Reading a hardback is different from reading a paperback. Owning a hardback is different from borrowing it from the library. Possessing hardback books is something all children should experience. So, come on everyone – give a hardback this Christmas.
It may not always be the present that gets greeted with ‘oo, just what I wanted’; it might be cast aside with a dismissive ‘Oh, a book’, in favour of tearing the paper off another bit of perishable plastic. But if you have chosen right it will come into its own when much of the immediately exciting gimmickry and gadgetry is in pieces under the bed, and give pleasure for months, even years, to come.
Choosing right isn’t always easy. We’ve been browsing through some of the newest titles and making some gift-matched selections.
For the youngest
Two and three-year-olds love books that ‘do’ things. But few ‘pop-ups’ can stand the onslaught of determined but not very dextrous fingers.
Where’s Spot, Eric Hill, Heinemann, 0 434 94288 X, £2.95, has nothing more complicated than a series of flaps. It works on the ‘peep boo’ principle. Sally is looking for her puppy, Spot. Is he inside the clock? Is he under the stairs? The reader helps Sally by opening doors, lifting rugs, etc. There are lots of surprises before Spot is found. A delightfully simple book, solidly constructed of nice thick paper – and full of fun.
Also designed for small fingers are four Very First Books (Benn). Each of these small square books has ten pages on board and a picture story about Max, by Rosemary Wells. I’m not convinced we need board books; but I’d give these to my under-five friends no matter how they appeared.
Max’s Toys, Rosemary Wells, Benn, 0 510 00067 3, £1 60, is a mini-masterpiece: a counting book (1-10) and a story about Max’s yearning for his sister’s doll. The combination of words and pictures which tell a story on their own is irresistibly funny. Lots for lap owners (of whatever age) and lap sitters to share and enjoy.
(Also, Max’s Ride, Max’s First Word, and Max’s New Suit.)
Who can tell what a five-year-old is really thinking? Amazing questions and remarks that stop you in your tracks indicate there’s a lot going on.
The Secret Inside, Geoffrey Hayes, Harper & Row, 0 06 022273 5, £3.50, could be just the book to communicate the inexpressible. Patrick, a small, dreamy, introverted bear finds a way to unlock the secret inside him of the feelings he hasn’t been able to understand. This is a picture book. (Geoffrey Hayes has also written a longer story about Patrick – Patrick Comes to Puttyville (Fontana Lions), warmly reviewed by Colin Mills in BfK No.4.) It’s also beautifully bound with a little gold Patrick inlaid on the cover.
In similar vein –
Mr Bear’s Shadow, Chizuko Kuratomi, ill. Kozo Kakimoto, Macdonald, 0 354 081 13 6, £3.50. When Mr Bear’s shadow shrinks he believes he is shrinking too and suddenly the world looks a very different place. But the rabbit children know a thing or two and help him to see himself properly again. This is the thirteenth of the Mr Bear books and it’s well up to standard. The large double-page-spread pictures are rich in colour and texture and exactly echo the text – a beautifully conceived book.
One for the young which has real year round staying power –
The Pirate Ship and Other Stories, Ruth Ainsworth, Heinemann, 0 434 92589 6, £4.95. An excellent collection of thirty varied stories for reading aloud, all with the sure touch of a storyteller who understands her listeners. The stories vary in length to suit age, mood, or time available, and Shirley Hughes’ forty-five line drawings are a satisfying answer to ‘show me the pictures’. A nice book to handle too, and the large, clear, well-spaced print makes it suitable as a read-alone now (for older brothers and sisters – if the owner will lend it) or later.
Sevens and eights (or thereabouts) who like action and suspense seasoned with magic and humour should like
Beaver Towers, Nigel Hinton, Abelard, 0 200 72725 7, £4.50. Philip, magicked by kite to a distant island, finds himself cast in the role of ‘saver’ of its animal inhabitants from the enchantments of Oyin, ‘the cruellest witch in the, whole world of Blackness’, and the oppression of her growlers. Beaver Towers – built 500 years ago by the joint efforts of the eager Beavers and the busy Beavers – holds the answer, and Philip, aided (or hindered) by Baby B and the robin, has to get in and get it. A smashing read aloud, and short chapters encourage going it alone.
