Books for Children: And coming soon to a screen near you . . .: Deep in the heart of the Forest of Sin . . . A fearsome beast is stirring . . . Is it the Hairy Hornswoggler, the Shiny Snozzwangler, or the vile Vermicious Knid?

THE 40-second commercial shadows a little boy between the dark and menacing stacks of a children's library. But what is John Hurt's spine-chilling voice-over trying to sell: a toy, a game, a chocolate bar? No, anyone familiar with Roald Dahl will recognise that style. The paperback edition of The Minpins is being launched in a first-ever cinema advertisment for a children's book - or any book. The commercial will be shown with every British cinema screening of Walt Disney's The Jungle Book over Easter and the May Bank Holiday. A conservative estimate suggests an audience of 2.3 million, including 17.9 per cent of the UK's 7- to 10-year-olds.

Philippa Milnes-Smith, Puffin's Editorial Director, believes the hefty pounds 60,000 price-tag will be money well spent: 'Up to now, we have aimed our advertising at the book trade and people in education. Reaching children and their parents together means we can lead them into bookshops, where they'll discover lots more good titles.'

Milnes-Smith is adopting a wait and see attitude to further cinema advertising, but insists this expenditure does not cut into Puffin's budget for other writers. And perhaps The Minpins needs a little extra push? Dahl's last work was by no means his best, lapsing into conventionality well before the end. Still, the tracking camera ranges over Dahl classics like Dirty Beasts and The Witches, too, and anything which leads children into that extraordinary imagination can't be bad, just so long as first books by up-and-coming originals aren't trampled down in this new phase of marketing strategy. AF

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