Picture books

Jane Doonan

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. By Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Michael Foreman. Pavilion Children's Books pound;14.99. THE BOLD BOY. By Malachy Doyle. Illustrated by Jane Ray. Walker Books pound;10.99. THE GLASS HEART: a tale of three princesses. By Sally Gardner. Orion Children's Books pound;8.99.

LITTLE MERMAIDS AND UGLY DUCKLINGS: favourite fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen. Text by Ivy Pages. Illustrated by Gennady Spirin. Chronicle BooksRagged Bears pound;13.99.

No one, it seems, tires of tales with their roots in tradition; animals that talk and mix freely with humans, magical transformations, trials encountered and virtues rewarded, and much else to wonder at and wonder upon.

We'll begin with new perspectives on the River Bank. When Ernest H Shepard showed his drawings for The Wind in the Willows to Kenneth Grahame, his response was, "I'm glad you've made them real". It is hard to see how he would not have been pleased with the work of his latest collaborator, Michael Foreman, in a new unabridged edition.

Foreman responds to the challenge of honouring the text and of following in Shepard's footsteps, with originality of concept and freshness of invention in abundance.

This picture storybook of more than 200 pages has been designed so that on virtually every opening there is at least one image, varying from a small vignette to an expansive double page spread - so much to discover, explore and enjoy at different levels. The landscape format makes the book perfect for a shared side-by-side reading.

The Bold Boy is an inspired double act, in which Malachy Doyle and Jane Ray create a theatre-in-a-nutshell. The drama opens when the eponymous hero, a barefoot young opportunist of the oral tale tradition, finds a pea. His fortunes rapidly rise thanks to his bare-faced cheek, only to fall again through the intervention of a young girl who can holler loudly enough to stop a donkey in its tracks.

As if on a stage, Ray's cast of robust characters perform against decorative pastoral settings all a-flutter with birds. Subtle changes of tone create spotlights on each successive scene and, in effect, brace the compositions. She draws her audience into the action from the cover onwards, by adding directional arrows on the pictures that indicate how limbs move, where eyes are looking, and which way the action is going. Meanwhile, Doyle's playful rhythmic text, and visual cues from the layout and typeface, do everything necessary to transform the reader into a star turn.

Sally Gardner has given new picture-book form to The Glass Heart, Richard Volkmann-Leander's romantic fairy tale, written for his children when he was serving in Paris in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. Themes include an exploration of strength and fragility, and the worthwhile notion that, if well mended, something which has been damaged may still be as good as ever, be it a heart or a jug.

The setting - Venice bathed in warm light - displays Gardner's skill for architectural drawing. With a light touch, and in a very fine sepia line and cleanly applied water paint, the compositions show a vibrant life, depicted in miniature, at court and on the lagoon. The main characters have a grave doll-like quality, while others have come straight from the commedia dell'arte; all behave with grace.

Little Mermaids and Ugly Ducklings, with its Sunday-best, period feel, is likely to appeal to adults looking for a special gift for a child. The book design is handsome, with formally bordered pages, historiated titles and page numbers, illuminated roundels heading each story, and large full-plate pictures.

Gennady Spirin's illustrations are beautiful to behold, densely painted, rich in detail. Hues look as if they have been subdued by the passage of time; luminous gauzy effects float against velvety, sombre shadows. However, Ivy Pages's text is drawn from some of the earliest translations of Andersen's work, and one wonders why she preferred these to recent ones, which are both closer to Andersen's particular qualities as a writer, and more accessible for children.


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Jane Doonan

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