For the youngest you’ll go a long way to beat Shirley Hughes’ new series for Walker Books.
When We Went to the Park, 0 7445 0301 9, £1.95
is a counting book (to ten). It is also a story of a walk to the park with Grandpa, a marvellously crowded and event-filled reflection of suburban/small town living. Everything works, even the endpapers. Bathwater’s Hot (0 7445 030 0, £1.95) and Noisy (0 7445 0302 7, £1.95) deal in similar fashion with opposites and sounds.
Another artist who can surprise and delight with her originality is Jan Ormerod.
In The Story of Chicken Licken, Walker Books, 0 7445 0351 5, £5.95 she tells the traditional story in speech bubbles as a cast of children act out their version for an audience of families and friends. As the story unfolds on the brightly lit stage, more stories are happening in the silhouetted audience. Lots to engage the attention of young readers (and their parents).
For a more classic approach to traditional tales.
The Helen Oxenbury Nursery Story Book, Heinemann, 0 434 95602 3, £6.95
A collection of ten of the most popular childhood tales retold in a conversational storyteller’s voice, just right for the age range. The illustrations – vignettes, half-page, full-page and double-spread – move surely between the reassuring and the deliciously frightening in a mix of soft yet strong tones. The whole is beautifully designed with 4,
Lazy Jack, Tony Ross, Andersen, 0 86264 107 1, £4.95
For once there’s no suggestion of disputing the publisher’s blurb – ‘Tony Ross is a master of the comic updated folk tale.’ This time the updating is not so much in the illustration, which is sort-of eighteenth-century, as in the language. In any version this ‘simpleton’ tale is funny but the increasingly enraged invective of Jack’s desperate mother had the juniors I shared this with rocking with laughter and squealing in delighted anticipation of the next outburst. ‘Twit,’ she cries; ‘Gormless beetle brain,’ she screeches; ‘Nitwitted pinhead,’ she shouts, as he proceeds calmly through the story following her advice exactly but in quite the wrong situation. The pictures, in which Jack is depicted as a resigned and hopeful tryer who never takes his hands from his pockets if he can help it, are Tony Ross at his deadpan best.
Folk Tales defy age ranges and cross cultures. We’ve chosen several – individual versions and collections.
Legends of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, Eric and Tessa Hadley, Cambridge University Press, 0 521 26311 5, £5.95
In this their second collection of tales the Hadleys have brought together stories about the life-giving elements from five continents.
Their versions are short and accessible but shaped always with respect for the voice of the original teller. There is joy, wonder, fear, warnings and regrets – all the traditional wisdom in fact of the cultures from which the stories came. A well-judged, thought-provoking introduction and some sensitively executed illustrations make this a particularly good volume for junior classes.
The Magic Grove, Libuse and Josef Palecek, Neugebauer Press, 0 907234 72 0, £5.95
A retelling of a traditional Persian tale which celebrates the virtues of love, friendship and unselfishness. The book is beautifully designed and the illustrations, while retaining a grave formality of design, are richly and sumptuously coloured.
Stories to Solve, George Shannon, ill. Peter Sis, Julia MacRae, 0 86203 235 0, £5.25
Not a colour in sight but that’s no reason to pass over this very well designed collection of stories each of which sets the reader a problem or puzzle to solve. Peter Sis’s black and white illustrations add to the pleasure of getting involved with these traditional international mysteries.
Wild Goose Lake, ill. Tord Nygren, Methuen, 0 416 54660 9, £5.95
This tale from south-west China has a strong and resourceful girl at the centre. It recounts how, with the help of the Dragon King’s third daughter, Jade releases the jealously guarded waters of Wild Goose Lake so that her village can become fertile and prosper again. Magically beautiful pictures.
Maid of the Wood, Fiona French, Oxford, 0 19 279798 0, £5.95
Another tale which means more than it says. Four men create a woman from a piece of wood: the woodcarver makes the shape, the tailor dresses it, the jeweller adorns it, the holy man breathes life into it. As she rejoices at being alive the men start to argue over who owns her; she thanks them for creating her and goes on her way ‘to see what the world is like’. Meanwhile the wolves still lurk in the corners of Fiona French’s strong and atmospheric pictures.
Brock and the Dragon, Robin Klein, pictures by Rodney McRae, Hodder & Stoughton, 0 340 35490 9, £6.95
Another challenge to male and female stereotypes in a gently comic story. Brock, the king’s third son, is very half-hearted about assuming his knight’s heritage. ‘I hate wearing armour. It’s beastly hot inside and the view’s limited.’ But forth he is forced to go to slay dragons and rescue maidens. Lady Evadne is ‘this year’s sacrifice to the local dragon’ but she’s got no intention of being ‘a meek little sacrifice like Lady Arabella last year and all the girls before her’. Exactly how they get together and what happens to the dragon (himself a bit reluctant) makes a very entertaining tale.
