It is stocking filler time and BfK’s shelves have filled up with seasonal offerings. This year, retellings of fairy tales with saccharine illustrations and texts dominate so, avoiding the sugar rush, Rosemary Stones goes off the traditional gift title piste to offer some very digestible recommendations.
My one exception to the no-Xmas-titles rule is Happy Christmas Lulu, a picture book printed on thin card and aimed at the very young. Uff’s bold, bright illustrations fill the page confidently and build excitement spread by spread as Lulu puts up decorations, makes cards, goes to see big sister’s nativity play and so on. This is a warmly expressive book that is perfectly pitched at small ones. Very young readers will also identify with Ian Beck’s Kitten Cat about a kitten’s first trip outside into the big world of the garden. An encounter with a frog is alarming but Mother Cat is there to provide cuddles. Beck employs a looser style here without his characteristic line and cross-hatching and the result is both gentle and impressionistic.
The Long-Nosed Pig is a more rumbustious offering, a pop-up, in which the very first pig in the world boastingly compares his hooter with those of other creatures. Not looking where he is going leads to an inevitable and wittily dramatic outcome. Reminiscent of the style of Eric Carle, Lambert’s stylised, painterly illustrations lend energy and dynamism. Perfect for under fives.
Gentle Giant is a more reflective title. In this tall, portrait-shaped book, Foreman’s lyrical illustrations reveal once again how consummately he uses watercolour to convey landscape, mood and drama. Morpurgo is at his best with stories in the folk tale tradition and here we have the outsider – the gentle giant – who is feared by the villagers until they discover his real worth. Satisfyingly, the denouement depends upon knowing a true fact – that a mat of straw laid on murky green water will clean it. One to try next time the swimming pool goes green… For 5-7 year-olds.
For 8 year-olds and upwards, Magical Tales of Ireland is a superb anthology. So far from being the usual ‘gift’ offering consisting of cobbled together bits plundered from the backlist, this is a collection of newly commissioned stories and poems with colour illustrations from a very fine stable of artists. There are tales in the traditional manner from Siobhan Parkinson and Carlo Gebler, sparely and beautifully told – imagine a giant whose niece worries about where his seven-league boots will land him if he isn’t careful. There are also well pitched contemporary short stories – Roddy Doyle and Marita Conlon-McKenna’s stand out, but all the contributions here count. This is a real Christmas treat. Philip Pullman’s Lyra’s Oxford is another such. It is lovely book just to hold in the hand – a small, cloth-covered hardback with a colour plate of Oxford roofs engraved by John Lawrence. It contains a new episode from ‘His Dark Materials’ and is complete in itself although its appeal with be to cognoscenti of that trilogy.
Rosemary Stones is Editor of Books for Keeps.
Happy Christmas Lulu, Caroline Uff, Little Orchard, 1 84362 024 3, £4.99 pbk
Kitten Cat, Ian Beck, Scholastic Press, 0 439 97701 0, £8.99 hbk
The Long-Nosed Pig, Keith Faulkner, ill. Jonathan Lambert, Contender Books, 1 84357 055 6, £6.99 hbk/pbk???
Gentle Giant, Michael Morpurgo, ill. Michael Foreman, Collins, 0 00 711064 2, £9.99 hbk
Magical Tales of Ireland, edited by Madeleine Nicklin, ill. Pam Smy et al, Hutchinson, 0 09 176849 7, £14.99 hbk
Lyra’s Oxford, Philip Pullman, ill. John Lawrence, David Fickling Books, 0 385 60699 0, £9.99 hbk