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A book of cartoons and conversations between a boy, a mole, a fox and a horse which began life on Instagram is now turning into an international bestseller for Ebury Press, part of Penguin Random House UK.

Illustrator Charles Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse has now sold in 17 languages across a string of territories including the USA (HarperCollins) France, Germany, Italy, Finland, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Estonia, South Korea, Brazil, Chain (mainland), Serbia, Slovakia and Japan.

As Nasher went to press Rights Director Rae Shervington said that Arabic rights had not sold “at this point, but there are ongoing discussions and potential deals in five other territories”. Interest has been strong in Australia and India too, Shervington added, with both putting in strong pre-orders.

In the UK, the book – which some have likened to AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh – has now sold more than 200,000 copies and has been nominated Book of the Year by Waterstones in the UK and Barnes & Noble in the US. It came to the publisher’s attention via Ebury editorial director Laura Higginson who was shown Mackesy’s Instragram page by a friend. “I fell in love with his words and images—universal values expressed so beautifully. I could imagine them making a wonderful book that might move other people in the same way too.

“It has been the best year working on this book—and to see so many people fall in love with it has been amazing…We are proud to publish something that is moving so many people around the world and to hear how the book is helping people is wonderful.”

Mackesy grew up on a farm surrounded by animals and says he has always respected their quiet wisdom. “You can trust them, you can deeply love an animal and yet they’ve never said a word to you, which says a lot for silence. There’s a purity to animals that human beings seem to have lost; they haven’t wrecked the planet for instance. We have so much to learn from them. I think being brought up on a farm I spent a lot of time with dogs and sheep and horses and cats and rabbits and you name it, wildlife. I spent huge amounts of time in the evenings not watching television but sitting on the hillside just staring.”

When he was 18 his best friend was killed in a car accident and he began drawing to express his grief. He went on to illustrate for Oxford University Press and for the Spectator magazine, as well as advertising work.

The book began when he sketched a friend’s son sitting on a tree branch. He was asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he was thinking about the idea of kindness and recalls just writing ‘kind’ when he finished the picture.

Another cartoon went viral. The Boy asks the Horse “’What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?’ and the Horse replies simply: ‘Help.’

This cartoon has been used in hospitals for those suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome.

His simple illustrations and philosophical musings have touched a chord across the world and it seems certain that this book will be around many people’s Christmas trees this year.