Some of the latest, reviewed by Steve Rosson
Can you handle more dinosaurs after the excesses of Jurassic Park? Mind you, Terrance Dicks’ creation The Littlest Dinosaur (ill. Bethan Matthews, Hamish Hamilton ‘Gazelle’, 0 241 13382 3, £3.99) poses no threat. He’s a lovable little soul hatched out of an egg that Olly and Elly persuade their mum to buy from the local junk-cum-antique shop. The twins’ big fear, of course, is ‘it’ll go on growing, won’t it? Growing and growing … It’ll get too big for the toy cupboard, too big for the room. It’ll burst out and go stumping around London smashing down houses … Mum will be furious.’ Off to the Dinosaur Exhibition at the Natural History Museum – an escape – a chase -a meeting with a suitably dishevelled Professor – Littlest is identified as an Eichinodon who definitely won’t grow any bigger and is a vegetarian to boot – the children are allowed to take him home. Cue the sequel.
Alexander McCall Smith’s The Muscle Machine (Hamish Hamilton ‘Antelope’, 0 241 13329 7, £4.99) set me to wondering when was the last time I saw a Charles Atlas advert, as this is surely the inspiration for the ad. that Gordon responds to after being bullied at school, even down to ‘People used to kick sand in my face’. Here it’s Walter World who promises a mighty physique through the use of his Muscle Machine (Patent Pending) which illustrator Terry McKenna makes look like a cross between a Bullworker and some reject props from a Dr Who episode. It’s all strangely old-fashioned and predictable but it has a certain charm and Walter World’s message of modesty and gentleness is a worthy one. Charles Atlas may have gone but body-building retains its curious fascination for some – witness the success of Schwarzenegger, the cult of the Gladiators and that woman, whose name escapes me, who appears in the Volkswagen ad. Macho boys may be attracted by the cover – let’s hope they absorb the message.
Sheila Lavelle certainly likes her alliterating ‘Ms’ as Messy Maisy Morris stars in Maisy in the Mud/Maisy’s Masterpiece (Macmillan ‘Flippers’, 0 333 58377 9, £4.99). Perhaps she was a girlhood fan of Mary Mary? Maisy sets out for the Fancy Dress Contest as a Fairy Queen but ends up winning first prize for her scarecrow outfit after a number of mishaps en route. Her entry for the painting competition is left in the garden to dry only to attract the attention of the chickens and the dog. As Maisy tries to rescue it, it gets dropped in the pond. Naturally, the Head declares it a masterpiece of modern art. Nothing new here, but it’s skilfully done and Thelma Lambert’s pictures almost fill every page.
Katie is suitably disgusted by Mum’s babytalk as she looks after sister Gillian’s baby – and even more disgusted at the thought of helping with the nappy change. Still, when a crisis arrives in Mary Hooper’s The Revolting Baby (Blackie ‘Snappers’, 0 216 94030 3, £6.50) Katie is determined to manage, including taking little Emily to the photographer for the ‘full studio sitting and six mounted portraits’. Emily’s adventures with a log from the basket by the fire, golden syrup, shoe polish and tomato soup ensure the title is an apt one. Any reader with a baby in the family will appreciate this one and some of the minor characters are splendidly done with a light, but assured, touch.
Jessy and the Long-short Dress (A & C Black ‘Jets’, 0 7136 3798 6, £5.50) by Rachel Anderson and Shelagh McNicholas is well up to the standard of the previous Jessy titles. Once again the young girl with Downs Syndrome is portrayed with love and understanding as she acts as bridesmaid for her teacher. I was on the verge of saying the pictures played the dominant role till I re-read the book taking more care for the words, which led me to my conclusion that here is another series title in which text and illustration work together perfectly to produce a story that’s a joy to go back to again and again.
Nigel Gray and Cathy Wilcox go for street-cred in Sharon and Darren
(A & C Black ‘Jets’, 07136 3537 1, £5.50).
While Sharon waits outside the corner shop thinking up increasingly outlandish reasons why her date hasn’t arrived, Darren is leaning on the wall round the corner eating the crunchy bar he promised her. They eventually bump into each other and the news of the crunchy bar provokes her to dump him. Throughout the book the minute by minute count from 3.30 to 3.45 works effectively and her imagination really does run wild, but with nose-picking, bums stuck in lavatory seats and unmentionable goings-on under the desk, perhaps this is one for the coarser elements in the class.
‘What’s that up there in the trees? Is it a bird? Is it a chimp? Is it Rita the Rescuer with an urchin cut? No, it’s Rabbit Girl.’ Now it’s the Tarzan/Mowgli tradition that Hilda Offen reworks in Grubble Trouble (A & C Black ‘Jets’, 0 7136 3796 X, £5.50) and our heroine bears a disconcerting resemblance to her character Rita. Anyway, Nigel Goodchild (geddit?) is harassed, abused and generally discomfited by the dreadful Grubble family who indulge in all the sort of anti-social behaviour fit to mention in a story for this age-group. Whilst being chased through the woods he’s rescued by Rabbit Girl who, lost at any early age, has been brought up by a family of rabbits, has all the skills of the animal kingdom and goes about doing generally ‘greeny’ things. The defeat of the Grubbles, their reform and the revelation of Rabbit Girl’s true identity (I’ll give you three guesses) all follow apace.
Puffin’s ‘Ready, Steady, Read!’ series continues strongly. Charlie’s production of a litter of four tiny kittens is certainly a surprise for owner Cyril but presumably not for her in Shoo Rayner’s Cyril’s Cat and the Big Surprise (0 14 036142 1, £3.50). The star of this particular batch, though, was Hedgehogs Don’t Eat Hamburgers (0 14 036409 9, £3.50) by Vivian French and illustrated by Chris Fisher. Two stories feature Hector and you’d have to go a long way to beat the title story where he sets off in pursuit of the item in question. On his way he collects Hattie and Harry and Hestor, rejects fine fat snails, slow slimey slugs and big black beetles and ignores the constant admonition that ‘hedgehogs don’t eat hamburgers’. An encounter with Fox and a sniff of the town persuade him of the error of his ways. Lots of alliteration and repetition; some sing-along bits; jolly main characters; green issues; big, clear print and super pictures. What more could you want for early readers?