12 APRIL 1975, Page 18

For the young

Denise Robins

The Peppermint Pig Nina Bawden (Gollancz, £2.20) A Little Princess Frances Hodgson Burnett (Frederick Warne £1.95) Felicia The Critic Ellen Cornford (Hamish Hamilton £2.00)

Ginger Mick Joan Tate (Heinemann £1.60) The Peppermint Pig is a book I thoroughly recommend to all children. It is well written and with some lovely vivid descriptions of a Victorian family and Victorian life in London. The humour is enchanting. The author is obviously sensitive to the mind and reactions of children. Added to this, the characters, including grown-ups, are real people.

It is a book which will give as much pleasure to the parents as to the children. If they read it aloud they'll be rewarded by shouts of laughter. I feel sure that small people will not only adore the Pig, who behaves like a pet dog, but that `Pepermint Pig' will top their next list 'for Christmas presents.

It is much more difficult to judge at what age young people would enjoy A Little Princess, which has just been reissued. So many today would not understand the mental outlook of a seven-year old Victorian. There is not really much link between Sara and the modern youngster who seems to be grown-up before he or she reaches the age of five.

I, myself, like this story of little Sara Crewe. She is the spoiled daughter of rich parents, so is provided with lace and velvet dresses, fur coats and gorgeous bonnets, and all the pocket money she desires. After her mother's death she is sent to what the author calls 'A Select Seminary For Young Ladies'. Her father adores her and even sends her to school with her own maid to wait on her and a pony to ride. But he has to go away on business and her first real sorrow lies in that parting. Sara equally adores her Papa.

Such a character as Sara might be thought unlovable. But she is in fact an engaging child, extremely generous and kind to those who have less than herself. Sensitive and affectionate, she might well appeal to young readers who have the same nature. Halfway through the book, Sara loses her father, and there is no more money, so she faces the misery of existing on charity. One feels the deep sense of loss that the child suffers, but she faces it all with courage and a good humour that endears her to all the other children in the school who really didn't like her when they thought she was rich and spoilt, and prefer her now she has to work like a slave 'downstairs' under orders from the grim headmistress who toadied to her when the child was rich.

There is a particular charm about Sara's friendship with Becky, the little scullery maid, which proves that even then the end to class distinction was already on the way. One feels the warmth of the love and affection that runs through this book — especially as the 'goodies' win over the 'baddies'. It would be nice if some of our present-day youngsters were to read this small epic by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It might encourage them to be neither so selfish nor so cynical.

There is a great deal that is selfish about the little heroine of Felicia, The Critic. There is much in this book that could amuse children from about nine to twelve, but because of the fact that it is so American and full of American slang, it .could be hard for them to understand. However, the focus is on the fact that little Felicia has decided that she is a critic, and there is nothing she doesn't pull to pieces, from the announcements made by the weather reporter, on her radio, to the President of America. In fact on the final page she considers she might have helped him run the country a little better than he does!

The book is well-written and at times presents quite a vivid picture of how children behave in an all-American family. But Felicia's continual criticisms become a little boring. She even stops to hand out suggestions to a traffic cop and causes a multiple traffic jam; which is funny, but not very realistic. I think a genuine, frustrated cop would have got rid of her instead of just "yelling" as the author indicated. I can't quite see English mothers being very pleased if their youngsters read all this and then decide to emulate Felicia's incredible behaviour. Taking the story as a whole I would say that any amusement one might get out of Felicia's escapades is ruined by the irritation she causes. I wished there were something she would like and somebody she might have thought more clever than herself.

There is a great trend toward modern life and modern situations in recent children's books, although Ginger Mich is a more interesting and lovable character than young Felicia. This is his story, an 18-year-old Irish boy who lives with an Irish family in Liverpool.

He gets into a lot of trouble starting with school life, and his fiery Irish temper urges him on to constant fighting. Because he has a good head for maths and understands engines, he finally gets a job in a Car Works in Coventry. Then he lodges with a Mrs Dodds, an Irish woman who is a tough character, but Mick likes being with her better than his own Mum. Trouble comes when Ginger meets Tess, an attractive Irish girl, who appears to be "more classy" than Mick and to come from a better home. Mick then decides to tell a lot of lies about his own home. This leads him into trouble once Tess finds him out, but in turn he finds her out. She is no better than Mick.

The story is interestingly written, and quite amusing. Suitable in my opinion for youngsters between the ages of eleven and fifteen. It's modern and those who like and understand the Irish will enjoy it. Certainly the moral is 'tell the truth and shame the devil'.

Denise Robins, the romantic novelist, has recently had her autobiography, Stranger than Fiction, issued in paperback