Like a chick to water

21st September 2001 at 01:00
everal of Dick King-Smith's recent titles - The Crowstarver and Back-to-front Benjy, to name two - concern individuals who don't quite fit in. Funny Frank (Doubleday pound;10.99), for Year 3 and above, is another.

Despite being born a chick, Frank really wants to be a duck. His first attempt to swim ends in inevitable disaster. But with the help of Jemima (the farmer's daughter), an inventive uncle and the rubber from a hot water bottle, Frank is given his chance to dabble in the pond with the ducks. Ultimately, he accepts his status as a grown-up cockerel and happily leaves his swimming aspirations behind.

If Dick King-Smith were a woman, we might be inclined to call him the "queen mother" of children's fiction, so enduring is his zest for crafting light-hearted fables in which the moral is embraced within the grand-fatherly tone of the telling. May he still be doing this when he's 101.

A more overtly moral fable, about a clutch of cutely nasty fiends who live inside five abstract statues in the middle of a deserted plain, can be found in Five Little Fiends by Sarah Dyer (Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;9.99). Each of the fiends steals something from their surroundings - one takes the sun, one the land, and so on - and secretes it inside their statue. Realising that they have left themselves nothing to marvel at, they decide to put everything back. Infant children will enjoy the book at face value, while with juniors it could be used to provoke discussion about acquisitiveness and use of the Earth's resources.

Like the fiends in Dyer's book, the giant in MacMurtrey's Wall by Marc Sutherland (Abrams pound;11.95) tries to conquer and contain the natural world. He manages to cage all the creatures but remains jealous of the sea and so decides to build a wall to cage it, an obsessive endeavour that alienates his people and eventually exhausts him. In the end, his wall ruined by the elements, he learns to accept his place in the scheme of things. Sutherland's artwork is exquisite and his text has both the authority and cadence of scripture. This is another picture book that could be used across the key stages.

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