A right hullahaloo;Children's Books

12th June 1998 at 01:00
MOO BAA BAA QUACK. By Francesa Simon. Illustrated by Emily Bolam. Orion, pound;10.99.

JUST YOU AND ME. By Sam McBratney. Illustrated by Ivan Bates. Walker, pound;9.99.

COME ON, DIASY. By Jane Simmons. Orchard, pound;9.99.

BABY BIRD. By Joyce Dunbar. Illustrated by Russell Aylo. Walker, pound;9.99.

IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE. By A.H. Benjamin. Illustrated by Tim Warnes. Magi, pound;8.99.

The animals of Potter's Barn are practising their new song, while Daisy the disobedient duckling swims into trouble. Jane Doonan reviews tales from the farm and riverbank.

Off to the country for a breath of fresh picture-book air, starting down on the farm with Moo Baa Baa Quack. Here are seven stories about the animals of Potter's Barn, with elements of suspense, pantomime, irony, recipe, comedy, and cacophony. The animals' band practice makes Old Macdonald's lot sound like chamber music.

Visual rhythms round the action, saturated colour sings and zings, poster paint hits and misses the outlines, while the typeface bellows and whispers, rises and falls. Fields are pink, trees are red, grass is blue. A round of applause: Neigh Neigh - QUACK QUACK!

On the way to the river, in Just You and Me, Little Goosey and Big Gander Goose are seeking shelter from an approaching storm. Having found willing hosts in a mouse, a squirrel and a rabbit, Gander is obliged each time to find some good reason to move on, because Little Goosey doesn't want anybody but Gander to be nearby when the thunder comes.

Sam McBratney and illustrator Ivan Bates have a fine sense of association with a very young child's experience, as they explore the natural feeling of wanting the exclusive presence and attention of an adult. Visually we could be in Norman Caldecott country. Bates uses pose to imbue animal forms with human feelings - shyness, tenderness, trusting intimacy. The artwork in crayon, pen and wash is natural in hues and lively in line, and the sepia typeface contributes to the period feel.

Meanwhile, on another riverbank, a naughty duckling has to learn from experience that it makes sense to stick close to Mamma Duck. Jane Simmons's Come on, Daisy! has a neat plot (resolved in a way which is satisfying for Daisy, Mamma, and audience), a playful text and sensuous visual effects. Simmons draws ideas directly in paint, gestures of absolute assurance, simple and sweeping in statement and command of medium. The surfaces of the pictures are a play of contrasting transparent and opaque passages, dry textures and juicy gleams, hair threads and bold sweeps of the brush. Viewers are dwarfed by bulrushes, taken underwater, and invited to bounce on lily pads.

Baby Bird is just as much a character as Daisy, but a little further along the bough to independence; he climbs out of the nest only to find falling more natural than flying.

Joyce Dunbar's text takes the shape of a cumulative nursery rhyme, as a cast of animals become involved in Baby Bird's efforts to get airborne. Russell Ayto's idiosyncratic illustrations have a matching verve, and an additional (printed) soundtrack of cheeps and chirps. Layout is in vertical strip format, with freehand frames all a-wobble as if barely able to contain the actions of the caricatures Ayto creates.

In It Could Have Been Worse, a young country mouse returning from a visit to his cousin is oblivious to the succession of natural predators as he treks across the landscape. Spotting clues and predicting outcomes - a series of mishaps as the result of his unwitting actions - is the name of the game, with a booby-trap set and a joke sprung every two turns of the page. Is the narrator oblivious to the presence of threat, too, or sharing the drama in collusion with the audience? We can't be sure.

Tim Warnes's line and wash pictures have clean outlines, cheerful light tones, and luminous mouth-watering colours - lemon, acid-drop green, strawberry-pink - signalling that the dangers of the countryside are not always to be taken too seriously.

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