A selection from recently published titles
For the youngest
One Duck, Another Duck
Charlotte Pomerantz, pictures by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey, Julia MacRae, 0 86203 188 5, £4.95
Grandmothers seem to be the ‘in’ thing in children’s books this season – we’ve got at least five in this selection. In this one Grandmother (Owl?) helps young Danny to learn about counting up to ten and simple addition. One duck, another duck … two ducks, another duck … three ducks, another duck.’ There’s lots to look out for and enjoy in the bright, characterful pictures and even though Danny can’t stay to count the swans -‘Grandmother yawned. “No Danny, enough counting. It is time to go home.”‘ – the reader can, and will.
But there is more here than skills and concept development’; stories lie in the pages waiting to be found. One class of four and five year olds were precipitated into a great deal of talk and speculation by Danny’s response to being dragged off home. “I know,” he thought. “I’ll count the stars.”‘
Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers
Mairi Hedderwick, The Bodley Head, 0 370 30664 3, £5.25
Katie Morag lives on the Scottish Isle of Struay (not far from Oban). She has two very anti-ageist grandmothers: Grannie Island, a stray sheep farmer, well up to hauling sheep out of bogs; and appearance-conscious Granma Mainland who is pronounced ‘still a smart wee Bobby Dazzler’ by farmer Neilly Beag, when she comes to stay on the island. Grannie Island is a little tight-lipped about these ‘fancy ways’ until Katie Morag suggests Granma Mainland’s shampoos, blue rinses, etc, as the answer when Grannie Island’s prize ewe falls into the bog on Show Day and ruins her fleece. The pictures that complement and help tell this story are nicely detailed and full of life and incident.
Music, Music for Everyone
Vera B Williams, Julia MacRae, 0 86203 195 8, £4.95
The third title in Vera Williams’ trilogy based on her own American childhood (A Chair for My Mother, Something Special for Me). The house feels empty, the big chair is empty, the money jar is empty: Grandma is ill and nothing seems right. But Vera has her accordion, and Grandma’s stories of how she played at weddings when she was a girl plus her encouragement inspire the creation of the Oak Street Band – Vera’s accordion, Jenny’s fiddle, Mae’s flute and Leora’s drums. They practise and practise until they are ready for their first job – playing at the party to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Leora’s great grandparents’ shop. It’s a simple story filled with a sense of real people in an authentic community. The children I shared it with accepted it immediately as autobiography and responded to it strongly in those terms.
Kimi and the Watermelon
Miriam Smith, ill. David Armitage, Angus & Robertson, 0 207 15082 6, £4.95
The story of a Maori family in New Zealand – Kimi, her grandmother and her Uncle Tau – who live in a little house in the country. In Spring Uncle Tau has to go to the city to work but before he leaves he and Kimi plant a watermelon for Kimi to look after so that there will be a melon ready to eat’ when he returns. The seasons pass, grandmother and Kimi tend the land, and harvest the crops; it seems to Kimi as if Uncle Tau will never come; but he does and picks the biggest watermelon he has ever seen, exactly right for eating. Miriam Smith says she has long wanted to write a book about Maori values including the importance of the relationship between the very young and the very old, and about Maori perceptions of life and time through nature’. This book beautifully captures and transmits all that in a gentle, low-key story which uses language to suggest the depths beneath its surface. The pictures by David Armitage (illustrator of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch, The Bossing of Josie, etc.) are very evocative, suggesting to us a culture and life-style at once both strange and familiar.
Today I Thought I’d Run Away
Jane Johnson, A & C Black, 0 7136 2657 7, £4.95
Not a traditional tale in itself but following the pattern of stories like Baba Yaga’s daughter where objects thrown onto the ground turn into mountains, forests, rivers, etc. and thwart evil pursuers. With a comb, an egg cup, a belt, a scarf and dad’s old hat packed into his/her bag, the child running away is well able to cope with an ogre, a goblin, a dragon and a demon. His/her technique for dealing with monsters owes more to Max’s technique for dealing with Wild Things – “Behave yourself,” I said in my loudest voice,’ – but that may be because Jane Johnson’s monster owes something to Sendak’s, particularly about the feet. A picture book about stories and story-making.
The Curious Tale of Hare and Hedgehog
Janosch, Andersen Press, 0 86204 100 4, £4.95
An original version of the tale of the hare and the tortoise which makes a delightful fable for today. Over-competitive anxious hare, in too much of a hurry to listen to anyone, rushes all over England to get ‘a little more of a start and then he’d be even more of a winner’, ends up in hospital with a broken leg and is never heard of again. Hedgehog ambling home to fetch his running shoes ‘had not gone ten paces before he forgot all about the race’. Instead he cooks a meal for his wife and they take a picnic to the lake and enjoy the sunshine. In the evening they come home and sleep soundly till morning. Who actually won that race? Anthea Bell’s translation is seamless and the pictures, as usual, a delight.
