6 DECEMBER 2003, Page 52

Children's books for Christmas

Juliet Townsend

Last year, while wrestling to wrap a particularly difficult large model helicopter, whose rotor blades kept bursting out through the paper, I made a mental resolution that in future I would give as many people as possible books for Christmas. At least they are easy to wrap and post. In the case of illustrated children's books they are also extremely good value, having remained unchanged in price for the last four or five years. This is particularly true of picture books for young children, now nearly all produced in the Far East. A good example is The Alphabet Room by Sara Pinto (Bloomsbury £9.99). This is a solid, chunky book for twoto four-year-olds, with an opening door on each page revealing another picture of a room which becomes fuller and fuller as a new object is added for each letter of the alphabet. It reminds me of the Carrying Race at my daughter's prep-school sports, a relay in which each runner had to collect an extra object, till the last one staggered to the finish under a

mass of chairs, umbrellas, netballs and other easy-to-drop articles. Sara Pinto's pictures are delightful and her lettering clear and easy to read. There are some excellent story books this year for threeto six-year olds. The Sheep Fairy by Ruth Louise Symes, illustrated by David Sim (The Chicken House, £10.99), is the colourful and cheerful story of Wendy Wool Coat the sheep, who rescues a fairy from a bramble bush and is rewarded with a pair of wings. I'll Show You, Blue Kangaroo (Andersen Press, £9.99) is the latest in the popular series of stories by Emma Chichester Clark about naughty Lily and her long-suffering toy. The picture of poor Blue Kangaroo, abandoned in the garden at night, gloomily regarding the stuffing coming out of his torn tail is particularly poignant. If you prefer a story in verse for bedtime reading, Bill in a China Shop (Bloomsbury, £9.99) has amusing illustrations by Tim Raglin and good rumpty-tump couplets by Katie McAllaster Weaver.

Frightened by the jarring sound Of china crashing to the ground He stumbled towards some fiRurines And smashed them into smithereens

In Hot Hot Hot by Neal Layton (Hodder, £9.99) Oscar and Arabella, the woolly mammoths, have to contend with the rigours of an Ice Age heatwave. Children will enjoy the lively illustrations and will be amused by the eventual solution to this extremely hairy problem.

Slightly older children will enjoy Jeanette Winterson's first venture into children's fiction. The King of Capri, illustrated by Jane Ray (Bloomsbury, £10.99), is a morality tale about the rich, greedy king of slovenly personal habits whose clothes were 'covered in ice cream and treacle and egg sandwich and orange juice and bits of banana'. When a great gale blew all his possessions, including his clothes, across the bay of Naples into the backyard of the poor but cheerful washerwoman, Mrs Jewel, the King was left destitute. All ends well of course. He repents of his selfish ways and marries Mrs Jewel, probably realising that a washerwoman was exactly what he had needed all along. Children of this age will also enjoy Winnie's New Computer, in the popular Winnie the Witch series by Korky Paul and Valerie Thomas (OUP, £10.99). All of us who distrust our computer and keep our email addresses in scruffy exercise books will sympathise with Winnie, who, dazzled by the new technology, rashly jettisons her wand and book of spells, with the fatal hope, 'One click will do the trick.' Two of the best novels for eight-to 12-year-olds are sequels to books reviewed here in previous years. Michael Molloy's The Wild West Witches, illustrated by David Wyatt (The Chicken House, £10.99), continues the exciting adventures of Spike and Abby, first told in The Witch Trade and The Time Witches, both now available in paperback, but suitable to be read independently. The reviews quoted on the jacket use words like 'rollicking', 'galloping and 'rip-roaring', which give some impression of these fast-moving, action-packed adventures of the conflict between the evil Night Witches, led by the grim Wolfbane, and the Light Witches and their allies, including old friends such as Sir Chadwick Street, Captain Starlight and the mighty albatross, Benbow. Michael Molloy has a nice humorous touch which adds to the fun.

The blend of humour and exciting action is also the great attraction of Georgia Byng's second Molly Moon book, Molly Moon Stops the World (Macmillan, £12.99). Arch-hypnotist Molly, with her friend Rocky and Petula the pug, returns to America to thwart the plans of the sinister millionaire Primo Cell, whose powers seem even greater than her own, and who is intent on using them to become President and then to dominate the world. He will stop at nothing, and Molly finds