A selection of new hardbacks and recent paperbacks with a seasonal flavour
The Nativity Play, Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen, Hodder and Stoughton, 0 340 38300 3, £4.95
A celebration and a timely reflection of similar events happening in primary schools all over the country about now. Mum improvises cheerfully to turn Tracy into an angel and Sam into a shepherd; Miss Harvey, `our teacher’, chivvies, encourages and keeps up a running commentary of instructions from her place at the piano. There are string beards, coat hanger haloes, children thinly disguised as donkeys, camels, sheep. Doors get stuck, lines forgotten, but at the finale as everyone joins in with Hark the Herald Angels we can all agree with Mrs Booth (our next door neighbour) who clearly thinks it’s all lovely.
Spirit Child, John Bierhorst, pictures by Barbara Cooney, Hodder and Stoughton, 0 340 38197 3, £5.95
A nativity story with a difference. John Bierhorst has translated a version of the first Christmas composed by a sixteenth-century missionary in collaboration with Aztec poets, and combining elements from the gospels with European and Aztec folklore. `The angel Gabriel’s face came shining, the way the sun comes up making everything bright. His wings came gleaming, came glistening. They were longer and more brilliantly green than quetzal plumes.’ Barbara Cooney’s pictures echo the Mexican theme – a host of Aztec angels make music amidst a shower of exotic flowers and birds; the Holy Family sits on a rush floor under a palm covered canopy, a parrot perched overhead. The colours are gorgeous.
The Story of the Three Wise Kings, retold and illustrated by Tomie de Paola, Methuen, 0 416 49720 9, £4.50 pbk
A beautifully designed and decorative version of the Epiphany; gravely formal and stylised, the pictures are in characteristic de Paola colour tones. The figures gaze calmly out of the page or stand in profile like a medieval frieze. Expensive for a paperback but this is full size with a stitched spine and high quality paper.
Baboushka, Arthur Scholey, ill. Ray and Corrine Burrows, Lion, 0 86760 423 9, £1.50 pbk
A reprint of this popular retelling of a traditional Russian folk tale. Baboushka is so preoccupied by the dailiness of her life that she misses seeing the Christmas star, misses her chance of joining the three kings on their journey. She is too late for everything but continues her wandering search giving the toys in her basket (intended for the holy child) to good sleeping children. Bright, decorative illustrations make this a most attractive version of the story.
The Story of Holly and Ivy, Rumer Godden, pictures by Barbara Cooney, Julia MacRae, 0 86203 232 6, £6.25
Rumer Godden’s warmly comforting story is here given picture book treatment in this well-designed and generously sized edition. Barbara Cooney’s pictures exactly capture the old-fashioned feel of this story of a doll (Holly), a little girl (Ivy), a policeman and his wife and a lot of wishing – which of course comes true. The Christmas setting of small town, toyshop, bleak outside and cosy interiors is beautifully realised.
The Angel with a Mouth-Organ, Christobel Mattingley, ill. Astra Lacis, Hodder and Stoughton, 0 340 38444 1, £2.95 pbk
Last year we had The Magic Saddle from Christobel Mattingley, also a charming Christmas story. The Angel with a Mouth-Organ is a story within a story: mum, decorating the Christmas tree with Peter and Ingrid, tells again the story of her own childhood as a refugee in the second world war. Families are separated, possessions lost, friends and relations become ill, some die; there is pain, suffering, deprivation but occasionally joy and always hope. Eventually the war is over and at Christmas, after a moment of despair, father returns and the family is reunited. With him he brings a scrap of stained glass with the angel of the title in it; it kept him company and now hangs on the family Christmas tree every year. A restrained telling of a powerfully emotional story which slightly older children could respond to strongly.
Lucy and Tom’s Christmas, Shirley Hughes, Picture Puffin, 0 14 050.469 9, £1.50 pbk
Like The Nativity Play, Lucy and Tom’s Christmas is very much of today but with all the warmth and traditional patterns of the ideal family Christmas. There’s a lot of love and friendship in Shirley Hughes’ beautifully observed pictures which exactly capture the way people are. Look at the superb sequence of drawings of the baby more interested in the wrapping paper than the present, or at Tom, leaning back secure and calm again between Grandpa’s legs; the two lovingly entwined figures in Shirley Hughes’ drawing express far more than words.
