BOOKS FOR CHILDREN; ANIMAL CRACKERS

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FOUR books that deal with the perennial problem of coming to terms with a new baby in the family and the dispossession and jealousy which follows are Sophie and the New Baby by Laurence Anholt, illus Catherine Anholt, Orchard pounds 8.99; Something Special by Nicola Moon, illus Alex Ayliffe, Orchard pounds 8.99; Little Monster Did It by Helen Cooper, Doubleday pounds 8.99; Pandora by William Mayne, illus Dietlind Blech, Cape pounds 9.99. Sophie is perhaps the most natural little girl; she is clearly furious at the lack of attention and makes no secret of it. Charlie (in Something Special) and Amy (Little Monster) are similarly driven to seek attention by behaving badly, but Pandora, the black cat, goes off into the forest and has two kittens of her own. The styles vary wildly between the measured prose and meticulous, detailed paintings of Pandora (for those aged seven and up) to the bright poster colours and ethnic diversity of Something Special (for four-year-olds), with Little Monster and Sophie somewhere between the two.

2 If I Had a Dog by Bernice Lum, Bloomsbury pounds 5.99. Stanley the dog has a wide toothy grin and a big black shiny nose: he's smarter than Snoopy, more subtle than Spot. There are four stories in this series, which combines straightforward, simple text printed on pretty coloured paper, with scenes of Stanley performing various skills - roller skating, using a knife and fork, and so on. 2+

2 Like Butter On Pancakes by Jonathan London, illus G Brian Karas, Viking pounds 9.99. A gem from the moment when "Beyond the rim/ of morning/ the sun ticks/ the birds talk/ and the spoons sleep nestled/ in the kitchen drawers." How sickening it must be for poets to see the vacuous drivel that is often passed off as verse for children. This is an exception. Yellow tones predominate, from pale banana to brilliant orange as the sun rises, moves through the day and sets, when "the moon spills milk". 2-6

2 In The Rain With Baby Duck by Amy Hest, illus Jill Barton, Walker pounds 8.99. Cosy bedtime story as Grandpa finds a way to help Baby enjoy rainy days - and reveals a secret about Mrs Duck's past and a pair of gumboots. Large, clear type and simple language show a far-off world of certainties and comfort, pancakes and cuddly grandparents. 3+

2 Piper by Emma Chichester Clark, Cape pounds 8.99. Sinister Mr Jones, all flowing black coat and wide black hat, is Piper the dog's new master. Off they go to a rackety house on the hill and Piper is put to work, "taking care" of the rabbits in the vegetable patch. But Piper's ideas and Mr Jones's are at odds: Piper "took very good care of the rabbits all day and by evening he had taught them to jump over him". Oops. Greys, greens and blacks predominate, but a happy ending, glowing with soft pinks, awaits. 3+

2 Over On The Farm by Christopher Gunson, Doubleday pounds 8.99. This "counting picture-book rhyme" lists the various animals and their young, from the cat with her one kitten to the sow with her 10 piglets. The rhythm is bouncy: "Over in the forest/ on an oak leaf floor/ lived a shy mother fox/ and her little foxes four./ "Rustle," said the mother/ "We rustle," said the four./ So they rustled and they rolled/ on the oak leaf floor." 3+

2 Solo by Paul Geraghty, Hutchinson, pounds 8.99. Freezing wastes greet Floe when she clambers on to the Antarctic shore to meet her mate, Fin; a few weeks after their reunion, she lays the egg from which Solo hatches. Fascinating snippets of information about the personal life of the penguin are given in this assured and smoothly executed introduction to a cold, inhospitable but entrancing world. 3+

2 Out To Lunch by Priscilla Lamont, Kingfisher pounds 7.99. Good old-fashioned virtues on display as Mrs Burdle, who was "never on time", invites Mr Howgego, who was "never late for anything", for lunch at 12 o'clock sharp. The two dogs, dressed in Victorian togs, finally end up having tea together at four. Pretty incidental details are picked out - Mrs Burdle's china, Mr Howgego's Barking Times newspaper - and there is a maze to negotiate on the endpapers. 3+

2 Jack Tractor by Willy Smax, illus Keren Ludlow, Orion pounds 10.99. Excellent value in this jolly, rather Fifties-style collection of five stories "from Smallbills Garage". Brightly coloured illustrations of the vehicles (Carmen Gear, Roland Royce, Frances Ford Popular as well as the workaday Benny the Breakdown Truck and of course Jack) weave in and out of the text following their antics. Good for reading aloud. 4+

2 How To Live Forever by Colin Thompson, Julia MacRae pounds 9.99. Intricate dreamscapes cover the large pages, creatures scurry about the shelves of an enormous library, and families live in the books, their houses tall and narrow. Peter Robinson and family live n "Quinces", in the cookery section; Peter sets off to find the famous lost tome "How To Live Forever". And he does, but the outcome is not what he expects. The book titles will amuse adults - "Much Ado About Knitting", "The Gloves Of Navarone", "Wuthering Tights" - and there's enough detail to enchant fours and up, although eights or nines will probably enjoy followng Peter's journey.

