Are you spooking me?

Jan Mark looks at illustrated stories for early readers

Children moving on from picture books may be daunted by the ratio of text to illustration in early readers. The Flying Vampire and The Midnight Ship are picture books in all but name, with spookily atmospheric spreads in luminous colour, including endpapers, and entertaining stories about kids with over-active imaginations scaring themselves silly at bedtime. In spite of their reassuring endings, these are probably best read in daylight hours.

Story and illustration are perfectly integrated in Damian Harvey's A Gift for the King. Very much in the tradition of Pat Hutchins' classic, Rosie's Walk, the 100-word text tells how Tom, the baker's boy, carries a tray of cakes on his head to the king's castle, as a birthday gift. Martin Remphry's lively pictures show Tom trotting along oblivious as the taller townsfolk steal the cakes, leaving only the cherries (fortunately the king loves cherries).

In Cockerel's Big Egg, animals overhear the farmer complaining that his farmyard is overcrowded and something must go. Hens, sheep, cows and cat know that they are too useful. Poor cockerel's one accomplishment, crowing, turns out to be redundant; he is not even needed to produce eggs, as the hens gleefully inform him. The cat comes up with a cunning plan which succeeds: the farmer has only to move his tractor to make more room.

In both books the artwork is rich and informal without being slapdash, and the stories rewarding.

David Orme's The Thirsty Moose is based on a folk tale in which said moose drinks a river dry, impervious to requests from the creatures who live in it. Rapidly distending from page to page, the moose is finally persuaded to desist by a fly who doesn't waste time arguing.

This new series, Zigzags, offers 150-word texts, full-colour spreads and bright, unsubtle fun in both departments.

Kaye Umansky's Sophie stories are about a rabbit and her little furry friends as depicted in Anna Currey's delicate water-colours. Actually they deal with the triumphs and trials of children starting school and learning to socialise, the relief of making a first friend, the misery of losing her when her family moves, the agonies of shyness and the first taste of applause. Intended more for reading aloud than reading alone, they should nevertheless be loved enough for a return visit - with a faint sense of superiority - by hardened old lags in Year 2. These two are reissues; two more follow next month.

Definitely one for sharing is Vivian French's mammoth The Story House, plentifully illustrated by Selina Young. This is literally an annual, featuring a story for every week of the year although it will be a strong-minded adult who can make it last that long, especially as one tale is a serial (each episode ending helpfully with the page number of the next, for those who cannot wait). It begins with a little ghost creeping through the keyhole and demanding that Big Ghost tell him a story. This becomes a linking device as each subsequent tale is prefaced by Little Ghost finding a new means of access: chimney, letter-box and so on.

Some stories feature members of the family in residence, others are self-contained, and through it all wanders the tale of a lost kitten looking for home and Mum and a name of his own; a series of gentle cliffhangers with a very short drop. At the end, an even smaller ghost shows up, wanting a story, so you can go back to the beginning and start all over again.

The Flying Vampire The Midnight Ship By Rose Impey Illustrated by Moira Kemp Mathew Price: Creepies pound;7.99 hbk pound;4.99 pbk

A Gift for the King By Damian Harvey Illustrated by Martin Remphry Franklin Watts: Reading Corner pound;7.99 hbk pound;3.99 pbk

Cockerel's Big Egg By Damian Harvey Illustrated by Francois Hall Franklin Watts: Hopscotch pound;8.99 hbk pound;3.99 pbk

The Thirsty Moose By David Orme Illustrated by Mike Gordon Evans: Zigzags pound;3.99 pbk

Sophie and Abigail Sophie and the Wonderful Picture By Kaye Umansky Mathew Price pound;4.99 each

The Story House By Vivian French Illustrated by Selina Young Orion Children's Books pound;20

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