Pat Triggs makes a personal choice from this season’s hardbacks
Sometimes only the hardback will do. Paperbacks – thank heavens – are cheap and a plastic jacket prolongs book life. But sometimes the shape and size of a book, the quality of its paper, the proportions of its design, the feel in the hand are such that the best experience of it resides in the hardback original. And then of course some books will be a long time (if ever) coming in paperback. Can we afford to wait for the cheaper edition? What are we losing by saving? Oh, yes. Sometimes it has to be the hardback. Hardbacks like these which I found while reading my way through most of this autumn’s publishing.
Bert Kitchen, Lutterworth, 0 7188 26817, £6.95
We have the late Patrick Hardy to thank for Bert Kitchen’s entry into picture books. And there is no doubt that his two earlier books, Animal Alphabet and Mythical Creatures, were very beautiful. Somehow though they fell into the category of ‘collectable classics’, the sort of books that are bought as much for adults as for children. Animal Numbers, equally beautifully designed and with equally stunning pictures, has that extra quality that invites children and involves them in the page. It is of course a counting book; each number is illustrated by an animal mother and her babies. A swan echoing the shape of a figure two is followed by two cygnets; a green woodpecker drills her way through the downward stroke of the four while the open beaks of her four babies thrust demandingly out of the top of the nest enclosed within its shape: a lizard, her young on her hack, drapes her tail sinuously round a five. The shapes of the figures are ingeniously used to provide perches or hold water and beyond the conventional ten we have 15 pigs, 25 garter snakes, 50 sea horses, 75 turtles and 100 frogs (in various stages of development). In each case, the exact number of young are there to be counted and some notes at the back give extra information. The paintings with their elegant black numbers are set in generous white space – a truly aesthetic experience to offer children.
Another counting book
1, 2, 3 to the Zoo
Eric Carle, Hamish Hamilton, 0 241 12360 7, £6.95
is a new edition with new artwork of a book which has become a classic since it was first published in 1969. It was Eric Carle’s first picture book (the second was The Very Hungry Caterpillar!) and it shows how well he understands the way children learn and discover. Each double spread shows a railway truck carrying a number of animals (one to ten) while across the bottom of the page a steam train grows longer as small scale replicas of each picture are added at the turn of the page. In the final triple page fold-out the zoo is full and the train is empty. Lots of opportunities for mathematical development, and a little mouse on each page to add to the fun.
The latest book by another brilliant exponent of collage is also about a mouse.
Nicolas, Where Have You Been?
Leo Lionni, Andersen, 0 86264 172 1, £6.95
is a moral fable which, like Lionni’s other tales, makes its point gently and with humour. Nicolas the field mouse learns by experience that ‘one bad bird doesn’t make a flock’ and returns to tell the other mice. The deceptively simple collage shapes which children love because they are so clear are infinitely expressive and subtle – look at Nicolas as he is carried off by the bad bird, as he plunges through the air and lands in another bird’s nest; feel the hate and anger in the shapes of the other mice as they think of making war on the birds. Not to be missed.
The birds and animals in William Mayne’s ‘Animal Library’ from Walker Books live closer to reality, sometimes in a harsher coexistence. This is a series which has been out some time so it’s not strictly this season; but I’ve been looking for a chance to recommend it. Better late than never.
Come, Come to My Corner
ill. Kenneth Lilly, 0 7445 0534 8
ill. Peter Visscher, 0 7445 0536 4 Walker, £5.95 each
are two of the first titles in a series in which a short Mayne text is illustrated by different artists, each with a style well matched to the story. The animals here (like Beatrix Potter’s) are given human speech but remain true to their animal natures. Corbie is the story of an albino crow; in Come, Come, Puss the hare has a life fraught with dangers including being hunted by foxes. The stories are rich with meanings which the excellent full-colour illustrations help to convey, and Mayne’s distinctive voice is well worth the trouble of tuning in to.
Birds and humankind live in harmony in another moral tale, this time set in China.
The Fisherman and the Cormorants
Gerald Rose, Bodley Head, 0 370 31060 8, £5.95
is about having and needing and sharing. The fisherman’s family has rice and vegetables; the cormorant’s chicks have nothing. When he allows the cormorant to take the only fish he has caught the fisherman little thinks that his kindness will be repaid. On a visit to China Gerald Rose saw the fishermen on the River Li who still use the cormorants to fish with; here in an easy, flowing, simple text and lively pictures he suggests the origin of their working relationship.
In The King Bird
Story by A H Benjamin, pictures by Tony Ross, Andersen, 0 86264 173 X, £5.95
birds are the cause of disharmony between king and queen: the king loves them (they fly free everywhere); the queen has had enough. A blow by blow account of the ensuing battle, which is rife with lies, tricks and subterfuge, is revealed in Tony Ross’s wild and exuberant pictures. A good old-fashioned compromise brings a cosy reconciliation.
No such easy answers in
David McKee, Andersen, 0 86264 103 9, £5.95
where the war between the sexes is fought out in the pictures that hang on the walls of a very eighties household. Rupert makes a snowman (“‘You mean snowperson,” said his father.’). Kate makes a snow woman (“‘That’s a good girl,” said her mother.’). And something odd happens. Or perhaps it’s not so odd after all. An original and multi-layered book which will intrigue older readers especially.
In Central Africa they order these things differently – at least in the village of Tos in the Cameroons.
In The Village of Round and Square Houses
Ann Grifalconi, Methuen, 0 416 03062 9, £6.95
a girl who grew up in this real village tells the story that explains why the men live in square houses, the women in round ones. It is an account of a dignified, ordered, gentle society illustrated by rich pastel drawings which range from the starkly dramatic to the warmly affectionate. A book to enjoy and to provoke thought and talk about life styles … and storytelling.
