16 DECEMBER 1978, Page 22

Children's books


Mary Kenny

The business of choosing a book for Young children really is a serious one. I havf learned a little by trial and error. 00e'st always astonished by the sorts of things ,,, children like. As in other spheres of e%15tence, one must pursue the law of patud°% For example, almost all children seen 'd like a certain amount of blood and guts; an a certain amount of mental anguish as The two most popular books among the four-year-olds of my acquaintance are /1 Night on the Bare Mountain by M.P. sorgsky (Frederick Warne 1976) and KIT cup Cottage (Medici 1962), both current, in the shops. The first is a most horrible tai.5 about the dark night of the soul — but there, I something fundamental about it that quite lilt religion, is very childish: ritual, emotional satisfaction, rage, ecstasy, power, Kingl Cottage is about a little frog who invites le her friends to tea — and no one conies: traumatisme de refus in a nutshell. But paradoxically (of course) childrens also like the banal, the prosaic little static about life on the farm, in the council house and in the semi-detached. The Jacks°, Family series (Evans 1977) are successfogi because of this — they're all about Mum 3,e Dad and Jenny and Steve and S 4, mudge 1-" f dog and life in the slightly smarter end ° Kentish Town. An enormously successful and over; whelmingly banal series of books for Yotgiff. children they all read them — are the ?vitt Men books and the books about if thoroughly vacuous character called Bod' you are stuck and don't know what to give8 three-year-old, you can be fairly sure the will please; and there's no harm in the% It is interesting that there are relattve.:, few books on the children's market that aws. direct spin-offs of television programule-te That is, considering how imbued clut4 young children are by TV (even when tit% don't watch it very much, they still around the house crying `Starsky and .1), utch*, and 'Charlie's An-gels' a great oe're And those books that do come via not very impressive in substance. example, The Muppet Show 80,0 e. (Souvenir f6.50). It is a big,, hands°%b looking annual and it is ambiguous ennt to give to a child of any age, since it is little sketches and dialogues out of Muppet Show; and the illustrations 2711 certainly pleasing. But there just isn't ve',1 much to it. It is not something the ehtld pore over again and again, lost in anotger world. And I haven't really seen any otsh s TV-inspired book which is even half ar pretty as the Muppets. On the whole, vie-„. clear of TV-inspired books for children. television does one thing for a child (external stimuli), while books do something else (internal reflection). And anyway, what a Child simply likes best of all is a rattling good story. The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl (no less — writing books for children is all the rage) with pictures by Quentin Blake (Cape £2.95) is certainly one such. I have consumer-tested it at a reading session and the children liked it very much. It has plenty 0. f horror, blood and guts: it is all about a large nasty crocodile whose consuming desire is to eat little children and has a eathartic effect on the sub-conscious fear of being eaten. JOhn Burningham's Would you Rather . . . (Cape £3.50) is also, I think, excellent; like Dahl's book it is suited to the three to five age range, and is an imaginative and surrealistic series of tableaux about the amazing things that might happen (anxiety). 'Would you rather', it asks, 'an elephant drank your bath water, an eagle stole Your dinner, a pig tried on your clothes or a hippo slept in your bed?' Crocodiles abound in the Burningham book too, as they do in I'll Take Care of the Crocodiles by Stefan Malhlqvist and Tord 14Ygren (Dent £2.95). I am generally rather Wary of children's books of Scandinavian Provenance; they are generally allegories about the exploited proletariat orthe underprivileged Third World. This is a bed-time story about a little boy drifting off to sleep, except that his bed drifts into a erocodile-filled river instead. Well, children certainly like being frightened and it's a Plausibly told tale. (Again age-range three to five.) I find young children responsive both to Po, etry, and to moralising (they love The lOcredible Hulk because he's against 'bad 111,.en'), and A Child's Book of Manners by Helen Oxenbury and Fay Maschler (Cape 42.95) has both ingredients; it also has some amusing pictures. It is very with-it and aP-to-date, (etiquette about travelling in cars, talking on telephones) — but I wonder would some adults be too timid to give it as a present? It might seem a bit pointed. ButI i think a five or six-year-old girl might find t very satisfying. A House is a House For Me °Y Mary Ann HOberman, illustrated by Betty Fraser (Kestral £2.95) is alsoa genuinely educational book which any child would, I think, find enchanting; it is the sort of book that needs a conscientious parent to read with the child for at least the first or second time. I Might mention in passing that there is a suPerb tableaux of The Wind in the Willows oil display in the children's department of Selfridges for Christmas; and it is quite free. .11 the child has been to see it (or even, Indeed, if he has not) he will like The River Bunk (from The Wind in The Willows) by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Adrienne Adams (Methuen £3.75.) It is very nicely 'lone, very traditional and conservative — Just how children like things. This is for about five-year-olds. Plain Lane Christmas by C. Walter Hodges (Dent £2.95), one of the few books to come my way this year with a specifically Christmassy feeling is also for five to six-year-olds. It also has a contemporary theme: it is all about redevelopment and inner city decay and the Plain Lane Action Group and carries the seed of something that I can see is about to become very big with children — nostalgia • for other days. (Well, I suppose Olden Days always have been popular.) When Steak Was a Shilling a Pound, by Margaret Chapman (Jupiter £6.95) is an example of this: a passionately fond look at life in English cities in the Old Days. When are the Old Days now? Why, before the welfare state. Mind you, you'd have to be rich enough to afford nostalgia to purchase a child's book at £6.95 — but the illustrations really are special and it is the sort of thing that could sell like hot cakes— just like John S. Goodall's series on Edwardian life at Christmas and during the summer did.