For the youngest
The Baby’s Catalogue
Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Kestrel. 0 7226 5777 3, £4.95
A peep into the lives of five families and their babies. Marvellously rich and varied with a host of things and situations for the youngest to greet with delighted recognition. A book which guarantees hours of warm sharing and talking.
Novelty still rules
Pop-ups abound again this Christmas, and there are even paper sculptures like Faith Jaques’ Little Grey Rabbit’s House (Heinemann) – a delightful extension of reading- which aren’t even books and so don’t count here. I’ve chosen some of the simpler creations.
Peek-a-Book – Nursery Rhymes
Eric Hill, Piccolo, 0 330 26876 7. £2.95
In the tradition of Where’s Spot?: a question on one page in bold black type (‘Hickory, dickory, dock, what ran up the clock`”): the answer and all the rhyme under a flap on the other. Bold bright colours and good ideas in this and the companion titles – Animals (0 330 26882 1), Opposites (0 330 26878 3) and Who does what? (0 330 26880 5).
Home Sweet Home
Maureen Roffey, Bodley Head, 0 370 30481 0, £4.50
The same question and answer principle with a nice conversational tone to the text – ‘Does a cat live in a kennel” No. A dog lives in a kennel, of course.’ – and cut-outs of various sizes and shapes to vary the picture that is revealed as the pages turn. Lots to divert the young reader and create in him or her a pleasant feeling of superiority.
Anno’s Counting House
Mitsumasa Anno. Bodley Head, 0 370 30931 6, £4.95
As you might expect from Anno a counting book plus. Cut-out pages again but this time always the same five windows of a house through which we get glimpses of what is going on inside. As the pages turn we find two houses and ten children moving from one to the other. As one house empties the other fills and there are opportunities for endless looking and poring over detail. When the move is complete you simply go from back to front and put everyone back where they started. Richly conceived and immaculately designed.
Inspector Smart Gets the Message
Richard Fowler, Worlds Work, 0 437 40400 5, £3.95
A new departure in novelties gives sevens and eights a chance to be their own detective with the aid of a red spy glass which reveals all manner of secrets when used to investigate the pages. Jolly cartoony drawings, strip frames and bubbles make for easy reading. I hope the spy glass will last the number of ‘readings’ this will encourage.
John S. Goodall, Macmillan, 0 333 33571 6, £3.95
A more traditional pop-up but done with great simplicity and the minimum of mechanics to go wrong. The story of how two little turn-of-the-century girls visit measle-afflicted Lavinia in her cottage is clearly ‘told’ in John Goodall’s lovely nostalgic pictures. Flaps can be opened to reveal what lies inside cupboards, the dolls’ house, sheds. Characters turn to reveal their other side and, unusually with pop-ups, the best effect is kept till last: a fully 3D paper sculpture of the cottage with Lavinia waving goodbye to her departing guests and the interior of the cottage fully illustrated and visible through the windows. A meticulously created delight.
No moving parts in
If at First You Do Not See
Ruth Brown, Andersen Press, 0 86264 021 0, £4.50
But a series of now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t pictures as the caterpillar goes in search of something more exciting and the reader follows the text literally around the edges of the page. With the book upside down the pictures look quite different – an experience in perception to intrigue old and young alike.
Stories for juniors – and all those who appreciate good illustration.
John Yeoman and Quentin Blake. Hamish Hamilton, 0 241 10815 2, £4.50
Yeoman and Blake have done it again: a cumulative, repetitive tale with rhyming song in the best folk tradition. Rumbelow, on his way to visit his grandparents (and a sprightly pair they turn out to be) gathers a motley assortment of fellow travellers who can’t resist joining his dance. Quentin Blake’s line is as carefree and expressive as ever.
Tony Ross, Andersen Press, 0 86264 027 X, £3.95
A moral tale for all those who habitually and deliberately mishear what is said to them. Nigel’s ‘mistakes’ become more and more extravagant starting with Wash the Fishes (for ‘wash the dishes’) and moving to Bust the Bears (for ‘dust the stairs’) until he learns his lesson. Much funny wordplay and pictures which manage to be funny and just a bit frightening at the same time.
Land of Dreams
Michael Foreman, Andersen Press, 0 86264 022 9, £4.50
Michael Foreman seems to be everywhere you look this year – not that that’s any bad thing. Land of Dreams is a visual and verbal evocation of the nature of dreams in which the pictures expand the text literally and imaginatively. We see the old man, the boy and a giant (who moans that he’s been rationalised out of everyone’s dreams) piecing together fragments of unfinished dreams on that snowy mountain top and launching them back into the world. Michael Foreman’s use of colour is such that when, as at the end of this book, warm golden tones break into the cool blues of the previous pages, the effect is unmistakable. Beautiful.
Going up the age range.
King Nimrod’s Tower
Leon Garfield and Michael Bragg, Methuen, 0 416 24410 6, £3.95
A version of the Tower of Babel story. The arrogance and pride of King Nimrod are contrasted with the homely simplicity of a boy and his dog. Everyone gets his just deserts and God has the last word. The workmen look more out of Breughel than Babylon and God owes a fair bit to William Blake – but that’s no bad thing for the pictures work beautifully.
The Church Mice in Action
Graham Oakley, Macmillan, 0 333 33635 6, £3.95
Humphrey and Arthur lead the Church Mice and Sampson the Church Cat in raising money for the church roof. Their plan to ensure that Sampson wins a heap of Best Groomed Cat prizes is not exactly ‘British’ but it does work. The only problem occurs when (unfounded) rumours of their great wealth lead to Sampson being kidnapped and held to ransom.