Harriet and William and the Terrible Creature, Valerie Carey, ill. Lynne Cherry, Andersen, 0 86264 119 5, £5.95
Harriet is another intrepid female – a squirrel – with a taste for adventure and space travel. Her twin brother prefers to stay at home and cultivate his garden. Meanwhile out in space Harriet discovers the TERRIBLE CREATURE chewing up rocks and spitting them out and weeping because he’s destroyed all the flowers and trees. William’s ecological soul is touched at the story and he returns with Harriet to help make the planet bloom again. A pleasantly moral tale with luscious pictures in which the squirrels appear in scale amidst tomatoes, sweet william, tulips and… monsters.
Two Monsters, David McKee, Andersen, 0 86264 122 5, £4.95
The latest of David McKee’s fables for our time. Two monsters (one red, one blue), who live on either side of the mountain and never meet, find they disagree. From hurling verbal abuse they move to hurling rocks and verbal abuse and bigger rocks. As they stand face to face on a flattened landscape they suddenly find they agree after all. ‘Pity about the mountain.’ The message is unashamed and inescapable; the artist/author’s line and language as funny and inventive as ever.
Once There Was a Tree, Natalia Romanova, pictures by Gennady Spirin, Andersen, 0 86264 111 X, £4.95
Also unashamedly didactic is this beautiful information/story book, which was originally published in Russia. The stump of a fallen tree is colonised by a variety of different creatures, including man. Each thinks the stump belongs exclusively to him. `The man thought he owned the forest – and the earth – so why not the tree stump?’ But who really owns the tree stump?, asks the book. And provides the answer. Beautifully detailed and accurate paintings illustrate the text.
For new and developing readers
Who needs Ladybird or Ginn 360 when Ahlberg and McNaughton’s Red Nose Readers are to hand from Walker Books?
Bear’s Birthday, 0 7445 0255 1,
Make a Face, 0 7445 0252 7, £1.95 each
are just two of the first batch which should leave us shouting for more. Controlled vocabulary? Picture to text correspondence?: Repetitive text? Predictable story line? Narrative shape? It’s all here – along with abundant verbal and visual inventiveness and imagination. Lots of fun for all involved.
There Was an Old Woman, Stephen Wyllie and Maureen Roffey, Methuen, 0 416 53200 4, £5.95′ –
A new approach to flap books to involve and support the developing reader. The story of the old woman in the little white house is full of repeated words and phrases which consistently appear on the outside of little flaps. Under the flap is a picture to illustrate the word(s) above. The clever part is that the pictures change to fit the particular meaning of the context – so we see the `old woman’, the `marmalade cat’, the `green shed’ etc. as appropriate to the meaning of the story at that point. An ingenious way to involve readers with books and to illustrate what happens when we read.
Just to show we’re not afraid of stereotypes (or realism?) here’s one for the girls.
Opening Night, Rachel Isadora, Angus & Robertson, 0 207 15150 4, £4.95
A ballet story par excellence to delight any aspiring dancer. Large soft focus pictures accompany a simple text which tells the story of Heather’s first professional appearance. Lots of backstage detail. Very romantic but immensely satisfying for the right reader.
Robert the Great, 0 7445 0355 8
Robert and the Red Balloon, 0 7445 0356 6 Philippe Dupasquier, Walker, £3.95 each
The first two titles to feature Robert who deserves to become an established favourite with his own series. He’s the stereotypical (archetypal?) boy with a stupendously messy bedroom. In the first of these two books Robert embarks on a determined and spectacular rebellion against being addressed as `little’, but Dupasquier has a neat turnaround in store for the reader. In Red Balloon Robert is bored but his balloon takes him on an imaginative journey and brings him a friend. Tidy storylines and short manageable texts with helpful speech bubbles, but the chief pleasure is in the detailed, crowded pictures where there always seems to be more to find and enjoy.
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, Cape, 0 224 02999 1, £5.95,
Dahl at his inventive best again and Blake responding in similar vein. A long text but the extra large page size leaves the pictures room to make their contribution even within the standard 32-page format. Young Billy tells the story of the Ladderless Window Cleaning Company monkey, giraffe and pelican – and how he, and they, meet the Duke of Hampshire – the richest man in England. Several adventures later Billy ends up with his heart’s desire – his very own sweet shop, stocked of course from the great Wonka factory.
A real treasure house is
The Kingfisher Book of Children’s Poetry, selected by Michael Rosen, Kingfisher, 0 86272 155 5, £5.95
An interesting mixture – put in your thumb and you’ll likely come up with a plum and it probably won’t be an over familiar old favourite either. Mike Rosen has ranged over time and space for this collection which in the manner of The Rattle Bag he has organised alphabetically by author with only Ballads, Limericks, Riddles, Nonsense and Boasts separated out by form at the end. One quibble – what a pity the full colour plates are located away from the poems they illustrate.
and another for fun
The Great Games Book, A & C Black, 0 7136 2741 7, £5.95
Fourteen board games devised and illustrated by well-known illustrators. Play (or read!) ‘ the Amazing J Slingsby Grebe Gold Medal for Utter Brilliance Game by Quentin Blake and. John Yeoman, or Bumbledon, Tony Ross’s clever variation on Wimbledon. Enjoy Ludo in the formal elegance of a great garden as designed by Angela Barrett, or pick your way through Satoshi Kitamura’s maze to find Cheese! Lots of fun and a delightful way to become acquainted with some of our major illustrators.