Betty Root retired recently from the Reading Centre at the University of Reading, which she helped to make famous. Typically, she now works harder than ever. Here’s her selection of picture books from the many published this Spring. Happy Retirement, Betty!
The sheer joy of it!
Piles of books to be read and time to do it properly. My novel ‘retired’ status does bring some rewards, especially when it enables me to help busy teachers and parents. You all realise, I’m sure, that it’s impossible to select the ‘best’; choosing books is a very personal matter and complete objectivity unachievable.
More than anything I want children to read with enjoyment. and to bring this about we must provide variety so that all potential readers will be enticed into the magical world of books. Consequently, I have made my comments brief and succinct to include as many titles as possible.
Our own enthusiasm for books, engendered by familiarity, will light a flame in young readers. With some, not all, it will never be extinguished.
Jeannie Baker, Julia MacRae, 1 856810101, £8.99
A wordless picture book with a ‘save the forests’ theme. Definitely for older children who will most certainly appreciate the amazing collage constructions which tell the story. It is an ‘awareness’ message concerning the changing view from a particular window. Each child will see something different – that’s the joy of the story.
Willy and Hugh
Anthony Browne, Julia MacRae, 1 85681 030 5, £6.99
‘Hurrah!’ we all say. Willy is back to delight us. Friendship is the essence of this tale – dear to the hearts of all young children who dread being left out. The real joy is that it’s a book for adults as well youngsters. I for one was quite happy to be seen reading it on the train.
The Magpie and the Star
Stephen Lambert, Hutchinson, 0 09 176369 X, £7.99
A truly haunting story about a magpie stealing a star. Pol, a solitary selfish fellow, is determined to retrieve it and through his adventures learns to appreciate other people and creatures. There’s much to return to in this story and the pastel illustrations feed the imagination.
Busy! Busy! Busy!
Jonathan Shipton, ill. Michael Foreman, Andersen, 0 86264 310 4, £6.99
A simple, poignant story rich with the ‘feel’ of everyday life. It tells of an affectionate, sensitive child who shows his mother how to cope with a bad mood. This could so easily have been sentimental slush, but it isn’t. Quite lovely.
Allan Langoulant, Blackie, 0 216 93049 9, £6.95
‘The thing about people, it’s perfectly plain, that whatever they are, they’re not all the same.’ Not a story, but a book which is most certainly entertaining and hilarious. It’s a thought-provoking topic and one we all need to consider. This book will be pored over and should be the starting point for much discussion.
Nick Butterworth, Collins, 0 00 1913212, £6.95
A little bit of magic which will entrance young readers. Nick Butterworth’s direct and delicious illustrations tell the story without text. Sometimes this mode can be very daunting – especially for tired adults! Not so, Amanda’s Butterfly. As usual Nick Butterworth has got every aspect right and that’s not easy.
Cats in the Sun
Lesley Anne Ivory, Collins, 0 00 1911392 1, £6.95
Again, not a story but an exquisite account of cats in warm, sunny places. There’s much information both in text and pictures. Young and old cat enthusiasts will find this book irresistible. Outstanding, without a doubt.
The Fish Who Could Wish
John Bush, ill. Korky Paul, Oxford, 019 2798901, £6.95
The rhythmic text with supportive illustrations make this book accessible to many children. Poorer readers will enjoy all the fun and for a fish who gets everything the ending is most appropriate.
He wished for a castle
He wished for a car
But one day he wished
Just a little too far …
Beeswax the Bad’s Noisy Night
Andrew and Paula Martyr, Hamish Hamilton, 0 241 129117, £7.99
Beeswax the cat turns up again in another profusely illustrated story. The minimal rhyming text about his night-time quest to steal the garden gnome will carry even the poorest of readers along.
The Snow Country Prince
0 19 279886 3
The Cherry Tree
019 279895 2
Daisaku Ikeda, English version Geraldine McCaughrean, ill. Brian Wildsmith, Oxford, £6.95 each
This is where my vocabulary of superlatives proves to be inadequate. These books are just breathtaking … stories of surviving winter hardships and hope engendered by the coming of spring. Even if only half the words can be read, the illustrations transport the reader to a magical world. They truly lift the spirit and shine through the day.
Retold by Margaret Hodges, ill. Jamichael Henterly, Little Brown, 0 316 36793 1, £7.95
First published in a collection of Folk Lore (1891, this East Anglian legend is a haunting tale full of scary moments to captivate older readers. In the end, good triumphs over evil and the moon is restored to her rightful place in the sky. Atmospheric illustrations fill the imagination and reflect the gloom and glory of an ageless story.
Retold by Sybil Countess Schonfeldt (from Gogol), trans. Patricia Crampton, ill. Gennadij Spirin, Ragged Bears, 1 870817 70 2, £7.95
Gogol’s Ukranian story, the inspiration for Mussorgsky’s opera of the same name, is illustrated here by a Russian artist; no wonder picture and text work so well together to provide an uplifting experience for older readers. Credit must also go to Patricia Crampton whose translation of this re-telling manages to be both colloquial and up-to-date, yet retains the rumbustious, traditional feel captured so splendidly in the pictures.
Something Nasty in the Cabbages
Retold and ill. Diz Wallis, Ragged Bears, 1870817 58 3, £7.95
A twelfth-century tale, conventional in form – the cockerel survives the fox with cunning – but unconventional in presentation. The details in the illustrations are incredible and it won’t matter if young readers can’t manage all the words. This is Diz Wallis’s first book for children – I offer many congratulations to her!