Humour and quality story-telling in words and pictures are as surely displayed as ever in this eighth ‘Church Mice’ story. Not to be missed.
The Sea People
Jorg Muller and Jorg Steiner, Gollancz, 0 575 03088 7, £5.95
Extra large pages give plenty of room for the beautiful imaginative and fascinatingly detailed pictures which accompany this tale of two islands, one big, one little. It’s another highly moral tale about the consequences of greed, exploitation and the irresponsible use of power. But the ending is hopeful and offers much to talk about in homes and classrooms.
Grannies and uncles who like to `play safe’ with classic books have a good choice this year. Top of the list for me is
The Sleeping Beauty and other favourite fairy tales
Chosen and translated by Angela Carter, ill. Michael Foreman, Gollancz, 0 575 03194 8, £6.95
Another pedigree collection from the Gollancz stables. Angela Carter is an inspired choice for compiler/translator: she manages to achieve simplicity of language without losing the magic or the poetry or where appropriate, the humour. A dozen stories are beautifully complemented by Michael Foreman’s illustrations in colour and black and white. A genuine classic in every way.
Lovers of Kipling can have four of his Just So Stories individually presented, each by a different illustrator, in full colour.
The Butterfly that Stamped ill. Alan Baker, 0 333 34137 6
The Beginning of the Armadilloes ill. Charles Keeping, 0 333 34138 4
The Crab that Played with the Sea ill. Michael Foreman, 0 333 34134 1
The Cat that Walked by Himself ill. William Stobbs, 0 333 34136 8 All from Macmillan, £2.95 each.
My favourite is the Armadilloes which I find is still a favourite read aloud. Keeping’s pictures beautifully depict Painted Jaguar and the slow evolution of armadillo from tortoise and hedgehog.
Much of today’s folklore resides in children’s playgrounds. Hurray for those, like the Opies, who have caught it as it flies. A small but marvellously illustrated collection is
Inky Pinky Ponky
Collected by Mike Rosen and Susanna Steele, ill. Dan Jones, Granada, 0 246 11319 7, £4.95
In the same style as Mother Goose Comes to Cable Street and with the same stunning effect. Bound to be a wow in classrooms even outside the ILEA. Rich, irreverent and full of jokes visual and verbal.
For information I’ve chosen four widely different books.
One Hungry Spider
Jeannie Baker, Deutsch, 0 233 97429 6, £4.95
In one sense a counting book (1-10) but in another a story which tells you a lot of fascinating facts about spiders (more details for adults at the back). Jeannie Baker creates her pictures using string, leaves, pebbles, feathers, etc. and they are clear and unambiguous for young lookers.
The Joy of Birth
Camilla Jessel, Methuen, 0 416 89970 6, £5.95
This is subtitled ‘a book for parents and children’ and of course the family is the ideally appropriate place for sharing and discussing what is here. But I would hope that with parental support this book would find its way into classrooms to be mediated by a sensitive teacher.
Camilla Jessel has recorded with her camera all the stages of pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks of the baby’s life in several different families. The photographs are excellent and the commentary conversational and matter-of-fact. Supplementary diagrams and a glossary fill out the technical information without intruding on what is a very human and beautiful book.
The Luttrell Village
Sheila Sancha, Collins. 0 00 195838 0, £5.95
Drawing on the Luttrell Psalter, a highly illustrated fourteenth-century prayer book which can be seen in the British Library, Sheila Sancha has recreated a year in the life of the medieval village of Gerneham in Lincolnshire owned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell. Full of fascinating detail mostly contained in the pictures (black and white) which miraculously keep the balance between the atmospheric and the informative. The text is lucid and accessible. A model of its kind.
Robert Cumming, Kestrel, 0 7226 5823 0, £5.95
A marvellous companion to Just Look (and if you haven’t got that, don’t delay a moment longer) in which Robert Cumming S opened our eyes to techniques in painting.
Here he helps us to be aware of what paintings are saying or making us feel. To be guided through the more than fifty paintings reproduced here is a genuinely educational experience for older children or their gallery-visiting adult companions.
Pick of the Paperbacks
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Tony Ross, Sparrow, 0 09 929850 3, £1.35
An up-to-date retelling with Goldilocks in jeans and sneakers – but the moral remains the same.
Peace at Last
Jill Murphy, Picturemacs, 0 333 34185 6. £1.50
The expressions on Father Bear’s face as he moves around house and garden trying to get to sleep are a joy. Simple repetitive story line. Good for new readers.
The Night Before Christmas
Tomie de Paola, Oxford, 0 19 272131 3, £1.95
This looks as good in paperback as it did when we put it on our cover a year ago. Rich, glowing colours and patterns in a nicely stylised version of Clement Moore’s famous poem.
John S. Goodall, Picturemacs, 0 333 34182 1, £1.25
Lovely to have two of John Goodall’s wordless stories in paperback (Creepy Castle is also available). He uses the half-page illustration so skilfully to advance the story and the sense of scale – mouse and primroses about the same size – is beautifully maintained. The little shrew’s birthday is certainly adventurous and ends in a jolly and lively party.
You Can’t Catch Me!
Mike Rosen and Quentin Blake. Picture Puffin, 0 14 050.380 3, £1.10
Don’t miss this Signal award winning book of poems for young children. A perfect match of words and pictures.