25 NOVEMBER 1955, Page 34


Children from Five to Ten

ONE of the best of the new picture books for such children is a new sort of adventure story, Harriet and Her Harmonium. It is the discreetly fantasticated tale of a little English girl in the 1850s who, aspiring to a stage career, crosses the American continent to join her fiddler father. As she goes by stage coach, horseback or paddle steamer, she learns folk songs such as 'Jessie Jones' and 'The Blue-tailed Fly' from the people she meets. Miss Pearl Binder has added big pictures, as gay and bold as the songs. This is for children with a grown-up who can play accompaniments, for the music is important and Mr. Lomax an authority. If the child meets an unfamiliar version of a known song, grown-ups may find them- selves having to explain that this is inevitable. There never can be a 'one true version' of a ballad because many people sang them and everybody liked to sing them their own way. The date, alas, precludes inclusion of 'The Great American Railway.'

All Sorts of Days, Minikin and Her Friends and Blaze of Broad- furrow Farm are three pleasant everyday stories for five- or six- year-olds—Blaze is about a horse and mostly pictures.

Peter and His Friend Toby (under an unpleasing dust-jacket) is of the same sort translated from the German and with better illustrations.

Come Shopping has a homely charm. Those who seek to amuse a mixed bunch of children know the use of such.amiable bed-time sedatives.

The Wild Little House is more imaginative and better illustrated. A small house on legs finds to its delight that it can use them and, while its inhabitants are asleep, goes gallivanting out of its genteel road but, in the light of experience, decides to displace itself only during the summer holidays. A really well-illustrated book is by Mr. Norman Mommens, who has followed his previous charming Fifolus (a mountain lion-cub who has adventures with helpful Red Indians) with another suoh story whose hero, Dib-Dib, is a duck. This is a most agreeable, amusing and satisfying picture-book.

The News Chronicle I-Spy Annual is a most agreeable miscel- lany for the observant and really does (secretly) convey a great deal of information.

I am not sure about The Bull that was Terrifico, which concerns bull-fighting. True this particular bull-fight has a happy ending, but English children are apt to disapprove of this amusement and the 'good' characters do not disapprove. We learn later that it is only too possible for 'good' people to do things which we think mean, but this is not a fact to which six-year-olds take kindly. In traditional stories 'good' and 'bad' are not mixed up in the awkward way of the real world and it is doubtful if—at this age— this is not one of their great advantages. However, it is a good story and introduces the child to other Spanish ways of life.

Neither of the two cut-out books is beautiful or distinguished; indeed Yuletide Cottage will shock the architecturally-minded. Playing at Home is less reprehensible and children do like cutting out and sticking in.

For the first time space travel for tiny tots has come my way. Ethelbert Goes to the Moon does not take it very much more seriously than did Uncle Lubinn of an earlier generation, but Space Cat does. Older readers may remember Mr. Ruthven Todd as a writer of short tales with an odd and very adult twist. Here he writes almost realistically for children of a rocket pilot who, setting off from the USA, takes his kitten (complete with specially made space-suit) to the moon. The journey is ingeniously contrived; indeed it seems in many ways more natural than usual that material difficulties should be so easily overcome, for the whole adventure is seen from the point of view of the cat, to whom, after all, 'conventional' flight is not much less odd. The story shows amus- ingly what might be the behaviour of the cat's milk during space- flight.

Lastly, two books written with real conviction. In the Beginning (for nine- or ten-year-olds) will also interest older children. . . . It tells the story of the probable origins of the earth from the points of view of contemporary science and of the Bible. Now an intelligent child who 'does' scripture and has also picked up more modern ideas can suffer a dangerous moral and intellectual rebuff on finding that the grown-ups seem to indulge in the 'double- think' of believing both. This can lead to a mental giving-up or, worse, to cynicism about all that we might transmit. Mr. Pilkington begins with contemporary scientific explanations (including the gaps) and goes on to say that the pre-scientific exposition in the Book of Genesis is in fact a poetic (and thus condensed) account which is far more satisfactory than are most traditional and poetic answers to certain inevitable questions. Format and illustrations are above average. I wish the Independent Press had made the cover more attractive. It looks what it is, sincere, serious, almost a sermon, but it could, without loss, have looked more like a Christmas present.

Erich Kastner—the celebrated author of Emil and the Detectives —deals in a big picture-book—The Animals' Conference—with the great 'current affairs' issues of peace and war and does it in an exasperated, fantastic and lighthearted way which will delight six-year-olds. The more exotic and exciting animals decide that grown-up humans are not (as they say they are) really trying to make the world safe for the children, animal and human, and they decide to act. They hold an opposition conference and hit upon a series of ingenious and fantastic devices by which they not only successfully force the hands of the assembled big-wigs but make them look thoroughly silly. Perhaps the pictures are not quite up to the text and seem to strain after effect as the text does not. However, they are lively and full of colour. The moral and its fun are so good that it is to be hoped that many children will get every