Ahlberg on the up and up

14th November 1997 at 00:00

MASTER TRACK'S TRAIN. Allan Ahlberg and Andre Amstutz.

MS CLIFF THE CLIMBER. Allan Ahlberg and Fritz Wegner. Puffin Pounds 3. 50 each.

WHEN FRANK WAS FOUR. Alison Lester. Little Ark Pounds 9.99.

Among the choice of schemes to meet the needs of emergent readers, there's little to beat the Happy Families series. What do we want from reading schemes? A rattling tale, lively pictures with character, narrative and colour, a well laid out text, rhyme and rhythm, a story that is witty or gripping or both. It's a lot to ask, but necessary to overcome the boredom factor.

Allan Ahlberg makes sure Happy Families has it all and his latest additions to the series are equally engaging.

Master Track's Train incorporates some of the best elements of his classic Cops and Robbers and has a delightful, typically Ahlberg twist at the end.

After the traumas of an heroic adventure, Ms Cliff the Climber tells the wacky story of Clara, who climbs around the town's rooftops and through the ups and downs of life, including marriage, motherhood, divorce and a good few other relationships. The tale's mildly surreal qualities are en-hanced by Fritz Wegner's finely drawn illustrations, full of hilarious detail.

This is a celebration of life's rich tapestry, an optimistic overview of our kaleidoscopic society. An early appreciation of the "ups and downs" and "tangles" should not be underrated, nor the knowledge that the happy-ever-after kiss is "(not) The End of the story!" In When Frank Was Four Alison Lester combines an Ahlberg-eye view with an Eric Carle style of counting to give a catalogue of childhood development full of comic realism. "When Frank was four he ate three packets of fruity fish", while "Nicky cut off her plait" and "Clive took off his training wheels". Rites of passage, fairy tale, celebration and setback all come into this, aided by some richly coloured illustration.

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