Venice Shone, Orchard, 185213 269 8, £7.99
Some may disagree, but I feel there is a dearth of suitable books for babies. You could happily share this one with a nine-month-old. The animals are easily recognised and familiar, while their activities present good opportunities for talk.
Emma and Paul Rogers, ill. Priscilla Lamont, Walker, 0 7445 12514, £8.99
Definitely for my never-to-be-lent-out-in-case-it’s-not-returned-shelf! Two hundred years of social history are conveyed through the occupants of one house. This will spark the imaginations of young readers and build many bridges between the old and young. Congratulations to all three creators.
Shirley Hughes, Walker, 0 7445 1541 6J6.99
How does she do it? Not a particularly original storyline, yet this has that sparkle and magic Shirley Hughes can elicit even from a well-worn theme. The familiar illustrations provide confidence and expectation in young readers used to her work. They won’t be disappointed.
That New Dress
Malorie Blackman, ill. Rhian Nest James, Simon & Schuster, 0 7500 0442 8, £7.99; 0 7500 0443 6, £3.50 pbk
It’s always tempting when selecting a list of books to include everything which takes cognizance of the society in which we live. That New Dress is chosen because it’s a good story and not because the main character, Wendy, is black. It needs to be read aloud to make the best of the rhythmic text. Simply lovely!
Pins and Needles
John Talbot, Simon & Schuster, 0 7500 0376 6, £7.99; 0 7500 0377 4, £3.50 pbk
An elephant with pins and needles in his trunk immediately engaged my young readers. This is hilarious throughout – look out for some wonderful touches of humour in the illustrations.
Elizabeth Starr Hill, ill. Sandra Speidal, Viking, 0 670 82830 0, £7.99
All children feel the need for privacy sometimes and adults need to be reminded of this. This story, first published in 1967, is set in a crowded apartment. The new illustrations enhance but don’t overpower the narrative. To be shared, initially, but I feel sure competent readers of seven years old and above will want to return to it on their own.
Hurrah for Ethelyn
Babette Cole, Heinemann, 0 434 93293 0, £6.95
Babette Cole has, and deserves, many devoted followers. Children recognise her style and warm to its familiarity. This is a zany, hilarious story about a clever rat who wanted to be brain surgeon. The humour is spot on.
Two in a Pocket
Robin Ravilious, Heinemann, 0 434 95942 1. £6.95
A gentle, happily resolved country story about a dormouse and a wren. Sympathetically illustrated and providing much to pore over in the abundant pictures. A clear and important message for young readers.
Sam and the Swans
Colin Robinson, Viking, 0 670 82869 6, £6.95
Narrative information is a much a neglected area, so this delightful book will be warmly appreciated. Many beautiful, clear illustrations with lots of clues to relate the story. There’s also a welcome minimal text for those adults who find ‘no words’ hard work at the end of a trying day.
Can Piggles Do It?
Frank Rodgers, Viking, 0 670 83200 6,;£7.99
Are we never allowed to escape from our own guilty consciences? I ask you – slimming pigs! But it all works. This is a happy good-for-a-laugh book that’s not too demanding – unlike slimming, in my experience.
The Kitchen Knight
Retold by Margaret Hodges, ill. Trina Schart Hyman, Oxford, 0 19 279894 4, £6.95
A King Arthur story – part of the exciting Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney. Meticulously researched, this book provides a wonderful introduction to the ancient legend. The illustrations are outstanding in detail, form and colour, and certainly conjure up the romance we associate with the time.
Tyrone the Dirty Rotten Cheat
Hans Wilhelm, Scholastic, 0 590 76535 3, £5.95
A light story which will remind many children of television cartoons and should therefore have much appeal. Putting down the cheat and the bully is always popular, especially when achieved without violence. A strange choice of typeface … but my young readers didn’t comment on this.
Sally Grindley, ill. Merida Woodford, Kingfisher, 0 86272 796 0, £6.95
A rollicking, rhythmic, cumulative story which rolls off the tongue making it a joy to read aloud. All great fun – especially with these apt illustrations as back-up.
Babies, Babies, Babies
Tessa Dahl, ill. Siobhan Dodds, Kingfisher, 0 86272 581 X, £6.95
Expectant mothers with other young children will be hugely attracted to this book. It broadens the subject of human birth to include a variety of familiar animals. The facts are fascinating and enquiring minds will be satisfied and intrigued.
Ken Brown, Andersen, 0 86264 324 4, £6.99
Nellie the baby elephant ties a knot in her trunk, but can’t remember why -‘I’m not going to untie this knot until I do remember,’ she decides. Well, that decision obviously makes life very difficult for a young elephant. A friendly, happy jungle story full of love and fun.
Joseph Sharpies, ill. Sue Scullard, Macmillan, 0 333 47105 9, £5.95
It’s interesting to note that the illustrator is named on the cover of this book and not the author of the verse. Why? Gloriously detailed pictures depict the adventures of a pair of pantaloons as they fly over a medieval Italian city. Lots to learn as well as enjoy.
I know this has been said before, but since so few seem to have taken note it must be repeated. Why is that almost all the children in these books have white faces? Admittedly 50% of the books I was choosing from had animal characters (with a preponderance of cats) – could this be an attempt to avoid the issue?