GIMMICKS & POP-UPs

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The Independent Culture
OF the many bits of expensive nonsense produced at this time of the year to entice starry-eyed new parents, a special mention might go to Paul Stickland's Bouncy Boxes (Ragged Bears pounds 8.99). They are for the very young (although, idiotically, they carry that warning which says "not suitable for children under 36 months"). But, more intriguingly, a larger warning reads OPEN VERY CAREFULLY!, and this is no exaggeration - as soon as the box is opened, six bright cardboard blocks (ABC, 123, etc) spring into shape and leap out at you. There's a small board book included, for learning or chewing purposes; then all you have to do is work out how to put them away again.

The simplest ideas are sometimes the best: Shoo Rayner's Hey Diddle Diddle (Dutton pounds 8.99) - the classic nursery rhymes in Lift-the-flap version - is pleasingly obvious. Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall; the 24 blackbirds fly out of the pie; the little piggies going to market are really quite funny; all's right with the world. For tots.

Fangtastic stuff from Mona the vampire, who goes public with her Little Vampire's Diary (Orchard Books pounds 8.99). In fact, this is really a recruitment drive for the Little Vampire Club, crammed full of inventive 3-D goodies (wolf dribble, used plasters, dead bugs) and activities (Vampire Vision X-ray specs, a Slugs-and-Centipedes board game, Mona's secret code) that will appeal to any confirmed tomboy aged 6 plus. But the wisdom of having our heroine fall in love is questionable; tough girls like Mona just don't kiss boys, however admirably beastly.

More power to Korky Paul's scalpel! He's come up with another triumph of cardboard engineering in the all-action stop-motion Dinner With Fox (by Stephen Wyllie, Tango Books pounds 8.99). Thin Red Fox looks glumly into his barren pantry and wonders where he'll find his next square meal. Naturally, the craftiness endemic in story-book foxes provides his answer: Thin Red Fox invites it to dinner. With detachable letters rendered in the most tongue-in-cheek manner ("I couldn't possibly enjoy it without the pleasure of your company... hugs and kisses, Plump Red Fox") Dinner With Fox combines a wealth of dynamic visual detail and should please all ages, though its comically laconic prose style is guaranteed to make grown-ups snicker.

Given the durability of the Egypt craze among slightly older children, Iain Smith's pop-up whodunnit, The Eye of the Pharaoh (Orchard pounds 12.99), is bound to suggest itself for a stocking near you. It has a full mystery to be solved, with clues and batty details in each flap, turn, cardboard construction and pull-out file. Ace girl reporter Anne Hackette leads the way into the pyramid of Kha-Putt; Ali-Bi breaks open the doors - but why is Harry Ford bound and wriggling inside a mummy case? The last flap reveals ... the answer.

Still in the Valley of the Kings, Ian Dicks and David Hawcock have produced Unwrap the Mummy (Tango pounds 9.99), a "Magnificent, Metre-high, Pop-up Mummy to Explore!" A very nasty idea, really, made little better by the cartoon treatment of the internal organs lurking under the various flaps. Never has the might and dignity of a great civilisation been made to seem so daft.

Sophisticated and straight-faced working pop-ups form 3-D models and contribute to the educational atmosphere of Action Robots (Tango pounds 11.99) by Tim Reeve and Gavin MacLeod. You get only a very few pages for your money, so there must be cheaper and more comprehensive routes to the information contained here, but it might fire the budding technological imagination and prove a good present for those over-9s who are in a mood to seem very grown-up this year.

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