The White Crane
Junko Morimoto, Collins, 0 00 184311 7, £4.95
A beautifully designed and printed book which is a pleasure to handle and look at. The story of the white crane is a traditional Japanese fable in which magically joy comes from goodness and is lost through curiosity. A beautiful maiden is adopted as a loving daughter by a poor woodcutter and his wife; she secretly weaves silk so fine they are paid in gold. Though charged not to look the old woman’s anxiety and curiosity overcome her; she peeps into the weaving room and sees a white crane, the one her husband rescued from the snow before their daughter came. The bird, their daughter, must leave and flies away calling ‘Do not forget me’. The beauty and poignancy of the story is matched by the excellent pictures which vary in style but catch exactly the different moods and stages of the story.
Oh, Kojo! How Could You!
Verna Aardema, pictures by Marc Brown, Hamish Hamilton, 0 241 11375 X, £4.95
An Ananse tale from the Ashanti given a spirited retelling with lots of traditional storyteller’s effects included. ‘Soon he came to the River-that-Gurgles-PonponponPONsa. The water was only knee-deep, so he splashed through it, che-a, che-a, che-a.’ Your listeners will soon join in the refrains, especially ‘It isn’t one thing. It isn’t two things. It’s Ananse!’ and enjoy the twists and turns of this story in which the trickster is outwitted and we learn why cats are more petted than dogs in Ashantiland. The bright colours and stylised patterns of the pictures reflect the African setting.
Beverly Cleary, ill. J. Winslow Higginbottom, Julia MacRae, 0 86203 191 5, £3.95
A cautionary tale of young Chuck and the dangers of motorbike riding and ignoring the Highway Code. Beverly Cleary uses all the jargon and the black and white line drawings have masses of detailed technical information – enough to please young bikers, or would-be bikers. It is however set in California where they drive on the right, so presumably everything is the ‘wrong’ way round on the bike. Does that matter? Could be a breakthrough book for some readers, in spite of the slightly patronising tone the text slips into from time to time which seems to imply much younger readers.
Tog the Ribber – or Granny’s Tale
Poem by Paul Coltman, ill. Gillian McClure, Deutsch, 0 233 97711 2, £5.95
‘Your granny had a dreadful flight. / And that is why her hair is white. / And that is why she don’t speak right.’ In rhyme and a highly original and evocative use of language Granny tells the story of how as a child she had to pass the dreadful spot in the woods where the body of Tog the Ribber had hung to rot. His skeleton seems to reach out to her and pursue her as she runs terrified through the snatching undergrowth to the safety of home. Gillian McClure’s pictures for her father’s poem illustrate the narrative and the child’s terror and panic as plants, trees, insects and animals become nightmare images of fear. Lots of potential for 9+.
Into the Past
Ling and the Little Devils
Svend Otto S., trans. Joan Tate, Pelham, 0 7207 1564 4, £4.95
Set during the Chinese Revolution of the thirties, this story tells how a young boy and his friends help the rebel peasant army on The Long March and also save their newly liberated village from the government troops by an ingenious trick. Unusual to find this particular bit of political history dealt with in picture book form; useful as a talking point for juniors, especially with China opening up again to Western influences like Wham! The drawings are atmospheric and informative.
Lost and Found
Jill Paton Walsh, pictures by Mary Rayner, Deutsch, 0 233 97672 8, £4.95
A neat and ingenious way of exploring time passing by superimposing one on another the stories of four children separated by centuries running errands across the same bit of landscape. Ag, running down the hill, over the river and up the other side to Grandpa’s hut, drops the stone arrowhead he was taking but finds a stone with a hole. Medieval Alysoun on the same journey loses a jug of cream but finds an arrowhead, ‘Elfshot’ as Gramma calls it. Peterkin loses sixpence but finds a jug. Modern Jenny loses a pair of scissors but finds a Georgian sixpence. The busyness of parents, the forgiving nature of grandparents who welcome finds-rather than bemoan losses are constants over the centuries as is the land on which the roads, bridges and settlements evolve in their particular patterns. Very useful.
Looking into the Middle Ages
Huck Scarry, Hodder & Stoughton, 0 340 36095 X, £6.95
A jolly pop-up packed with information about the period 500-1500. Life in a castle, siege tactics, tournaments, fortified towns, building a cathedral are the five major spreads. The pop-ups are well drawn with lots of detail, printed back, front and inside (the determined will find a man sitting on a medieval castle loo hidden discreetly away); the pull flaps are neatly integrated into the information. Altogether a well-engineered job which offers more than just fun for juniors investigating the period.
Who am I ?
Four stories of non-human characters finding an identity.
The Mixed-Up Chameleon
Eric Carle, Hamish Hamilton, 0 241 11389 X, £5.95
A re-issue of this 1975 title with a completely new set of illustrations. The chameleon, wishing to have the characters and qualities of the other animals he sees in the zoo, finds himself bit by bit with an elephant’s head, a fox’s tail, a seal’s flippers, a fish’s fins, a giraffe’s neck, etc. etc. So mixed-up does he become that when a fly comes by and he feels hungry he can’t catch it – until he wishes to be himself again. The cumulative assembly of the mixed-up chameleon is based, says Eric Carle in an end-note, on the way he works with children when he visits schools and he dedicates the book to his `hundreds of co-authors who find making mixed-up animals hilarious’. New readers should find this book equally entertaining.
