MOTHER GOOSE ‘89
Elaine Moss gives the judge’s verdict…
Unusually for the Mother Goose, it was easy to see early on who the winner was going to be: David Hughes for Strat and Chatto, a picture book with a text by Jan Mark (Walker, 0 7445 1107 0, £6.95). We thought the book as a whole (and what is a picture book if it doesn’t work as a whole?) offered rare delights – the virtuosity of the drawing, the humour,, the exciting page design. From endpaper to endpaper (architectural elevations of the upper storeys of an urban street) there are visual surprises that carry the eye back and forth, unwilling to miss any of the fun. The story is about a penthouse cat with mouse trouble, who is helped by a wily basement rat to come to terms with so small an irritation. We did wonder whether this book might be a one-off for David Hughes who’s already made his name in other corners of the art world, but decided that the exuberance he shows must have given him so much pleasure he’ll want to repeat the process, often.
Over the runners-up we had much more trouble owing to the evenness of some of the better entries. Everyone was agreed, though, that Peter Utton has made a marvellous start with The Witch’s Hand (ABC, 1 85406 039 2, £5.95), a genuinely scary, but perfectly resolved, story. Wonderfully fluid watercolour pictures, full of witchy terror, integrate perfectly with the text right through to the denouement when the father (a Mike Rosen look-alike) tells the little boy that the hand, is really a shrivelled leaf.
There was great admiration from those judges who sit at their drawing-boards for the virtuosity of Nicki Palin who produced a set of unusually golden and fiery illustrations for Geraldine McCaughrean’s St George and the Dragon (Oxford, 0 19 279793 X, £5.95). This is technically excellent art work, an example to those publishers of myth and legend who are generally content with illustration of a far lower standard.
We were impressed by the start Ken Brown, a talented water-colourist and accurate observer of wild life, has made in Why Can’t I Fly? (Andersen, 0 86264 263 9, £5.95) – a witty, animal story in which an ostrich, determined to fly like all the other birds, builds himself flying machine after flying machine, but can still only manage to stay aloft with their connivance.
Cliff Wright’s When the World Sleeps (Hutchinson, 0 09 174078 9, £5.95) struck us all as being an extremely brave first attempt at a picture book, since it tells a fantasy story entirely in pictures, apart from a five-line introduction. What’s superb about this artist’s treatment of a magic night in which the moon came down to earth is his ability to suffuse his pictures – and his readers – in moonlight.
Once again we wondered why publishers hadn’t submitted any information books to us. There was also adverse comment from the artist judges about the ways in which photography is increasingly being used by young artists as a guide to their brushes. This was far from true of our winner!
The Mother Goose Award is sponsored by Books for Children Ltd.
Elaine Moss, herself a librarian, critic and writer, was one of the judges on this year’s Mother Goose panel.
The Guardian Award
Stephanie Nettell reports
The choice for the 1990 Guardian Children’s Fiction Award ought to please those who had come to fear that comic novels never won awards, that unpretentious, accessible books for the junior-to-middle age range never won awards, that the authors children actually enjoyed never won awards, that authors who’ve already been around for years to general acclaim somehow never …
Like so much of Anne Fine’s work, Goggle-eyes is a bright, funny treatment of a potentially bleak (and increasingly familiar) situation. It offers solace and hope to those who suffer impotently when their lives are turned upside down by adults – as happens when a divorced parent falls in love with a (to the child) patently unsuitable, not to say loathsome, object.
Why is Kitty the one to be chosen to comfort Helen when she rushes from the classroom to sit, swollen-eyed and sodden, in the lost property cupboard under the cloakroom stairs? Then it dawns on her: Helly’s mother is going to marry that grey haired man Kitty saw in Safeway! This is certainly something Kitty knows all about. She proceeds to tell Helly of the evolution of her feelings for the dreadful Gerald Faulkner with such ebullience, such ferocious wit, and such understanding, that Helly and we are captivated and comforted.
But this is more than a simple family story. Anne Fine prompts her young readers into thinking about the place for political debate (here, anti-nuclear) in everyday life, about tolerance and emotional security. Once again, she has made sense of, and offered hope for, a painful part of many youngsters’ lives, and given them laughter.
The runner-up is topical in a different way. The Lake at the End of the World, by New Zealander Caroline Macdonald, is a poetically evocative SF adventure set in a post-holocaust world of the near future – a world destroyed by pollution.
A generation ago a group of the most aware scientists set up a custom-designed underground refuge, now degenerated into a ruthless dictatorship bent on surviving at any cost. Young Hector, who has never seen sunlight or smelled the air, escapes and meets the boldly energetic Diana, whose parents had almost believed they were the last souls on earth. How the two young people rediscover hopes for themselves and the earth makes a thrilling story. I
Goggle-eyes by Anne Fine is published by Hamish Hamilton (0 241 12617 7) at £7.99.
The Lake at the End of the World by Caroline Macdonald is published by Hodder & Stoughton (0 340 427213) at £8.95.
Stephanie Nettell is Children’s Books Editor of the Guardian.