For those just a bit older –
Here comes Charlie Moon, Shirley Hughes, Bodley Head, 0 370 30335 0, £3.75. A full length (143 pages) story with a line drawing at the top of every page. It’s about Charlie and his cousin Ariadne (favourite words ‘typical’ and ‘pathetic’, favourite occupation reading) and their stay with Auntie Jean in her joke shop on the run-down side of Penwyn Bay. Racily told in the present tense it has moments of high farce, a cast of larger than life adults and a couple of really nasty, boy villains in Dai and Dylan Morgan.
A book of short stories offers variety and easily manageable chunks of text for those without much reading stamina.
Dog Days and Cat Naps, Gene Kemp, Faber, 0 571 11595 0, £4.50, has ten stories with bags of appeal for 9-12s. Pets, families and school figure largely, but each story has an individual ‘feel’. (Six of them are ‘told’ by children about themselves.) As you’d expect from Gene Kemp there’s lots of humour; but there’s also sadness, mystery and mixed emotions. A good present for teachers too!
For those with a taste for the absurd and a tall tale recounted with dead pan humour –
Humbug Mountain, Sid Fleischmann, Gollancz, 0 575 12893 9, £4.50. Sid Fleischmann isn’t as well known as he should be; but if you once get a taste for his particular brand of zany humour and wild invention, you are hooked. (Try starting with the McBroom stories – in Puffin.) This one is set in the pioneering days of the old west. Wiley – who tells the story – his sister, Glorietta, and their newspaper publishing parents encounter a corrupt steamboat captain, outface two dangerous desperadoes, invent a newspaper, start a gold rush … A far cry from the Waltons or Little House on the Prairie.
Secret agents, international espionage and intrigue, climbing in the Dolomites; if these ingredients appeal try
Follow that Uncle, Sally Bicknell, Abelard, 0 200 72729 X, £4.95. A fast-moving adventure in which Gary, cousin Tom and ex-special intelligence Uncle Ed get caught up in a sinister web (as they always say) but keep their cool and their wits in the face of murder, ambush and death.
Looking for a good old-fashioned mystery adventure?
The Ring of Zoraya, Harriet Graham, Hamish Hamilton, 0 241 10475 0, £4.95, is just that. Going to St Petersburg for an audition with Petipa at the Imperial Russian Ballet School proves quite an adventure for Flora who is accompanied by William and their guardian Samuel (the famous Stage Illusionist). It is 1894 and the death of Tsar Alexander III is causing repercussions all over Europe – not least in Slovadia where evil Count Lazar is on the look-out for an opportunity to depose his brother. On the Orient Express (where else?) Flora, William and Samuel encounter Prince Michael, Crown Prince of Slovadia, and find themselves drawn into a deal of danger, intrigue and excitement. A jolly ripping yarn, very well told.
For those who like to get their teeth into a really good book and don’t mind a historical setting or being made to think…
Rebel for Good, P J Kavanagh, Bodley Head, 0 370 30320 1, £4.50. This is a sequel to Scarf Jack. Francis Place, now seventeen (in 1801) sets out to find his father again. The quest takes him to Portsmouth Naval Hospital as Assistant-Surgeon, into the US Navy, and across America to where white settlers and American Indians live in uneasy proximity, and where his father is with the Indians. Francis learns much on his travels – survival, tolerance and an understanding that both sides can be right. A lot of careful research has been transformed into a compelling read which vividly recreates places and people.
Something classic. Something special.
The classics are often a safe bet for hardback presents. Six books from Moonlight Publishing (originally published in France) each with a classic tale are really something special.
The Cat and the Devil, James Joyce (0 907144 09 8).
