The fun bunch

ALBERTINE By Anna Currey Hodder Pounds 4.99


By Colin McNaughton Andersen Pounds 8.99

GOLDFISH HIDE-AND-SEEK By Satoshi Kitamura Andersen Pounds 8.99


By Annalena McAfee Illustrated by Anthony Lewis Julia MacRae Pounds 9. 99

PAPA, PLEASE GET THE MOON FOR ME By Eric Carle Hamish Hamilton Pounds 12.99

LITTLE CLOUD By Eric Carle Hamish Hamilton Pounds 10.99

Jane Doonan finds something to smile about in her round-up of new picture books

Humour is one of the staples of picture books and in this recent clutch it comes in many different guises - ironic, slapstick, surreal, toy-shaped,and reflective. The honest, concerned humour of Anna Currey's Albertine is dependent upon everything being taken seriously. If you have ever wondered why the dinosaur never took to building houses, O Best Beloved, then listen.

Albertine wanted something special for her eggs, and she had architectural vision and skills with banana leaves, giant horsetail and tree-fern fronds. But on the point of occupancy, something awful happens. A giant diplodocus comes lumbering by and mistakes her house for a free breakfast. Albertine's friends rally round, rebuild, and then the repentant diplodocus returns to apologise. The highly ironic outcome is so discouraging that dinosaurs carry on laying their eggs in the sand just as they have always done. The world of these animals, who are polite in word and kind in intention, is drawn in sensitive varying line, applied in light and warmed in earthy hues.

Colin McNaughton is a master of comic picture book animation, exploiting the many possibilities afforded in counterpoint between words and pictures.Goal!, the fourth adventure of Preston Pig, is in the top league. Describing Preston, sent off by his mum to the supermarket, the narrator's voice begins to take on the tone of a sports commentator, as the young pig imagines himself scoring goals on an international pitch with the fans going wild.

Simultaneously, the characters have their say in speech bubbles. What the pictures show is Preston kicking his football around and leaving a trail of chaos, for which hungry Mr Wolf, hot in pursuit of his next meal, gets the blame. Robust forms, lively line, cheerful saturated colour and cartoon conventions carry the match.

There are at least two games going on, as well, in Goldfish Hide-and-Seek by Satoshi Kitamura: one in a fishbowl, and the other punning with words and images. Heidi hides, and her narrator friend searches for her, in depths which are packed with busy creatures. Two turtles playing chess "haven't checked her, mate"; Miss Frog, sculptor, has been too busy chiselling to notice and Mr Octopus, painter, sees nothing but his art - every tentacle in action. Going outside the bowl, an encounter with a cat converts Goldfish to the merits of dancing. Kitamura's quirky graphic elegance patterns his wondrously surreal ideas: sculptural shapes with their close contour lines, subtle colour and distinctive rhythms achieved through composition and layout.

Surrealism is part of the narrative structure in Why do stars come out at night? The title is the first of a series of questions which a little girl asks her grandfather. He always replies with poetic free association, for he knows what makes a child laugh. Her questions reveal not only a curiosity about the natural world, but her worries about her own - adults who quarrel, a baby who cries, why children go to school. The scale of the pictures mirrors each character's viewpoint: her simple direct focus is held in close-ups within small frames, while long-distance full-page or double-page illustrations show the reach of the old man's imaginative responses. Seasons pass, we watch activities change, the questions make a circular voyage, and the title question, posed on the front board, is answered on the back. Lewis draws fluently, is bold with the watercolour effects, selective with detail, and there is something about the vigour of the child which is reminiscent of Edward Ardizzone's Little Tim.

Eric Carle, always original in approach and aesthetically satisfying, turns to the moon and rain cycles, illustrated in collages of tissue paper,paints and crayons. The humour is literally built into Papa, please get the moon for me, a "hands-on learning" picture book with flaps and concertina to extend the pages to celestial dimensions. Little Cloud encourages a reflective smile. Carle evokes the human power of projection which enables us to look up and see a cloud that's dragonish, by creating a little cloud which looks down and changes its shape in response to what it sees: a sheep, a shark, trees, and so on, until it drifts to a cloud mass and falls as rain.

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