Margery Fisher takes her pick’ of new publications.
Colour dominates in the latest crop of children’s books …
The African legend retold in A Promise to the Sun, by Tololwa M Mollel, ill. Beatriz Vidal, Little Brown & Co, 0 216 88908 3, £8.99, offers a naively logical explanation of natural phenomena (sun and rain, light and darkness) as the basis for a picturebook unashamedly lavish in smooth, bright paint and using a faux naif style of shape and positioning to establish animals in their own mini-drama. When drought hits the savannah the Bat is chosen to negotiate for relief with Moon, Stars, Clouds, Winds and finally Sun. When the birds, happy with the resulting fine harvests, reneague on the bargain, the bat hides his disgrace in a cave.
Each colour-spread has its own pattern. In one, the bat appears in a black sky seamed with shooting stars; another is built round geometrical swirls of cloud; in another a god-like sun shakes feathers of fire into a cool, blue sky. The simple, direct text is carefully disposed on backgrounds that link scenes rich in atmosphere.
An exuberant rainbow cover and jazzy endpapers lead into Out of the Blue by Hiawyn Oram, ill. David McKee, Andersen Press, 0 86264 384 8, £9.99, a versatile compendium of ‘Stories and Poems about Colour’, which will make an ideal browsing book for a bad-weather day indoors. Eleven colours provide the basis for two-, three- or four-page spreads, each very skilfully designed. With the advantage of McKee’s dottily diverse perspectives and his dexterity in depicting comic action and personality, each spread is chock-full of interest but never crowded. Particularly pleasing are two spreads defining elusive shades of grey. Rain and mist set one single scene, where evocative lines of smoke and wet roof tops are matched with mumbles from the three witches in Macbeth: by contrast humour makes an impact in ‘Song of the Grey Suits’, whose satirical point is enforced in a dramatic frieze of office gents; with a friar, a wolf, an antique statue and a grandma completing an engaging package. With wayward juxtapositions and an alert vocabulary, this book should catch the attention of the most lethargic child.
The Green Kids by Sam McBratney, ill. Virginia Chalcraft, Walker, 0 7445 2195 5, £6.99, is not an addition to the lengthening list of conservation stories but a neat conjunction of two popular subjects – children sampling country ways and the discovery of a friend in an unexpected place. The squabbling trio upsetting the journey (by white Rolls, no less) to a remote Irish mountainside in the Easter holidays are sharply outlined -Charlie currently obsessed by collecting bones, Shelley daintily affronted by a lack of bathroom facilities and TV, and spoilt little Lottie whose rag doll Lubylou includes in her many roles the dangerous one of scapegoat (a role sometimes shared by Neptune, the much put-upon family dog). Driven out to perform the unwonted exercise of walking, the Greens find their first surprise – a supermarket trolley standing idly beside a gorse bush, one feather caught in its meshes. Only mildly interested at first, the Greens are gradually drawn into stranger affairs. Their theory of secret cockfighting in the district is exploded when the uncouth figure in tattered coat and black wellies proves to be harmless, except for the determination to fly, with home-made wings, from the considerable height of the Black Cliff.
Thatcher Collins is eccentric; he is also nature-wise; before this compact layered tale comes to an end, lessons- like moderation, bread making and good manners-have been well learned. There is skill in the way the behaviour of the children is poised just on the edge of improbability, as the unpromising new environment has its slow effect on them. The prose is simple enough for a newly-fledged reader around 8 or 9 but a nice turn of phrase refreshes the ordinary. The Green children ‘squabbled and fought rather like starlings round a single crust of toast on a frosty morning ; Shelley, watching a fanatic trying to fly like the birds, feels the wind is playing with him ‘before blasting him away like the seed-head of a dandelion or some other inconsequential thing’; the breakfast porridge which is part of Mr Green’s disciplinary scheme seems to Charlie like ‘microwaved frogspawn’.
Scrawly drawings punctuate the pages but are hardly needed in such a vigorous, craftsmanlike mixture of pathos, sparkling humour, such an expert moulding of insistent personality and calmly enduring landscape.
Whatever one may think about illustrating Kipling’s superlatively pictorial prose, the three carefully selected stories (‘Mowgli’s Brothers’, ‘Kaa’s Hunting’ and ‘Tiger, Tiger’) have been interpreted superbly by Inga Moore in the handsome new gift book Favourite Mowgli Stories from The Jungle Book, published by Simon & Schuster, 0 7500 1007 X, £12.00. Children may think they have ‘seen’ the Indian jungle on the TV screen but here are scenes to be taken in slowly as rich complement to rich prose. From dimpling infant to tormented adolescent, here is the foster child of wolves, taking innocent liberties with his siblings, facing the dangerous darkness of the great snake’s lair, asserting his right to be as human as the hostile villagers. Here are the dissolute bandar-log cavorting round a ruined temple and enticing Mowgli into their futile lives. Here is Shere Khan, the tiger, half-hidden in leaves as gold as his coat. The 23 colour plates, dramatic and wonderfully true to nature, should tempt many children from 8 or 9 to venture for themselves (ideally after listening) into the entrancing world of Kipling’s young hero.
For 30 years, Margery Fisher was the sole producer of Growing Point which published its last issue in March this year.