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Jungle rhyme and rhythm

Elaine Williams relishes picture stories with verse text.

Some words are more slapstick than others: inherently funny and irresistible to developing readers. Put them together in rhyme, give them some bright and breezy illustrations and the result will hook children effortlessly into books.

The words which provide the frame for Jez Alborough's simple but hilarious story Duck in the Truck (Collins pound;10.99) - "duck"; "truck"; "muck"; "stuck"; "jeep"; "sheep"; "beep" - are among the earliest words that many children say, and will be quickly recognised when they begin to play with written text. Alborough's tale, with its rhythmic structure borrowed from "The House that Jack Built", is one that urges children to perform it.

His pictures are addictive, combining graphic simplicity with rich painterly qualities. Rhyming stories run the risk of sounding forced and stale. When the quest for a rhyme dominates an author's concerns the dramatic nature of the text can become flat and lifeless. But Duck in the Truck is just one in a recent batch of picture books where rhyme, illustration, wit and inventiveness combine to produce outstanding quality.

The partnership of Ian Whybrow, author, and Russell Ayto, illustrator, has produced Quacky Quack Quack (Walker Books, pound;4.99), an uproarious rhyming comedy which describes a young child's determination to eat the bread intended for the ducks. The fruit of their latest collaboration, Where's Tim's Ted? (Collins Children's Books pound;10.99), details Tim's determination in searching for his teddy in the farmyard at night, with all the ensuing disturbance.

Whybrow's rhymes,which are light and lithe and maintain superb comic timing, are well matched by Ayto's expressive, linear illustrations, which are humorous inevery detail and masterful in their graphic language.

Over in the Grasslands by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Alison Bartlett (Macmillan Children's Books pound;9.99) is a wonderfully rich rhyming and counting book. Bartlett's beautifully composed pictures, which portray animals in their habitats, resonate with deliciously warm painterly strokes and passages of ochres, yellows, blues and pinks.

They fit perfectly with Wilson's rhymes, with their drumbeat rhythms which cry out to be read, sung, shouted out loud, moved to and danced to. A book with endless potential for improvisation, word and sound games.

What's That Noise? by Tim Archbold (Scholastic Press pound;11.99) takes two friends on a noisy journey in search of a heady cacophony. Archbold matches crazy, noisy, rhyming words - rich descriptors of sound exploding in every direction - with jam-packed, squiggly, calligraphic illustrations, somewhere between Quentin Blake and Where's Wally? in style. This is a glorious book that invites children to have a party with language.

Giraffes are a funny shape, with funny expressions and a funny walk - an open invitation for writers and illustrators to have some fun. In Giraffes Can't Dance (Orchard pound;9.99) Giles Andreae - creator of the Purple Ronnie greetings cards - and illustrator Guy Parker-Rees create a touching, funny, rhyming account of a giraffe who finds his dancing legs against all the odds. A can-do story with lively pictures and an immensely pleasing text.

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