Round the Christmas Tree, Sara and Stephen Corrin (Eds), Puffin, 0 14 03.1777 5, £1.50 pbk
Sixteen short stories by such as Alison Uttley, Dorothy Edwards, Astrid Lindgren, Alf Proysen and others. The well-known (My Naughty Little Sister biting Father Christmas in The Naughtiest Story of All) and the classic (The Little Fir Tree) sit side by side with a little-known Beatrix Potter story (Wag-by-Wall) and Ivan Gantschev’s The Christmas Train. A very useful collection for family reading and invaluable for teachers to have as the term draws to an end.
With the giving season in mind we’ve made a selection from this year’s paperbacks of some rather special titles
Red is Best, Kathy Stinson, pictures by Robin Baird Lewis, Oxford, 0 19 272156 9, £1.95
A little girl explains with cogent and convincing reasons exactly why, despite what her mum says, for her red is best. `I can jump higher in my red stockings’; `My red pyjamas keep the monsters away’. An instructive story for all super-rational adults who can’t appreciate the logic of childhood and for all children who recognise it for themselves. Lively drawings patched with colour picture the personality of the lively narrator.
What the Moon Saw, Brian Wildsmith, Oxford, 019 272157 7, £2.50
A `concept book’ in story form with a neat twist at the end. The sun shows the moon the things of the day she has never seen, all in the shape of opposites. Classic Wildsmith pictures – rich in colour, texture and pattern.
Old Mother Hubbard, Colin and Jacqui Hawkins, Magnet, 0 416 59620 7, £3.50
A strong and solid-feeling paperback of the Piccadilly Press hardback published last year. The rhyme lends itself well to the lift-the-flap form; each time Mother Hubbard returns from a shopping trip her dog is up to something behind a different door. Children seem unanimous in their liking for the Hawkins’ sense of humour and cartoon-style pictures.
Whatever Next!, Jill Murphy, Picturemacs, 0 333 40438 6, £1.95
Little bear wants to go to the moon. Mum says it’s bathtime and anyway he’ll need a rocket. Bear finds a cardboard box and a colander for his head and, not forgetting his teddy bear, zooms up the chimney and off to the moon, picking up owl on the way. He returns, a little grubby, and in the bath tells mum his adventures. All she can say is, `Whatever next!’ The pictures, full colour on the left, black and white with the text on the right, show wide, dark, star-filled heavens, the backdrop to bear’s magical yet homely journey.
The 7 Ravens, The Brothers Grimm, ill. Lisbeth Zwerger, Picture Book Studio, 0 907234 47 X, £3.95
Lisbeth Zwerger’s illustrated versions of Grimm and Andersen have until now been available only in hardback from Neugebauer Press. Now her publishers are developing a UK paperback imprint of which this is one of the first. High quality production – glued and stitched pages in a proper spine, a soft but strong wrap around cover – makes them very attractive. This story of how a sister sets out to free her brothers from their father’s hasty and much-regretted illwishing is beautifully interpreted in all its moods and settings, realistic and fantastic.
Chester the Worldly Pig, Bill Peet, Deutsch, 0 233 978313, £2.95
One of five of Bill Peet’s humorous picture stories first published in the USA in the 60s and available here in paperback for the first time. Throughout all his adventures Chester remains essentially a pig, in fact the origin of all that happens lies in some very believable pig-like feelings: `Before I end up as so much sausage and ham I intend to try and amount to something.’ Learning an acrobatic trick, running away to the circus, running away from the circus, are just some of the events that befall Chester before he realises his true destiny and we understand the wordplay in the title that has been staring us in the face all along. Recommended as a read aloud for infant/juniors, and as a read alone for those gathering experience of longer texts.
The Saga of Erik the Viking, Terry Jones,
ill. Michael Foreman, Puffin, 0 14 03.1713 9, £4.95
A full-size paperback edition of the book which won the Children’s Book Award (the one in which children have a say) in 1984. Terry Jones is earning himself quite a reputation as a children’s storyteller and you really mustn’t miss this one. Twenty-seven short action-packed adventures in which Erik and the crew of the Golden Dragon sail off to find `The land where the sun goes at night’. Michael Foreman’s pictures are the perfect accompaniment, capturing the excitement, the horror, the grandeur and the poetry of this story which is a gift for reading aloud.
