The poetry of the spheres

Diana Hinds

Kingdom of the sun: A Book of the Planets. By Jacqueline Mitton and Christina Balit. Frances Lincoln. pound;11.99

The complete book of the night. By Sally Tagholm. Kingfisher. pound;14.99

It is heartening that Frances Lincoln Publishing continues to produce children's books of the highest quality. Kingdom of the Sun is no dry book of facts about the planets, but an imaginative tour-de-force, visually and linguistically, which breathes excitement into the solar system - much as Gustav Holst was able to do through his music.

About 2,300 years ago, Aristotle named the planets after Greek gods, attempting to match what he knew about the colour, brightness and speed of the planets with the characters of the gods. When Greek writing was later translated into Latin, these names were changed to those of the equivalent Roman gods - the names we still use today.

Jacqueline Mitton, a distinguished writer on astronomy, uses this link with the classical world in her characterisation of the planets, while cleverly bringing in modern knowledge about the solar system. After a brief introduction, each planetgod speaks, in lucid and highly charged prose:

"At the far-flung edge of the Sun's domain, chilled almost to the deepest cold that ever can be, I hold my moon Charon close," begins Pluto. The text lends itself to reading aloud (and even to a class performance), and Christina Balit's luminous and highly dramatic illustrations will be pored over again and again.

Sally Tagholm's Complete Book of the Night is more prosaic, limited to nuggets of factual information - a sort of themed "fancy that" - and illustrations that are little more than serviceable. But the basic concept is a nice one, and it is diverting to flip through this book and find pages on night-fishing, beds, night-time animals and astronomy.

A few excerpts from the wealth of night-time literature, and some really first-class drawing, could have helped to lift the book on to a higher imaginative plane.

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Diana Hinds

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