Books for this feature selected and reviewed by Pat Triggs.
Whether you give them away or choose them for yourselves we think these books all have that essential quality: staying power. They offer more, than a passing pleasure and reveal more of themselves as you get to know them better.
John Burningham, Cape, 0 224 02279 2, £4.95
Only John Burningham could do so much so economically. In 32 pages he depicts a multi-layered relationship between an old man and his grandchild, suggests a whole life story for Granpa and shows a small girl reacting to death and bereavement. The whole is simultaneously very restrained and very rich, exceedingly complex and utterly simple. Except for three double spreads which have a special impact because of their difference, Burningham uses the conventions developed in Mr Gumpy and the ‘Shirley‘ books. On the left hand page in two different type faces are words spoken by Granpa and the child; below them in monochrome are line drawings which by showing what the characters are thinking, remembering or imagining provide a commentary on the text and on the full colour right hand page.
John Burningham catches exactly the quality of the relationship, the sense of two separate worlds and a shared one with its own conventions and awarenesses. The feelings of bewilderment and awe that the fact of death arouses in children is caught exactly in a wordless double spread in which a small scrunched up child gazes thoughtfully across the gutter (where the pages are sewn) to the picture on the right hand page of Granpa’s empty chair and table. In the next and last page – also without words – we see her running across the landscape pushing baby (brother? sister?) in a pram. Life as always goes on.
I could go on and on about this book. Get it, savour it and share it with individuals or very small groups. It will need tact and sensitivity but I’d dare bet there will be rich rewards.
Willy the Wimp
Anthony Browne, Julia MacRae, 0 86203 175 3, £4.95
Not such a richly layered book as Gorilla but beautifully and wittily drawn and with a delightful, thought-provoking twist in the tail. Willy the chimp is a wimp, the sort that apologises to the ‘suburban gorillas’ for having been beaten up by them. A combination of jogging, diet, aerobics, boxing, body building and weightlifting changes all that – or does it? One for the older age range I think if all the references are to be appreciated and enjoyed.
The Story of the Dancing Frog
Quentin Blake, Cape, 0 224 02152 4, £5.50
My equal first favourite with Granpa. A story within a story has Mum telling Jo ‘another story about our family’. Aunt Gertrude, on the point of throwing herself in the river because her naval officer husband has been drowned at sea is stopped by the sight of a frog dancing on a lily pad. She takes it home and finds it dancing to the wind-up gramophone. Before long the frog is on the stage and Gertrude has a full-time job organising his career and accompanying him wherever he goes. Gertrude refuses marriage to an English lord, George (as the frog is known) becomes an international star and they finally retire together to the South of France. ‘Was that a true story?’ asks Jo. ‘More or less,’ says Mum. And it is the truth in it which mum goes on to suggest to Jo that leaves him, and you, thinking.
A captivating story which while completely working for children (it’s great for reading aloud and lends itself to ‘performance’) has in-built jokes for adults (George at the Folies Bergeres, George with Isadora Duncan, the Russian Ballet and Fred Astaire, and lots of associations and references). The tone is just right and the drawings as free and expressive as ever. A winner.
In the Attic
Hiawyn Oram, ill. Satoshi Kitamura, Andersen Press, 0 86264 874 1, £4.95
Another voyage into the world of the imagination by the collaboration which produced the brilliant Angry Arthur and Ned and the Joybaloo (now in paperback from Sparrow, 0 09 936950 8, £1.75). In this book the central character narrates his own story, in simple text which begins ‘I had a million toys and I was bored.’ Resonant story and pictures, the sort that are returned to and re-explored again and again.
Panda and the Bunyips
Hamish Hamilton, 0 241 11344 X, £4.95
Cat and Canary
Andersen Press, 0 86264 075 X, £4.95
Two stories in words and pictures by Michael Foreman who is a master of both. Panda, on his third adventure, goes with his friend the winged lion to Australia where they meet the Bunyip and join him in another journey, this time to a rare and amazing reunion. Cat and Canary – also friends – live with their master in a New York apartment. When Cat is accidentally whisked skywards by a kite he and we are treated to a series of staggering visual experiences as Foreman shows us the landscape and buildings of snowy New York from some amazing angles. Lovely touches of humour in words and pictures in both books -just see the range of expressions on the faces of Panda and Cat.