2 The Ghost Pirate by Julianna Bethlen, illus Brian Lee, Tango pounds 10.99. Move over Pugwash and the Black Pig. Captain Knot and the Sea Urchin are taking over the high seas with "nine scary holograms". These blue-green visions seem to come alive in artificial light. Good for hunkering down with on wintry afternoons, this tale follows Edgar's battle to defeat the Ghost Pirate; there's enough detail to repay repeated visits to the Spanish Main. 4-7

2 The Snow Lambs by Debi Gliori, Deutsch pounds 9.99. Boss the sheepdog goes missing one stormy night. Sam can't sleep, worrying about her out in the snow. Scenes of the warm golden interiors contrast with the icy greys and whites as Bess bravely leads one of her charges to safety - and a happy ending. Good for beginning readers; maps inside the front and back covers help to set the scene. 4-6

2 Sleep Well, Little Bear by Quint Buchholz, Barefoot Books pounds 8.99. Dreamy summer nights so skilfully evoked that you can almost smell the warm, dusty air. Cool design gives this elegant and poignant story book lasting appeal. The little bear can't sleep, so he climbs up to look out of the window at the moonlit world and remembers the day that's passed and longs for tomorrow. Floating across the skies is a red balloon with a letter attached to its tail - a motif cleverly carried through to the last page, where an envelope contains a secret. The contemplative tone and furry illustrations make this an ideal bedtime read. 4+

2 The Fox's Hiccups by Mick Butterworth, Collins pounds 4.99. Another adventure for Percy on his way home after a hard day in the park. For any child not familiar with Butterworth's series about the perfect park-keeper, a treat is in store. For those who are already addicted, it's more of the same, and none the worse for that. 5+

2 The Man in the Moon and the Hot-Air Balloon by David Delamare, Dragon's World pounds 8.95. Well, Walter de la Mare he ain't, but his glorious pictures (left) make up for it. Rich reds, golds and browns seep from the pages as Winston Smith (a sheep) plans his trip to discover why the moonlight has gone missing. Scenes of the flight (with Sebastian, a lion), the passing stars, the landing on the recalcitrant moon and the success of the journey are funny, vivid and so sharp that the hot-air balloon could almost float off the page. Each page of type has a tiny star-framed detail with a zodiac symbol (a key would have been nice). 5+

2 The Owl and The Pussy-Cat by Edward Lear, illus Ian Beck, Doubleday pounds 8.99. There is no fancy modern trickery here, but full rein is given to Beck's sparkling use of colour. The spread for the "year and a day" on the boat with vignettes of each month (in February they huddle together under icicles, in June they play badminton using the jars of honey as their net) is particularly appealing. 4-7

2 Too Many Teddies by Gus Clarke, Andersen pounds 7.99. The story begins with Frank's realisation that his collection of teddies is so overwhelming that "if he got any more, by the time he'd said goodnight to them all it could be time to get up". So he gives his doting adults a teddy each "to look after". The sensible boy manages the cull successfully, but then Uncle Jim turns up with a dog. Gus Clarke has a keen eye for beaming, scheming children and a jaunty style. An easy size for beginning readers: 5+

2 Pig Trouble by Barbara Mossmann, illus Werner Farber, Hamish Hamilton pounds 9.99, lives up to its irresistible title. A fat porker falls off the back of a lorry near the wood where Wild Pig and his friends live: " 'It's a fairy!' whispered Squirrel. 'More like a human,' suggested Stag. 'Nonsense,' said Fox. 'It's only a pig.' 'What do you mean, only?' snapped Wild Pig crossly." This describes emotions with which children can seldom cope rationally: fear, jealousy, loss of face. A light-hearted encouragement to generosity. 6+

2 Night Of The Gargoyles by Eve Bunting, illus David Wiesner, David Bennett Books pounds 9.99. For those with an interest in all things Gothic and ghoulish. The creepy stone creatures leave their perches at night and gather to gossip and spook the unwary, all in grainy black and white, looking rather like lost things from a Murnau film. Well, some people enjoy being terrified, in small doses. 7-9

2 Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed, Little Brown pounds 11.99. A sparkling, sparky story for those beginning to think that perhaps Santa Claus isn't all that he's cracked up to be. The illustrations blow your socks off and the story is twisty enough to keep the pages turning: "Ancient toys in disrepair littered the steps like ghosts from a baby's bad dream. We clambered past an old sign nailed into the rock: 'Visitors not received with zesty jolliness at the moment.' " It is magical; the sour-faced boy and Aunt Vy's ugly little dog Amelia learn about the real spirit of Christmas - and on the last page there is a photograph to show that it was all true. 7-10

2 Arthur and Excalibur by Angelika Lukesch, illus Iassen Ghiuseler, Macdonald pounds 8.99. Do children have an Arthurian phase to follow the dinosaur one? If they do, this misty, softly lit picture book is for them. A pale green light seems to hover over the pages as Arthur plucks the sword from the stone and rides to his doom. A note for cautious parents: Lancelot does not appear in this version. 9+

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