Animals, animals, animals

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
Children's Favourite Animal Fables is an excellent resource for Reception classes and above, for those times when the National Literacy Strategy requires children to read traditional fables or to write their own modern versions.

These fables are retold and illustrated in pastel crayon by Graham Percy (David Bennett Books pound;12.99). While it's not a substantial book, it has the format of an oversized hardback, with full-page illustrations and print large enough for a group of children to read.

The Animals' Bedtime Storybook, compiled by Wendy Cooling and illustrated by Penny Dann (Orion Children's Books pound;20), is an anthology of 40 stories, as told by the animals in Noah's Ark to while away the 40 days afloat. Eight leading contemporary authors have contributed, including Jean Ure, Jeremy Strong, Alan Durant and Ad le Geras (whose Giraffe's Story is printed in elongated format across a double-page spread).

Lady Lollipop, by Dick King-Smith (Walker pound;8.99), is a fairy tale, for Year 2 readers and above, about Penelope, a spoilt seven-year-old princess who gives the reader ample evidence of her unpleasant character in the first chapter.

Offered a pony, puppy or kitten for her eighth birthday by her indulgent parents, King Theophilus and Queen Ethelwynne, she stamps her feet and screams, "I wanna pig!" The pig she chooses is accompanied by a boy pig-keeper called Johnny Skinner. Johnny has trained the pig to sit and perform its business like a dog, and so Penelope decides that Lollipop must be a house or palace pig. She persuades Johnny to help her fully palace-train the animal, and get it to fit through a pig-flap in the palace door.

Johnny has another agenda, however. Having recognised Penelope as a spoilt little madam, he tries training her to be more considerate, and the pig also helps. By learning to give Lollipop patient instructions, "Penelope saw someone not so very different from herself looking back at her. At that moment, though she herself did not realise it, Princess Penelope grew up a little bit".

As this is a fairy tale, Penelope ends up becoming a much nicer person, and young Johnny Skinner is mad a duke. The pig itself is also given a title. Dick King-Smith exhibits his effortless best form.

My Duck, by Tanya Linch (Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;9.99), is a picture book about the writing and marking process, which can be appreciated on several levels from Year 1.

A girl's efforts to start writing a story are repeatedly rebuffed by a teacher brandishing a red pen, who demands story-lines that keep within the boundaries of her own unimaginative horizons. So the girl is told:

"Ducks don't wear shoes. Go and start again." Next she's told: "Trees don't grow in the middle of the road", even though she passes one that does every day on her way to school. As the book proceeds, and the girl is forced down new narrative routes, the character of the duck just won't go away - a symbol of the insistent power of imagination.

Fun with the Molesons, by Burny Bos and Hans de Beer (North-South pound;7.99 hardback), offers half-a-dozen amusing chapter-book stories for newly independent readers in Years 2 and 3.

It is one of four books in the mole family series from the Dutch author-illustrator team. "If you don't know my family already, you're not in for any big surprises," says Dug. "We are pretty ordinary."

The low-key narrative is no cause for embarrassment. Thanks to Hans de Beer's illustrations, this is ordinariness with unique charm.

Teddybears in Trouble by Susanna Gretz and Alison Sage (A amp; C Black pound;3.99) is one of the Teddybears "as seen on TV" titles, for nursery children and above, published in a small paperback format. In this story, Fred the dog sneaks into a library talk about animals. Professor Baer is proclaiming: "Dogs learn tricks from their owners, they can't think for themselves," when Fred hooks some biscuits from the speaker's bag.

The audience thinks it is all part of the talk and applauds wildly. Meanwhile, the three bears appearing in the story (each Teddybears title features a different leading cast) have been exchanging books and looking up information on the computer.

Other titles available in the same format include Teddybears on Stage and Teddybears in the Swim.

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