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Of plagues and pharaohs

A clutch of collections, selected by Michael Thorn

The Amazing Bible Storybook by Georgie Adams, illustrated by Peter Utton (Orion Children's Books pound;14.99) follows two highly successful collections from the same team: The Bible Story Book (stories from both the Old and New Testaments) and The Good Shepherd Storybook which concentrated on stories about Jesus's ministry. The new book, for nursery pupils up to Year 2, has an Old Testament focus and includes eight stories and three Psalms. "Frogs, Flies and Locusts!", Adams's story of the Plagues, epitomises her direct and accessible style. When the river turns red and the fish rot and die, the Pharaoh remarks, "Pooh! What a pong!" The tales for Year 1 and above in The Lion Storyteller Bible by Bob Hartman (Lion pound;6.99) were written to be performed rather than read cold: Hartman is passionate about oral storytelling. This new paperback edition offers practical suggestions on arranging audience participation for large groups such as school assemblies. The stories, evenly divided between Old and New Testaments, each have a double page, although some of them seem a little abrupt.

For Year 5 and above, Hartman has delivered More Bible Baddies (Lion pound;3.99) including some female baddies: Jezebel, Sapphira (who concealed her wealth) and Athaliah (daughter of Ahab and Jezebel), the evil granny, who has all her grandchildren put to death bar the one who is successfully hidden. Other baddies in this second volume include the Devil himself, in the guie of Tempter.

Geraldine McCaughrean's ability as a reteller of stories was justly recognised by a Blue Peter Children's Book Award last year for her version of Pilgrim's Progress. My First Oxford Book of Stories (Oxford University Press pound;7.99, illustrated by Ruby Green) shows that she is just as sure-footed when retelling stories for a younger audience (nursery and Year 1), coupling familiar, well-used language with the lightest but most adroit of personal touches. A sample of her opening sentences is the best possible demonstration: "Somewhere in the heart of a weary, wolfish world lived a mother goat and her seven kids" ("The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids"); "There were once three billy goats - big old Grandfather Gruff, his son Bill, and his grandson Billy who was hardly more than a kid" ("The Three Billy Goats Gruff").

Now in paperback, The Oxford Book of Funny Stories edited by Dennis Pepper (Oxford University Press pound;8.99) is an entertainingly diverse collection for Year 2 and above. A couple of the stories are unique to this book, including the very funny opening tale by Dennis Hamley about a writer's attempt to get ideas for his next comic novel on a school visit. "Miss Jones" by James Marshall, a curious tale about a bird living in an apartment block whose new neighbours claim to be canaries but are in fact wolves, is one of several you may not have stumbled on elsewhere.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex

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