All aboard

4th September 1998 at 01:00
There is something reassuring about board books. Three-year-olds who have known them ever since they could first hurl a chunky object will still not disdain them: they merely graduate from those first introductions to the names of things (with their bright images of boat, ball, doll) to board books that tell a story.

For adults, they are a way of going back to basics, ensuring that children have grasped the sequence of meaning, and each detail of a picture, at a time when there is a temptation to run with more sophisticated picture books that may be only partly understood.

Helen Oxenbury's tales of Tom and Pippo (Tom and Pippo Go For A WalkRead A Story; Pippo Gets Lost; Tom and Pippo's Day, Walker Pounds 3.50), concern the daily routine and dramas of a mere toddler and his pet monkey, but are not beneath the notice of three-year-olds. This is because the stories are funny and pack a good deal of emotion into a small parcel, though it is Oxenbury's draughtsmanship that makes them remarkable and especially satisfying to adults. Her clear, exact line perfectly complements the succinct text, and both pictures and story achieve comic and touching effects with impressive economy.

Satoshi Kitamura's stories of Boots are in the tradition of such cartoon cats as Felix and Garfield - knowing, cheeky and stylised. Bathtime Boots and A Friend for Boots, (Andersen Pounds 2.99) have humour, speech bubbles, recognisable everyday domestic settings and punchlines. They should be good for a giggle.

Three years is a good age for pop-up books. Any younger and the movable parts are unlikely to survive the first reading.

Ken Wilson-Max continues his accurately represented and imaginatively constructed series featuring Big Yellow Taxi and so on (five so far). The latest is Big Silver Spaceship (David Bennett Pounds 8.99). As usual, all the bits work cleverly, but this one, more than any previous book in the series, is remote from the experience of young children, and the technicalities are too confusing. Use it if you are prepared to explain, for instance: "Once the cargo bay doors are open, manoeuvre the satellite into orbit." Or play with it yourself.

Less original but more accessible are Orchard Books' Ruby the Fire Engine and Dug the Digger by Iain Smyth (Pounds 6.99).

Angela Banner's Ant and Bee books (Heinemann Pounds 4.99) from the 1950s and 60s, reissued as pocket-sized hardbacks, have dated but not lost their child appeal. Quaintly innocent, rambling, archaic in their language ("isle" instead of "island"), stereotyping of every nationality (notably in Around the World with Ant and Bee), and laden with pointless italics and irritating multiple exclamation marks, they are nevertheless very successful. They use the brilliant technique of highlighting words (in red) that a child can read alongside an adult. They reinforce new information repeatedly, and are methodical about introducing concepts: the alphabet, places and colours (though the printing in Ant and Bee and the Rainbow makes "violet" look brown). And the miniature world of the protagonists and their limping, episodic adventures fascinate three to five-year-olds. Doff your PC cap and enjoy the nostalgia trip.

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