Fantasies for younger children
Mr Noah and the Second Flood Sheila Burnford, illustrated by Michael Foreman (Gollancz £1.00) Head in the Clouds Ivan Southall, illustrated by Richard Kennedy (Angus and Robertson E1.25) Egg Thoughts Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lilian Hoban (Faber £1.10)
"All the worries in the world begin with 'P ' this year," said Mr. Noah of 1973. . . . " Population, pollution, pesticides, protests,
Politics, precipitation, permissiveness, plastics, Procrastination . . . the picture is pessimistic indeed."
Mr. and Mrs Noah, descendants of the Biblical originals, live an ivory tower existence on a high mountain, to which heights only the occasional Farmer's Weekly or Sunday Trumpeter rise. In one of these Noah reads that pollution has heated the atmosphere so much that the Polar ice-caps are melting, and he predicts the second Flood. He starts to build an Ark. Over the next few years tine water begins to rise. Some bedraggled animals reach the Ark, but not all — too many species are already extinct. Noah abandons his sons and daughters-in law in disgust at what his own species have done to the world — for floating on the water, now lapping against his mountain top. is every imaginable kind of plastic refuse covered in thick dark oil, and frothing chemical waste.
The remnants of the human species try for a place on the Moon (Mars is the .alternative, but not for the elite). The Ark moves off into a hopeless sea of Waste, and, as darkness falls, the Moon rises and goes " sailing across the sky, for all the world like another Ark."
So ends this p-pertinent and Provocative tale — a sbarply cautionary story, worrying yet witty, which is handled with great skill and economy of language. It is an important book for all ages as the blurb very fairly claims. Michael Foreman's fine-drawn, black and White illustrations, soggy with pollution and despair, are outstanding — no less concerned than the writing, and no less witty.
Wit and humour of a different kind are essential ingredients in Ivan Southall's unusual story for seven to ten year olds, Heads In The Clouds. Ray Plumtree, a loner, has the head in question. Following a car accident, he is recuperating in a wheelchair on his balcony overlooking Banksia Street. There he creates seemingly far-fetched fantasies about the other children in the street, but none of his magic incantations seem to work — Jerry Donovan remains the boy hero and mother's darling and doesn't fall flat on his nose — Wriggling Rupert who got stuck down a cannon in the Botanical Gardens, Typhoon Trudy, girl footballer, Horrible Edward, Myrtle Middlemist and Snobby Mary Rose don't turn into elephants or tadpoles. But finally Ray finds a magic spell written in the margin of a library book that ,helps him turn the world upside-down — or so he thinks.
Ivan Southall has a quite remarkable imaginative energy and recall. His fantasies (or are they facts?) feel and read like the fantasies of a nine-year-old boy. It doesn't always come off though, and fact and fiction are at times so interwoven as to confuse all but the most perceptive and intelligent reader. The illustrations are as indefinite as the line between fact and fantasy, and at times the comic degenerates into the grotesque.
Russell Hoban also has the rare ability to enter the child's world and speak to us from it with admirable simplicity and
humility. Egg Thoughts are a series of poems for very young children about the things that are most important in their small (otherwise dangerously large) regulated world — hard (and soft) boiled eggs, being ill in the winter, homework, string, chocolate. These are the intimate attractive poems, written with warmth, and they are immediately appealing. This however is a book about children's thoughts and feelings, and the intrusion of Frances the little badger, heroine of another series, seems out of place and uncomfortable. The pictures are as charming as ever, but they do not suit this particular book.