Punk rockers, pigs and some nigglesome nits
Sally Williams on books for the under-fives
Saturday 29 March 1997
When their mother bakes an apple pie "Big Boy Henry" and "Little Boy Benjamin" sneak two enormous slices into the woods to use as giant bait. With the trap set, the fun begins. Crammed with high-energy illustrations (the double-page spreads of the giant's grizzly head and mountainous belly are especially wonderful) this book explodes with zing and colour. The text is simple and rhythmic and great to read aloud. Even the most reluctant readers will be captivated.
My Very First Oxford Atlas, editorial advisor: Patrick Wiegand (Oxford University Press, pounds 4.99)
My Very First Oxford Atlas is pitched at four- to seven-year-olds. It begins with Earth, gradually moves in to focus on continents, countries, cities, mountain ranges, rivers, and finally pinpoints that well-known geographical wonder ... Chessington World of Adventures (highlighted in the "places to visit" map). Children will find an explanation of words such as "map", "environment", "continent" and, says the blurb, "all the place names they need to know in their first years at school". Parents, meanwhile, can pretend they've always known the exact position of Belarus and which countries are members of the European Union.
Hiding by Tudor Humphries (Ragged Bears, pounds 8.99)
Ruby is in hiding. She threw her supper on the kitchen floor and her mother is furious. With imaginative use of cut-outs and large moody illustrations, we see Ruby behind the sofa, in the cupboard, under the table and under the duvet. A glossy picture book which dares to hint at a less than perfect world.
A Pet Please, Mama! by Shen Roddie, illustrated by Frances Cony (Tango Books, pounds 9.99)
Little Chick wants a pet. Mother Hen agrees as long as Little Chick looks after it. But after the goldfish gets tummy ache from being fed cheese sticks and ice cream, the caterpillar turns into a butterfly and the spider prefers flies to buns, Little Chick decides he already has the ideal pet - his toy rabbit. Children will enjoy the humorous pull-outs and pop-ups; pet-shy parents, the message.
Chicken Licken: a wickedly funny flap book by Jonathan Allen (Doubleday/Picture Corgi, pounds 4.99)
Chicken Licken, Turkey Lurkey, Goosey Lucy, Foxy Loxy et al, are given the flip-the-flap treatment in this reworking of the well-thumbed tale of the chick who thinks the sky is falling down. The "wickedly funny" subtitle is unfortunate. It isn't. But the illustrations are characterful the chatty asides amusing and, the animals' names, as ever, wonderfully silly.
Rosie Plants a Radish, by Kate Petty, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Macmillan, pounds 4.99)
Aspiring junior gardeners will enjoy this "flip-the-flap nature book with real seeds". Rosie is a rabbit who loves radishes; Ladybird and Worm are her gardening experts; the flaps provide a roots-eye-view of the growing vegetable, while the seeds (inside the plastic pot on the front-cover) can be planted or forever lost under the sofa, depending on who gets to them first.
Do Pigs have Stripes? by Melanie Walsh (Mammoth, pounds 4.99)
Does a bird have a big black wet nose? Does a fish have a long tongue? Turn the page and find out. The flat, naive picture style has been done before and better - by Lucy Cousins, creator of Maisy Mouse, for example. But the format is imaginative. An interesting variation on the guess-the- animal-theme.
Prince Peter and the Teddy Bear by David McKee (Andersen Press, pounds 8.99) Prince Peter's cold and snooty parents (aka "Sir" and "Madam") want to give him a birthday present. A throne for his room or a nice new coach for processions, perhaps? But Prince Peter just wants a teddy bear. The King and Queen eventually give in and Prince Peter gets his teddy - made of solid gold. That night, the disappointed Prince is woken by the cries of the unhappy bear. "I want to be cuddled," sniffs the bear, "everybody needs a cuddle." After a night of heavy-duty hugging, the bear softens, Peter gets to call his parents Mum and Dad, and the King and Queen get in touch with their feelings. With characteristically powerful illustrations, wit and attention to detail, McKee delivers another winner.
Dinosaur Roar! by Henrietta Strickland, illustrated by Paul Strickland (Ragged Bears, pounds 4.99) Lumpy dinosaurs, grumpy dinosaurs, fierce dinosaurs and meek dinosaurs all feature in this hardboard book of rhyming opposites. Large, cheery illustrations and uncluttered text will catch the eye of even the very young.
The Cat that Scratched by Jonathan Long, illustrated by Korky Paul (Red Fox, pounds 4.50)
A cat is bothered by a flea in her fur. She "scratches and scratches" but still the "nigglesome nit" won't go. She tries to hoover it out, comb it out (helped by Trendy Tessa a friendly hairdresser), and wash it out - in a car wash - but the "mischievous mite" won't budge. The cartoon- style illustrations are pure Tom and Jerry. You can almost hear "Splat!" as the cat is spat out of an exploding Hoover and onto the ceiling. The words are inventive and witty and flow with confident ease. But the real triumph of this book is the number of alternatives for the word flea.
You Can Swim, Jim by Kaye Umansky, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain (Bodley Head, pounds 8.99)
It's all here: mottled legs, chlorinated eyes, underwater handstands, slimy lilos, lost trunks (in the flume), and terrified Jim, shivering on the edge of the pool. Suddenly, splash! He's fallen in, but with the help of armbands and the rallying encouragement of the text, ("You can swim, Jim! You can swim! I told you so") Jim swims. This will help children look forward to those Saturday morning leisure centre trips. Parents, on the other hand, will probably dread them even more.
Grandfather and I, by Helen E Buckley, illustrated by Jan Ormerod
(Puffin, pounds 4.99)
Mothers hurry. They walk in a hurry, talk in a hurry. And they want you to hurry. Fathers hurry, they hurry off to work and they hurry when they take you in the car for a ride. Grandfathers, however, always have time to stop and look. The gentle atmospheric story in this and sister publication, Grandmother and I ("The floor is fine to sit on and so is a chair, but there's nothing quite like a lap, especially if it belongs to Grandmother") will appeal to involved grandparents (and their overworked children).
The Spotty Pig by Dick King-Smith (Gollancz, pounds 8.99) Creator of Babe, the film-star pig, Dick King-Smith is back in the sty with this story of Peter the spotty piglet. Like Babe, Peter has an ambition: to be spotless. He tries bleaching them off in the sun, rolling them off in the autumn leaves, freezing them off in the snow and washing them off in the rain. But instread of getting smaller, the splotches get bigger. As Peter grows, so do the spots. King-Smith can't have an sad pig, so enter Penny, a spotty sow. A respectable courtship and 13 spotty piglets later, Peter realises that the spots aren't so bad after all.
`At the end of spring, he asked Joe, "Now have my spots gone?" "Listen sonny," said the cat. "You are now a very large pig, and you are covered in very large spots." "Oh no," shouted Peter. "Snuffle my snout and tweak my trotters!"'
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