Art world is their oyster

27th October 2006 at 01:00
Jane Doonan selects books to help awaken children's visual sense

Faces, Places and Inner Spaces: A Guide to Looking at Art

By Jean Sousa

Abrams Books for Young Readers pound;9.95.

Rhino: Animals in Art

Tiger: Animals in Art

By Joanna Skipwith

Silver Jungle pound;9.99 each

Children: A First Art Book

By Lucy Micklethwait

Frances Lincoln Children's Books pound;9.99

Mayfly Day

By Jeanne Willis

Illustrated by Tony Ross

Andersen Press pound;7.99

Down the Back of the Chair

By Margaret Mahy

Illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Frances Lincoln Children's Books pound;10.99


By David Lucas

Andersen Press pound;10.99


By Dugald A Steer

Illustrated by Ian Andrew, Anne Yvonne Gilbert and Helen Ward, with Geoff Hunt and Carole Thomann

Templar Publishing pound;17.99

Art, in many of its manifestations, is the topic for this selection of illustrated and picture books. The first three break age barriers and could engage readers from eight to 80 with their enthralling subject matter, accessibly written texts, and illustrations of widely different aesthetic objects which cross a span of 23 centuries, the cultures of four continents, and several areas of the curriculum. In terms of their potential in the classroom and the pleasures they hold, these books are practically given away; beautiful in concept, design, and presentation.

Faces, Places and Inner Spaces by Jean Sousa is an innovative way to open up a world of art. Clearly Sousa believes that by playing with ideas provoked by a work of art, we create something of our own from it.

Thirty-eight artefacts, set in context, including artists' self portraits, surreal objects, and fine pieces from Africa, Mexico, India, China, Japan, Germany, France, are accompanied by an inspired and inspiring commentary which successfully engages different levels of ability. Sousa invites children to engage in reflective close looking, to think logically, intuitively and imaginatively about what might be expressed or exemplified.

The book includes a glossary, an index of artists, plus linked activities.

Tiger and Rhino are the first in a new series, Animals in Art, which explores the lives, both real and fictional, of endangered species in nature and art. The aim is to raise awareness of the plight of the animals, and money to protect them. The pages turn on a sequence of fascinating images, including masterpieces from Duerer to Warhol, bushman engravings, children's book illustrations, Roman mosaics, and film frames. Joanna Skipworth's lively text answers all kinds of natural history questions, gives snippets of information about the artists, and is supported with helpful maps.

Lucy Micklethwait's Children: a First Art Book, shows 18 paintings of children occupied in reading and writing, making music, eating, sleeping and so on. Brief captions give the adult sharer the freedom to use the pictures in any way appropriate for Reception class children.

The four picture books display the creative range of the medium: a fictionalised nature study, a poetic potential rumpus, a new fairy tale, and an interactive artefact. Mayfly Day records a day in the life of a mayfly - its total life span. Mayfly makes the most of living fully for the moment, responding to the "loveliness of things" that she encounters. Tony Ross, an inspired colourist, creates a pictorial world of changing light in cerulean, rose, lemon, and dusky hues, while the airborne seeds of a dandelion clock mark the passing hours. This edition, in small-scale gift-book format has the air of a precious object and is a perfect symbol in itself for the special quality of the tale it tells.

In Down the Back of the Chair, Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar create a sustained joke which grows more improbable at every page turn. Dad loses his car keys and two-year-old Mary knows just where he should be looking.

The fun arises from what Dad finds when he follows his daughter's advice and pulls out an assortment of increasingly unlikely objects. Exuberant graphics bounce off the rhythms and rhymes of the text. All together now, Years 1 and 2, where should we look for things that are lost?

Whale is David Lucas's story of an unlikely friendship between young Joe and a talking whale who flattens Joe's town. The townsfolk's efforts to float the beached animal succeed, but not without causing a disastrous flood. One good turn deserves another, and the whale puts things dazzlingly right with the help of sea creatures, and shells, pearls and pebbles. The human participants, like tiny wooden toys wearing gloriously absurd hats, are shown in touching contrast with the scale of the whale, a beautiful blue monster. The layout goes swimmingly in frames of assorted shapes including bubbles, and at the most dramatic moments compositions surge across the double-page spread.

There'll be no need to press-gang top juniors for duty with Pirateology by Dugald A Steer. Fiction floats upon facts in the sea journal of Captain William Lubber, famous Pirate Hunter General from Boston, which charts his attempt, between 1723-26, to catch the infamous pirate Arabella Drummond.

Within the journal's covers - complete with a built-in compass - are maps, charts, illustrations of ships and sloops, bundles of letters, potted biographies, bags of gold dust, a personal narrative, and a treasure map waiting to be decoded. Shiver me timbers!

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