Jenny Koralek, ill. John Lawrence, Patrick Hardy, 0 7444 0027 9, £5.50
In the evening of the hottest day for a hundred years Mabel reverses the usual pattern and tells Grandpa a story. The book’s story is told in dialogue; Grandpa keeps interrupting with matter-of-fact questions as Mabel’s story literally takes-off. John Lawrence’s pictures take their cue from the text and together the two create a very believable fantasy.
Ayu and the Perfect Moon
David Cox, Bodley Head, 0 370 30533 7, £4.95
Another story within a story: in simple text Old Ayu tells three little girls in Bali about the first time she danced at the village festival on the night of the full moon. A beautifully designed book whose varied pictures give ‘a fascinating insight into another culture.
Deborah King, story by Naomi Lewis, Cape, 0 224 02088 9, £4.95
Deborah King’s beautiful pictures (Remember Rook?) accurately and evocatively depict the varied aspects of a Puffin’s life. Naomi Lewis’ brief story-style text combines fact and feeling.
Charles Keeping, Oxford, 0 19 279782 4, £4.95
The rise and fall and rise of Sammy, ‘a simple soul’ who goes from one-man-band in the subway to circus, to rock star, TV, video, films, to oblivion, and back to the subway and his friends. It is a classic Keeping morality tale – true happiness lies only in genuine human contact – told with dramatic and telling use of line and colour. Put it in secondary schools and see what they say.
Winter Comes to Sheepfold Farm
Susan Williams, Gollancz, 0 575 03487 4, £4.95
The very best kind of ‘faction’ which like its two predecessors offers a realistic believable picture of farm and village life. Harvest supper, Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night and Christmas provide a backdrop for the routines and problems of rearing sheep. As before Susan Williams’ informative and appealing line drawings raise the book from the very good into the special class. Juniors.
Rachel Billington, Methuen, 0 416 46950 7, £5.95
Think of a latter day Ballet Shoes and you’ll get some idea of the kind of book this is. Level-headed, plain-speaking Charlotte lands a part in a film; and so begins a fast-moving, amusing, reader-grabbing story stuffed with ‘characters’. In the telling Rachel Billington manages to include a great deal about what goes on behind the camera – an interesting and instructive bonus in a book that is never less than accessible for the average 9-13 reader.
Tim Kennemore, Faber, 0 571 13285 5, £5.95
Told in Tim Kennemore’s racy, distinctive style this is a daring exercise in time travel as 15-year-old Victoria goes back into her own childhood and finally forward into her own future. What she finds there gives her uncomfortable and challenging insights into her despised parents – particularly her mother – and herself. An exciting and thought-provoking read for 13+, always assuming anyone picks it up which is doubtful with that Pentagram cover. ‘Brand image’ may be a good thing but recently Faber novels have begun to look indistinguishable from each other and they are certainly no come-on for young readers.
The War Orphan
Rachel Anderson, Oxford, 0 19 271496 1, £6.95
A demanding, at times even difficult read which mingles and mixes the narratives of schoolboy Simon and Ha his adopted brother, a refugee from the Vietnam war. The details of Ha’s story are shocking and moving and the examination of the morality of such situations and our part in them is determined and thorough. At the end Simon and the reader are left with the inescapable conclusion that we are all brothers, inevitably linked and responsible one for another. A novel that stays long in the mind.
PICK OF THE PAPERBACKS
Round and Round the Garden
Sarah Williams, ill. Ian Beck, Oxford, 0 19 272132 1, £2.50
A super-useful collection of finger plays and action rhymes with a discreet, easy-to-follow picture strip to show you how which doesn’t in any way distract the eye of the young looker from the bold colourful pictures which illustrate the rhymes.
On the Way Home
Jill Murphy, Picturemacs, 0 333 37572 6, 1.95
The stories Claire ‘tells her friends about how she got her bad knee involve flying saucers, crocodiles, giants, ghosts and the like. The version each person gets is vividly realised in pictures which show Claire being brave, inventive and assertive. Then she gets home and tells mum… Great stuff.