The life style of the Diamond family is drastically altered when the wind blows their house away overnight in
The Animal House
Ivor Cutler, ill. Helen Oxenbury, Heinemann, 0 434 93353 8, £5.95
Helen Oxenbury’s pictures have exactly the right blend of the matter-of-fact and the magical for Ivor Cutler’s story of how zoo keeper Diamond with the help of his boss, head keeper Softwater, solved his family’s accommodation problem. She displays the same qualities here in her pictures of the quietly optimistic and resourceful Diamonds, delighting in their house made of animals, as she did in Meal One – that marvellous romping tale of Helbert and his mum – now happily back in print (Heinemann, 0 434 93350 3, £5.95).
Timmy’s grandmother is less riotous than Helbert’s mum but she has a way with wishes.
The Tooth Ball
Philippa Pearce, ill. Helen Ganly, Deutsch, 0 233 98062 8, £5.95
is about being shy and making friends. Gran starts the tooth ball by wrapping Timmy’s tooth in some gold paper but he goes on adding layers, and then Jim joins in. As it gets bigger, it gets lighter until it floats off with the whole gang of children hanging on in a trail and drops them off in Gran’s garden. A simple but engaging tale beautifully told.
Things can fly as well as people.
In Captain Clancy the Flying Clothesline
Tui Simpson, ill. Clare Bowes, Spindlewood, 0 907349 67 6, £5.50
it’s a rotary clothes dryer that takes to the sky, fully laden with clothes and with a cat on board. The adventures that follow are told in a simple readable text (set in large clear type) and bright colourful pictures which move from long-shot to close-up in interesting perspectives. Clancy’s journey ends satisfyingly among a group of ragged castaways who also happen to have a cat. The short text sustains humour and seriousness – and delightfully remains silent about the cat. Lots of opportunity for retellings via movement, drama, music, as well as inventing more or similar adventures.
Another household item is ingeniously given life in Leanna and the Genie Trap
Hazel Hutchins, pictures by Catharine O’Neill, OUP, 0 19 279859 6, £3.95
which is based on the familiar theme of things that disappear around the house. Leanna is sure that the genie on the blue box is at the bottom of it and sets out to catch him. Her elaborate traps fail to work and then she is trapped by the real culprit (the sofa) and comes to an arrangement with it. It’s a neat idea which balances nicely on the fine line between fantasy and reality – which side to choose depends on the reader.
Original and in similar vein is
Mike Dickenson, Deutsch, 0 233 98053 9, £5.50
which tells of a boy-shaped Smudge who escapes from a painting in an art gallery and tries his luck in other masterpieces – the Bayeux Tapestry, a Greek vase, etc. but he doesn’t really fit (he and the cherubs lark about so much in the Renaissance nativity that they wake the baby – it’s full of jokes like that). Then he discovers that the picture he left has been restored and his place has been filled. Where can he go? The answer, the whole book in fact, could make children look at pictures in quite a new way.
As could The Boy Who Held Back the Sea
Lenny Hort, ill. Thomas Locker, Cape, 0 224 02514 7, £6.50
This is a retelling of the story of the Dutch boy who stopped the hole in the dyke with his hand and saved the town from flooding. It is illustrated throughout with full-page colour plates which deliberately recall the paintings of the Dutch masters of the seventeenth century. They are quite beautiful and repay careful looking in the same way that the story has more to offer than its apparently simple surface.
From art galleries to libraries and one book that everyone involved with books will want NOW.
Sorry, Miss Folio!
Jo Furtado and Frederic Joos, Andersen, 0 86264 176 4, £5.95
is a month by month, excuse by excuse (or story by story) account of why a book hasn’t been returned to the library. As we move from January to Christmas the tales become more extravagant and funnier – and appropriate to the season, as do Miss Folio’s moods and dress. Four small `frames’ on the right-hand page illustrate the story each month, while on the left a full page shows us the `storyteller’, Miss Folio and the library cat, with date stamp and the textual refrain, `Sorry, Miss Folio . . .’. Jolly cartoony pictures with a special in-joke – the book is King Rollo!
Poetry for keeping, returning to and relishing belongs in hardcovers. A new collection for children from Charles Causley is a major event.
Jack the Treacle Eater Macmillan, 0 333 42963 X, £7.50
is his first since Figgie Hobbin in 1970 and coincides with Causley’s 70th birthday this year. Here are all the qualities that make Causley such a special poet for children: the way he uses and extends familiar, traditional rhyme forms, his humour, a voice that never condescends or patronises. There is a strong sense of real places and real people and, running through all the poems (they are arranged in six sections), a powerful sense of time passing, days and seasons turning, the thread that holds generations. The collection is beautifully illustrated, in colour and black and white, by Charles Keeping; it’s a lovely book to look at and handle as well as read.
Keeping fans will also want to look out for
The Tale of Sir Gawain
Neil Philip, Lutterworth, 0 7188 2670 1, £6.95
in which his powerful black and white illustrations are an excellent match for Neil Philip’s reworking into one narrative of all the Gawain stories. It’s a remarkable achievement; Philip weaves the material from disparate sources into a practically seamless web in which the Arthurian legend is a continuous thread. The teller is the dying Gawain, a device that gives the events an extra resonance and ensures a tight and circular continuity. For older readers who know little or nothing of this essential story, this is the way in.
Retellings are much in evidence this season.
Kevin Crossley-Holland’s British Folk Tales Orchard Books, 185213 021 0, £12.95
contains his new versions of 55 stories of all kinds. Scholar and storyteller combine to make this a magical mix; there’s something here for reading aloud to all ages from infant to secondary.