Poor Little Stephen Girard, Mark Twain (0 907144 08 X).
The Dog and the Horse, Voltaire (0 907144 06 3)
are for the sophisticated (perhaps older) reader, with a wry sense of humour and a feeling for the absurdity of life.
The Emperor’s Nightingale, Andersen (0 907144 04 7).
The Fool, Tolstoy (0 907144 05 5).
How Six Men Got on in the World, Grimm (0 907144 07 1)
are traditional tales with universal appeal.
Each book is illustrated in colour throughout by an artist whose style exactly catches the spirit and setting of the story; and the translations cannot be faulted – Andersen by Erik Haugaard, Grimm by Brian Alderson, Voltaire and Tolstoy by Anthea Bell.
These are beautiful little books and at £1.95 each must be the best buy this Christmas. Give them to adults too. Collect the set.
Also for Collectors
A Book of Nonsense, Edward Lear, Warne, 0 7232 2715 2, £4.95. A reproduction of an original published around 1870 – now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. All children at some time delight in limericks and Lear is not to be missed. Good Value.
An Ancient Castle, Robert Graves, Peter Owen, 0 7206 0567 9,£3.95. Written in the thirties, this story for children recently surfaced from assorted Graves manuscripts. On one level it’s a period piece reflecting Graves memories of the first world war – and army jam; on another it’s a pleasantly matter-of-factly told tale of a boy and his father, keeper of a Welsh border castle, and the nasty doings of Sir Anderson Wigg (social upstart, man without honour who got his knighthood and made his fortune by manufacturing horrible jam for soldiers) and his equally unpleasant chauffeur, which threaten them. There’s also a lot about castles and medieval warfare.
Some books have a wide appeal and ownership presents problems. Why not a book on the tree for the whole family?
Seven Years and a Day, Colette O’Hare and Beryl Cook, Collins, 0 00 195745 7, £4.50. It’s said if you are kind to a six-toed cat for seven years and a day you will have your dearest wish granted; so when Mrs Mulholland finds her cat has six toes she’s very kind to it indeed – kinder than she is to Mr Mulholland! She gets her wish all right – and her come-uppance. Beryl Cook’s pictures speak volumes about Mr and Mrs Mulholland, the cat, and their life together. It’s a gem.
Hiccup, Mercer Mayer, Benn, 0 510 00077 0, £1.75. A small book, wordless (except for ‘Hiccup’ and ‘Boo’ in speech bubbles), full of black and white illustrations of a lady and gentleman hippo, boating and hiccuping. The appeal is to everyone who likes visual jokes; the form means that pre-readers and those with problems can share equally in the fun.
(In the same series Ah-Choo and Oops.)
A Handbook of Family Monsters, Jenny Hawksworth and Colin McNaughton, Dent, 0 460 06060 0. £3.50. A straightfaced catalogue of household monsters and how to cope with them. Includes the Can’t-You-See-I’m-Talking monster (or CYSIT) – usually found in groups clustered round a teapot; the GREDAD (Greater-Enraged-Dad), the Cwiner (Constant Whiner – Distinctive calls: ‘I’ve-got-nothing-to-dooo’, ‘Snot fair’), the Wogtob (Won’t-Go-To-Bed) and many more. Use for identification – spotting fairly easy in most families.
The Puppy Book, Camilla Jessel, Methuen, 0 416 87430 4, £3.95. A lovely account, with coloured photographs, of how a labrador’s puppies are born and the first six weeks of their life. Saffy’s owners, children Andrew and Lynn, the vet, and the puppies’ new owners all figure in the story and the photographs.
Hocus Pocus Diplodocus, Tom Stanier, Macdonald, 0 356 17119 7, £2.95. Three thousand million years of life on earth in thirty-two pages. Information about each stage is communicated in two ways: left hand page – simple facts wish illustration, right hand page – funny poems and cartoons. It’s a very successful and effective combination.