Chris Powling takes his pick from new hardbacks
After death and divorce, we’re told moving house is the next most stressful of human predicaments. This may account for the downbeat, sepia tints of Moving (Viking Kestrel, 0 670 84865 4, £8.99) which comes complete with a poster ‘to frame and keep’. Sophy Williams’ painterly illustrations have a haunting and addictive charm, though, that will outlast many a flashier foray into the subject. The colour variations she achieves with her restricted palette catch perfectly the mood of Michael Rosen’s text.
Take the spread, for instance, that shows the boy alone in his new, bare bedroom with his parents fully occupied off-page:
‘Now they will worry,
now they will be sorry,
now they will want me
to come from nowhere,
but I won’t.’
Does this refer to the child or the tabbycat telling the story? The answer is both, of course. The counterpoint of kid’s-eye view and cat’s-eye view, in matching word and image, is one of the delights of this rich, subtle picture book.
The shift from Moving to Ifeoma Onyefulu’s A is for Africa (Frances Lincoln, 0 7112 0848 4, £8.99) is like stepping from a darkened room straight into noon sunshine so bright and needle-sharp are the author’s photographs. She takes us, quite literally, on an A to Z of the Nigeria where she grew up. Since the trip includes, among other heresies, ‘C is for Canoe’, ‘H is for mud Houses’ and ‘T is for Turban’, those for whom Political Correctness is paramount had better stay at home … to their loss, let it be said. This splendidly upbeat celebration of a traditional Igbo village manages to be both exotic and easy for youngsters to relate to – as in ‘G is for Grandmother, telling wonderful stories about animals and people who lived long ago’.
Just as ravishing to look at is Creepy Crawly Song Book (Andersen, 0 86264 361 9, £9.99) which provides instant musical relief for any mini-beasts topic … assuming, that is, you can read or play a score. I can’t, so merely pass on the warm admiration of a pianist mate of mine for Carl Davis’s original songs. What I can recommend are the brilliant, full-colour illustrations of Satoshi Kitamura who deserves a vote of thanks from all spiders-in-the-bath, not to mentions snails, ants, fleas, caterpillars, praying mantises et al. Mind you, Hiawyn Oram – with whom he always does his best work – is also on the team so dapper, witty lyrics are guaranteed:
‘Susie’s hair is nicer
Emu’s hair is longer,
Jason’s hair is thicker
Andy’s hair is stronger,
Mary’s hair is dirty,
Dan’s sits up and begs,
So why’s it always MY hair
Where they lay their eggs?’
Enough, I’d have thought, to make any parent or classteacher reach for the Prioderm.
Or, perhaps, for a verse antidote from Adrian Mitchell’s The Orchard Book of Poems (Orchard, 185213 316 3, £14.99).
This beautifully designed and printed volume, with line-drawings by Chloe Cheese, is the best possible talisman against any Official Anthology from you-know-who. It’s quirky, wide-ranging and packed with poems you recognise, poems you’re ashamed not to recognise and poems which, for all their ink-wet freshness, seem to recognise you:
‘Poetry is your mind dancing
To the drumbeat of your heart’
… says Adrian Mitchell. He divides the collection into sections representing journeys or destinations of one kind or another but there’s nothing to stop random browsing if that’s your preference. Be prepared, tough, to have your attention arrested since page after page brings a showstopper: by Shakespeare, by Lennon and McCartney and, among more than 100 other contributors, by Adrian Mitchell himself. He has the touch of the true anthologist – the ability to suggest his every offering is so uniquely valuable he couldn’t possibly have left it out … yet, at the same time, that there’s plenty more where that came from.
Man-of-War (Dorling Kindersley, 0 7513 5045 1, £12.00 is the latest Cross-Sections enterprise illustrated by Stephen Biesty and written by Richard Platt. Here are pages to be visited and re-visited at any age susceptible to the creak of timbers and clang of a ship’s bell – a glorious, press-gang of a book from which few will be tempted to desert once they’re aboard. Each of ten double-spreads, teeming with sea-salty detail, considers a different aspect of Nelson’s flagship, Victory … but the reader is free to follow a personal route through all the maritime clamour since the facts are acted out in front of us so vividly and so fully we’re not so much informed about what’s going as enlisted into it. True there’s a conventional glossary at the back of the book, along with an index, but these are strictly for committed landlubbers. For the full flavour of life as a rating, a midshipman, a captain or an admiral, far better to pick your own way across decks, up and down companionways and high into the shrouds – why, you may even encounter the stowaway whose progress is one of the running-gags on this witty, warm-hearted and totally unsentimental voyage. Amazingly, thanks to smart DK marketing world-wide, the fare is a mere twelve quid. Only a year’s subscription to BfK can match such value.