It might look like a book, but tug at the little green ribbon and the covers unfold on a remarkable sight: a spacious country house surrounded by stone arches, elegant chestnut trees, a mill race, lawns and shrubbery. Peer in through the windows and you can see a bowl of apples on the kitchen table; remember to duck when you dart beneath the washing line; feel free to open the greenhouse door and poke the tulips with your fingertips. Also in this series: The Doll's House . . .
The Orchard Book of Funny Poems, Ed. Wendy Cope, Ill. Amanda Vesey, pounds 9.99
A great collection of chirpy verse, this anthology will perform two essential services at once: delight children and depress their parents. Some of them are so short that even Dad will be able to remember them. Michael Rosen writes:
Thirty Days hath September
And the rest I can't remember.
It's very much a collection for today, for the child in a hurry. How else to explain the poem 'A Quick Way of Counting to 100':
skip a few
A pity there wasn't room for more than one poem by Brian Patten, but you can't have everything.
Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff, Ill. Alan Lee, Frances Lincoln, pounds 12.99
Rosemary Sutcliff's version of the Iliad is a classic twice over. Completed shortly before her death, it is a smooth and composed version of the heroic original. She is not the first person to have noticed what a great story this is, and it might be that her version is too gentle to work as an introduction to Homer. But she slides from great event to great event with fine composure, so the death of Achilles is every bit as grand and troubling as it always is. Alan Lee's paintings somehow manage to be both immediate and mythological.
Cat Song by Andrew Matthews and Allan Curless, Hutchinson, pounds 8.99
A ridiculously charming story about how cats began. God woke up one morning singing cats, found he'd made an awful lot of them and then had to go and palm them off on the farmer and the fisherman: 'Cats,' he says laconically. 'New- sung this morning.' Once he's got rid of them all, the house looks terribly bare and he has to make himself a nice big tabby for company. Next up, some new-sung cows . . .
Sanji and the Baker by Robin Tzannes and Korky Paul, OUP, pounds 6.99
The rather crowded pictures don't detract for a minute from the elegant, convincing point of this fable. Sanji loves standing on his balcony in a sensual Arab city, sniffing the gorgeous scents that come up from the baker beneath him. But the baker takes umbrage: 'You're stealing my smells]' he says, and takes him to court. But there the judge exacts a perfect payment, tit for tat, and Sanji walks away free.
Story of the Year, Scholastic Books, pounds 4.99
The winner and nine runners-up of the Independent / Scholastic Books competition for the children's story of the year. A range of wonderfully funny and often moving tales, in which kingfishers, knickers and fat princesses have starring roles, with some superbly real heroes and heroines. An ideal Christmas present for the six to nine age group.