The Miracle Child, told by Elizabeth Laird with
Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, Collins, 0 00 184652 3, £1.95
A most unusual book in which Elizabeth Laird retells the story of Tekla Haymanot, a famous Ethiopian saint from the 13th century. The pictures are the work of an 18th-century monk who illustrated some of the many stories of the saint which were written down by the monks of the order which he founded. The battle with evil, the miracles performed by the saint are simply retold and the pictures have helpful explanatory captions which give insights into story and art. Fascinating for older children wanting to understand more about Ethiopia and could be read aloud to younger listeners. Profits from the book go to Oxfam’s Ethiopia Famine Appeal.
The Lotus and the Grail, Rosemary Harris, ill. Errol le Cain, Faber, 0 571 13536 6, £3.95
Eighteen legends from different countries retold and reworked by Rosemary Harris. They are loosely bound together by the idea that the central character has a goal of some sort. The treatment of philosophical, psychological and moral ideas make this collection of particular interest to older readers who may well be engaged in their own quests for understanding. This paperback version has plain white stiff paper covers and a full colour wrap around dust jacket. Full colour illustration inside too.
The Oxford Book of Poetry for Children, compiled by Edward Blishen, ill. Brian Wildsmith, Oxford, 0 19 276058 0, £5.95
Edward Blishen’s anthology, which was first published in 1963 and is a classic of its kind, has at last been issued in an amazing value-for-money paperback edition. In his introduction, addressed to the child reader, Edward Blishen describes the subject of poetry as `whatever . . . can be expressed by human beings with a sense of words and of rhythm, a sharp eye, a keen ear, an enquiring mind and an open heart.’ His selection is drawn from the traditional mainstream of English poetry (all pre 1930s) but there is rich variety here and, as many children have found over twenty years, tots of signposts to further pleasure. (One quibble: children today consulting the Index of Authors may gain the impression that several well-known poets – Masefield, Eleanor Farjeon, Eliot, for instance – are amazingly long-lived!)
Messages, compiled by Naomi Lewis, Faber, 0 571 13647 8, £2.95
A very positive welcome for this new anthology chosen with 11-15 year-olds in mind. Like Blishen, Naomi Lewis has grouped the poems under broad themes and, also like him, has headed many of these with a line of poetry. Many of the same poets (but not the same poems) appear as in the Blishen collection plus a distinctive presence of more recent writing. Familiar themes of Childhood, Time Passing, Death, Love, Animals are joined by less predictable ones: `A Host of Furious Fancies’, `Angels, Demons, Phantoms, Dreams’; all to be explored in poems chosen with a sure sense of what will speak to the word-aware adolescent.
Poets in Hand, chosen by Anne Harvey, Puffin,
014 03.1818 6, £1.95
The Puffin Quartet of Poets (Eleanor Farjeon, James Reeves, E V Rieu and Ian Serraillier) brought together under Eleanor Graham’s edit–ship has been a staple Puffin title for many years. It is now joined by Anne Harvey’s five poets (Charles Causley, John Fuller, Elizabeth Jennings, Vernon Scannell and John Walsh) and like its companion should find a welcome in many classrooms and libraries. It is a skilful selection; poems for children which demonstrate the importance of words, the liberating discipline of form and rhythm. Five distinctive voices offering to readers and listeners (as Elizabeth Jennings says about writing poetry) `another way of finding out about what life and the world means’. Anne Harvey’s anecdotal introductions to each poet are informative and interesting.
Nothingmas Day, Adrian Mitchell and John Lawrence, Allison and Busby, 0 85031533 6, £3.95
Last year the hardback; this year the paperback. Nearly fifty varied poems by Adrian Mitchell, many written as a direct result of working in schools with children. He plays with words, rhymes and forms in a collection which is amusing, diverting and thought-provoking. John Lawrence’s wood engravings give the book an additional and engaging dimension.