Chris Powling on three newly issued hardbacks
The Nonsense Poems of Edward Lear
Illustrated by Leslie Brooke, Little Brown, 0 316 88874 5, £9.99
Some would argue that Lear’s own illustrations are the only proper accompaniment for his inspired and quirky verse. It’s undeniable that the comedy of the original books seems to depend equally on words and pictures. Like Lear himself, though, Leslie Brooke was a specialist in drawing animals and birds – along with Beatrix Potter and J A Shepherd perhaps the best of his generation – so this elegant bringing together of work from The Pelican Chorus (1899) and The Jumblies (1900) should be of interest even to the purist. Me, I was enchanted. The sensitive but wonderfully firm line-drawings and the pastel delicacy of the colour-plates had me lingering over page after page.
The Velveteen Rabbit
Margery Williams, ill. William Nicholson, Heinemann, 0 434 97265 7, £9.95
An old favourite – did it really first appear in the same year Richmal Crompton produced Just William? – firmly rooted in the more leisurely age of J M Barrie who might easily have written ‘when a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with but really loves you, then you become Real’. The illustrations, though, with their hand-drawn borders and hand-written captions brought a revolutionary breeziness to the picture book. Nor have they ever looked quite as they do here since William Nicholson loved to re-work his pictures – in this instance, apparently, while reading the book to his daughter. So whether or not you’re already acquainted with Marjorie Williams’ justly celebrated Pinocchio-piece, don’t miss this sparkling re-origination in its deluxe slipcase.
Kiss the Dust
Elizabeth Laird, Heinemann, 0 434 94703 2, f9.95
No, not a picture book. Some texts are so timely they demand immediate attention. Elizabeth Laird’s tale concerns the Kurds – in particular Tara, whose loss of her comfortable home, sanctuary in the Zagros mountains, retreat to Iran, period of internment and final flight to Britain mirrors the fate of countless others … except hers, comparatively, has a happy ending.
Cleverly, the author frames her story between schools – in Sulaimaniya and London – but Tara’s experiences set her apart from her age-group:
Why couldn’t she talk about clothes and make-up and parties any more? She had an awful desire to shock … to tell … about the arms and legs she’d seen flying through the air in the bombing raids, and what it felt like to swept down a flooded river in the dark, and how tired you felt after months of eating only the basic kinds of food, and how the camp latrines stank so much you wanted to be sick and how the man in the cabin next to theirs had screamed and screamed in the night.
Elizabeth Laird writes with breathless indignation as if she can’t quite believe her own meticulous checking of the facts. For teachers of 10-14 year olds, this fierce, compassionate narrative doesn’t just open up the reality behind the news reports, it’s the perfect vehicle to outflank the Secretary of State’s crass objection on history-as-it’s-happening.