Amanda Graham, ill. Donna Gynell, Spindlewood, 0 907349 06 4, £4.95
Arthur is the only dog left in the pet shop; he dearly wants a home but other pets are more in demand. So each night he practises behaving like the pet of the moment – rabbits, snakes, fish – indeed anything and everything that is selling. Nothing works; he’s still the only animal left in the shop so he settles for being an ordinary brown dog – which is just what Melanie wants. Wildly over-the-top pictures (not a million miles from What-a-Mess) and a funny text useful for early readers – nicely stylised repetitions, and a well-designed layout with good use of bold type and italics to encourage expression.
The Rambling Rat
Mike Dickinson, Deutsch, 0 233 97764 3, £4.95
Launcelot is an eighteenth-century farmyard rat who wants to be a human being. He takes his first step towards the human race by joining a tinker, who passes him (in an iron) to a tailor, from whom he escapes in the pocket of a coat for a soldier – get the idea? Rhyme-wise children catch on fast. A nice idea, even if the text is a little weak. The pictures are bold, broadly drawn in caricature-like style, but with good period detail which could make it a welcome title in junior classrooms.
Barnabas the Dancing Bear
Hans Baumann, ill. Reinhard Michl, Methuen, 0 416 52030 8, £5.50
An unusual and moving story of a young bear taken from the forest by a man and a little girl, trained to dance through love and finally chained and forced to perform through greed and cruelty until he tears the ring from his nose and escapes. The bear tells the story of his three years’ absence to the other bears when he returns, but his experiences have changed him and they do not know what to make of him or how to accept him. The story means more than it says especially about love, responsibility and cruelty. The pictures – full-colour on each right-hand page, black and white line with the text – are beautifully done and very atmospheric with only the slightest suggestion – as in the story – of humanising the bear.
Aliki, The Bodley Head, 0 370 30836 0, £5.95
The whole range of feelings from happiness to grief, via anger, envy, boredom, fear, embarrassment, guilt, gratitude, excitement, etc. etc. explored and depicted in a most observant and graphically inventive sequence of words and pictures featuring the under-nines at home and school. Like an optimistic Jules Feiffer Aliki’s picture strips illustrate how feelings change, how we show our feelings, how differently people react. Guaranteed to provoke lots of response.
The Very Worst Monster
Pat Hutchins, The Bodley Head, 0 370 30869 7, £5.25
When asked what she thought about having a new baby sister, Pat Hutchins’ young niece replied quite calmly that she would like to give her away. That was the starting-point for The Very Worst Monster, a story of sibling rivalry in a family of comic horrific monsters. No one has eyes or ears for Hazel now that Billy has joined the family and seems all set to grow up into the Worst Monster in the World – not that is until she gives him away. The light-hearted, dead pan text doesn’t waste a word (of course it’s ideal for early reading) and the pictures, done this time in soft watercolours rather than Pat Hutchins’ usual strong unshaded blocks, allow for distancing and empathy. Like Russell Hoban (Frances) and Rosemary Wells (Noisy Nora) Pat Hutchins uses humour to create a space in which powerful feelings of jealousy and guilt can be accommodated.
Worse Than Willy
James Stevenson, Gollancz, 0 575 03588 9, £5.95
Mary Ann and Louie think their new baby brother, Willy, is very boring and can’t understand all the fuss their parents are making of him. Then Grandpa tells them about all the trouble he had with his brother, Wainey, and of course the time that Wainey saved his life. The seven-year-olds I shared this with laughed and nodded in delighted agreement at Grandpa’s horror tales of life with Wainey and relished equally the outrageous story of how he saved Grandpa from `seventeen hideous pirates and a trained octopus’. But then they are all fans to a person of James Stevenson’s witty and inventive brand of cartoon storytelling. They voted this one the best yet.
Helme Heine, Dent, 0 460 06199 2, £4.95
Expressive, humorous water-colour pictures and an economical text explore the idea of the destructive nature of envy and possessiveness. Beaver finds a freshwater pearl mussel; overcome with happiness at the idea of the priceless pearl he will now possess, he falls asleep and dreams a horrible dream of the envy, anger and destruction that will follow when his friends find out. He hurls the shell, unopened, into the lake and swims off to meet his friends. Gently thought-provoking.
Pennies for the Dog
Ann Thwaite, ill. Margery Gill, Deutsch, 0 233 97375 3, £4.95
A realistic setting this time and a very real farming family shopping in the local town in the ironmonger’s. Dog-loving young Cud begs a handful of pennies from Dad to put in the dog-and-kennel shaped collecting box for sick animals. But older sister Jenny says, ‘You’re daft, you are. Put them in your pocket. You can get some sweeties with them later.’ From the market to Marks and Spencers Cud feels less and less happy with himself, more guilty about stealing the pennies from the dog. On the way back to the car he sees an old man with a violin and a sick-looking dog; the pennies go into the old man’s cap and Cud goes home happy. A warm and sensitive story, with recognisable pictures, which should have resonance for many readers.