The Faber Book of Nursery Stories
Chosen by Barbara Ireson, ill. Shirley Hughes, Faber, 0 571 13278 2, £4.95
First paperback appearance of this classic collection which should be in every home, nursery and infant classroom. Exactly what’s needed to introduce young listeners to a great variety of stories and styles of telling. All this and Shirley Hughes’ delightful line drawings which appear throughout.
The Fairy Tale Treasury
Selected by Virginia Haviland, ill. Raymond Briggs, Picture Puffin, 0 14 050.103 7, £4.95
At last a reprint of this truly excellent volume. Thirty-two tales from many traditions illustrated in fine uninhibited style by Raymond Briggs. A delight – and once you have it, indispensable.
The New Golden Land Anthology
ed. Judith Elkin, Puffin, 0 14 03.1521 7, £2.95
First paperback edition for Judith Elkin’s updating of James Reeves’ famous anthology. A marvellous treasury for dipping into, for finding old favourites and new friends; a standby and a starting point.
Tale of a One-Way Street
Joan Aiken, pictures by Jan Pienkowski, Puffin, 0 14 03.1700 7, £1.95
Eight original, modern tales by a storyteller whose imagination knows no bounds. Pienkowski’s distinctive silhouettes and exciting colour plates make this a very special book for younger children who will listen now and later read for themselves.
Roald Dahl, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin, 0 14 03.1597 7, £ 1.75
Just in case there is still anyone who doesn’t know about this wild, funny, inventive, uninhibited adventure featuring one small girl (Sophie) one friendly giant (the BFG), several nasty child-eating giants, the Queen and a few others we are recommending it.
The Dark is Rising Sequence
Susan Cooper, Puffin, 0 14 03.1688 4, £4.95
The Earthsea Trilogy
Ursula Le Guin, Puffin, 0 14 03.1766 X, £4.95
Susan Cooper’s five novels and Ursula Le Guin’s three have each been bound up in a single volume. Large format, unabridged, very good value. An excellent present for lovers of fantasy, myth and legend who really like to submerge themselves in a story.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ill. Errol Le Cain, Faber, 0 571 13286 3, £5.95
Errol Le Cain’s richly decorated stylised pictures illustrate an extract from The Song of Hiawatha. Lovely to look at, it leaves the reader wanting more of the verse.
Poems for Over 10 Year-Olds
Chosen by Kit Wright, ill. Michael Foreman, Viking Kestrel, 0 670 80048 1, £5.95
Another anthology to join the excellent (but equally clumsily named) Poems for 7 Year-Olds and Under chosen by Helen Nicoll (now in paperback, Puffin, 0 14 03 1489 X, £1.50). Over 10s is a more enterprising and varied selection than the rather disappointing 9 Year-Olds and Under published earlier this year. Interesting groupings – Stopping by Woods, A Bunch of the Boys for example – and a useful mix of forms, styles and periods. Nice to see a good helping of narrative.
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Shel Silverstein, Cape, 0 224 02278 4, £6.50
Some poems in this American collection have been much anthologised – good therefore to have these poems and drawings published here at last. Shel Silverstein has been described as ‘the modern successor to Edward Lear and Hilaire Belloc’ and I’m not arguing. Certainly the association of pictures and poems, the characteristic American directness and humour and the range of absurdity his writing encompasses have a strong appeal for children. Spacious and enticing layout make the book especially accessible and attractive.
Adrian Mitchell, ill. John Lawrence, Allison and Busby, 0 85031 532 8, £5.95
Another beautifully designed book – clear type, lots of white space and John Lawrence’s woodcuts which are as imaginative and arresting as the poems. Adrian Mitchell knows from experience that children like poems about School Dinners (Secret Stew, Sick Pie) but he doesn’t leave it there; the collection reveals a delight in the sound and shape of words, a sense of the ridiculous, a love of surprise and a variety of mood that allows and encourages readers and listeners to extend and explore a whole range of thought and feeling.