I was given Joan Aiken's The Last Slice of Rainbow when I was probably around eight. I loved it before I even read it. Something about the title, the pictures, the names of the stories – they’re all the exact formula to appeal to an eight year old booklover. I remember almost not wanting to read it, for fear that it wouldn’t quite live up to my expectations. To be fair, I think a couple of the stories probably didn’t. There are a few in the book that I must have only read once or twice. Revisiting them now, I can’t remember them at all. But there are a couple which I loved and which I can clearly remember to this day, because I must have read them hundreds of times.
The stand out story for me was The Spider in the Bath. It’s a tale of a very spoiled and mean princess who discovers that she has the power to move things with her mind. Unfortunately for her, if she’s distracted in the process, the thing that she is trying to move splits and becomes 100 copies of itself. You can probably guess what happens when she tries to move the spider in the bath... I thought it was brilliant – comfortingly familiar in its themes of mean princesses, noble princes and kindly maids; but just different enough to capture my young imagination.
Another of the stories I distinctly remember features a girl who puts out plates of sugar for the butterflies in her garden, and trains them all to land on her hands. I didn’t remember what else happens in the story (it’s actually about a boy whose legs run away), but it must have had quite an effect on me, as I spent one summer putting plates of sugar all around the garden. Obviously the butterflies never came, but it didn’t stop me trying.
The title story, The Last Slice of Rainbow features a boy who catches a rainbow, but then has to use pieces of it to help other people. I’ve never realised it until now, but I think this must have greatly influenced a story I wrote when I was about ten, about a leprechaun whose rainbow gets broken into pieces. It was the first extended story that I wrote and for a very long time afterwards I wanted to be an author. Sadly it is a dream that hasn’t (yet) come to fruition, but I do still have the original (written in pencil) tucked away in my filing cabinet.
The Last Slice of Rainbow was published 35 years ago, but is somehow timeless and would certainly still appeal to younger readers now. It has just the right mix of tradition, magic, fantasy and originality, coupled with beautifully intricate illustrations by Margaret Walty.
Details and Availability
- Title: The Last Slice of Rainbow
- Author: Joan Aiken
- Illustrator: Margaret Walty
- Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
- Date: 1985
Sadly it is out of print, but you can pick up a secondhand copy fairly easily. Try Biblio.com via the link below - I get very small commission on sales made from this link. Thanks.