great book, I love the vibrance of the artwork.
      Library Mice recently posted..GUEST POST: Adam Perrott talks about why nothing is too good for kids

    4. Zoe
      October 4th, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

      Yes, LIbrary Mice, vibrancy is definitely a good word to use about his art.
      Zoe recently posted..Magritte, Midas and a magical book from Belgium

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