Books for Children: Picture Books: Chromatic challenges

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The Independent Culture
Peekaboo] by Mathew Price and Jean Claverie, Blackie pounds 3.99. Imaginative pop-up book for the very young in tones of soft orange. Small (fits into one hand) and easy to manipulate as the surprises are operated by turning the pages. What's that lump under the bedclothes? It's Mummy - bright-eyed and glamorous in a spaghetti-strap silk nightie . . . well, apart from this flight of fancy, a smart little book.

Shy Roland by Marilyn Talbot, Andersen pounds 6.99. Fondant colours and gorgeous fabrics abound in this somewhat bizarre tale of a hippo who conquers his social embarrassment by becoming a shopaholic. For little girls (up to 7) who like dressing up - and for parents to whom the rustle of a designer carrier bag spells excitement.

Cuddly Dudley by Jez Alborough, Walker pounds 7.99. Even popular penguins need some time alone and Dudley is in great demand. A sort of strip cartoon for 5-7s, this relies on Alborough's ability to balance fear and loneliness with herd instinct and friendship. And let's suspend disbelief at an Eskimo among the penguins . . .

Phil and Fred by Francisco Pittau and Bernadette Gervais, Hamish Hamilton pounds 8.99. Phil wants to be a tightrope walker and, after practice on his bedstead, sets off along the washing line, on to telegraph wires, through the town. He is joined by Fred, a stray cat, and as night falls they wander across oceans, get sprayed by spouting whales, and finally thread their way home to Phil's bedroom. Nice use of crayon on heavily textured paper, and a pleasingly circular

narrative, good for bed-times with pre-readers.

Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes, Viking pounds 8.99. Julius is a baby mouse; his older sister, Lilly, when faced with parental orders to tell him a nice story, comes up with: 'Once upon a time there was a baby. His name was Julius. Julius was really a germ . . . If he was a number he would be zero. If he was a food he would be a raisin. Zero is nothing. A raisin tastes like dirt. The End.' It's a must for older sisters.

Along Came Toto by Anni Axworthy, Walker pounds 7.99. Another entry in the 'how to cope with a new sibling' stakes, this time for the very young. Toto, a marmalade kitten, and Percy, a black and white dog, gradually make peace. Lively, earthy-toned watercolours.

Jackdaw by Ann and Reg Cartwright, Hutchinson pounds 8.99. You either like the stark formality of these illustrations or you don't. The text has a curiously restrained tone about its themes of ecological awareness, honesty and loneliness, as a solitary boy takes a jackdaw's egg to hatch, knowing this to be wrong but desperately needing the chance to give care and attention to something. Sad, but true. Useful for reading to under-5s, or for solo reading up to 7 or so.

The Bible Beasties by Babette Cole and Ron van der Meer, HarperCollins pounds 7.99. Ingenious pop-up introduction, for any age, to the animals of the Old Testament. Big G, who opens the show, has a beatifically dotty demeanour. Fine paper engineering but rather feeble verses ('The Pharaoahs once offended God, / And had nothing left to eat / When he send (sic) his Beasty Locusts down / That hopped and munched and squeaked') let down Babette Cole's gloriously wacky drawings - my favourite being Elijah as a bug-eyed Yasser Arafat gobbling pickled onions and pink fairy cakes.

A Scary Story by Peter Bailey, Deutsch pounds 7.99. Proof that a simple, strong narrative and a bit of spooky business are winners with pre-schoolers. Tina and Tom, intrepid ghost-hunting cats, set off for Grim Grange with a torch and some cat- food sandwiches. The ghost duly appears ('Haunt, haunt') and the scaredy cats run home. Pen and ink illustration with soft colour washes.

The Big Pets by Lane Smith, Viking pounds 8.99. Dreamy landscapes, in which huge, soft, furry cats and tiny children take off in night-time adventures - felines and their charges to the Milk Pool and Scratching Forest, dogs to the Bone Gardens and snakes to the Grassy Plain. This might appeal to precociously artistic 5-year- olds, but it has little to recommend it apart from the strangely compelling pictures.

Tidy Up, Trevor by Rob Lewis, Bodley Head pounds 7.99. Friendly vocabulary (Trevor 'flumps down') and a common situation will make this appeal across the age range. Trevor the tortoise (or is he a turtle?) is bored and his mother, tart with impatience, orders him to clear out his toy cupboard while the rest of the family take a trip down the river. Chaos ensues and the suspense builds as Trevor wrecks the home with his rediscovered treasures . . . Worth the cover price for a single page - 'The river curved under deep green leaves' - a magical piece of illustration.

The Day It Rained Colours by Roy Etherton and Julie Pack, Lion pounds 6.99. Here is a curiosity that humorous 5-8s will appreciate: 'Once upon a time and far, far away there was a land called Greyland, where everything was grey . . . They were happy enough in Greyland, in a grey sort of way.' Until three non-chromatically-challenged children, in a psychedelic hot-air balloon, turn up and the grey people decide they want a bit of colour in their lives, too. The transformation is finally achieved by asking for help from 'The Maker' (a sort of non-denominational God- type, one supposes). Those multi-coloured daisies and that loopy, droopy rabbit hanging about at the edge of things - something made me turn to check the date of first publication: I was not surprised to read 1976. Far out.

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