27 NOVEMBER 1959, Page 34

Christmas Eve on the Mountain

The Christmas Rocket. By Anne Molloy and Artur Nlarokvia, (Constable, 12s. 6d.)

THE art of writing for small children is difficult and exacting; you can't fudge a picture-book for a 6-year-old; clarity and poetic truthfulness are at a premium and perfunctoriness, of tech- nique or of feeling, shows up. Take The Christmas Rocket, a delightful story about a little Italian boy who comes down the mountain on Christmas Eve with his father, a potter, to sell his wares and earn enough money to buy himself a rocket and a candle to take part in the Celebration. The story is movingly authentic in its evoca- tive setting of mountain and sea coast, the illustrations incisive and good and the whole thing is done with the utmost care.

Titus in Trouble gives us more of Mr. Ardiz- zone's gentle, nostalgic Regency world; the figures encountered by his Oliver Twist-like hero as he tries vainly to earn money to get to sea—the orange-woman, the shopkeeper, the wealthy gent —are comfortably familiar, and so are the streets he trudges; there are usually tall ships at the end of Mr. Ardizzone's streets, as there are at the end of his stories.

The Bears and the Spiders has bears hibernating

in a spiders' cave and the spiders trussing them up during the long winter; but there is nothing bearish about the bears; and children know spiders' webs aren't white and that the little cocooned bears waking up in spring wouldn't look as if they were wearing curly sheepskin coats. Crictor, on the other hand, behaves like the friendly boa-constrictor he is, getting measured by his old lady protectress for a winter woolly and tying himself into all sorts of useful knots for her young pupils. Just the present for children who like wearing snakes round their necks at the Zoo. (A surprising number do.) To end with, a really oustanding novel for older children. Minty, the only girl in a large family, is the first to find Franz, a Hungarian refugee, hiding in the garden of their new home in Suffolk. One by one they come across the scared child, left in a hostel with his mother away in hospital; they all react differently, and these differences and the way they get together in the end to help Franz are subtly handled so as to bring out the essence of a secure and happy family life.