Book of books

9th June 2000 at 01:00
THE LAUREATE'S PARTY. By Quentin Blake. Red Fox pound;3.99.

Anyone who likes Bob Graham's Queenie the Bantam, Roberto Innocenti's Rose Blanche, Carson McCullers's The Member of the Wedding, Carol Ann Duffy's Rumpelstiltskin and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn gets my vote.

This is only 10 per cent of the guest list at The Laureate's Party, a collectable book of collectables published to celebrate Quentin Blake's first of two years in the hot seat as the first children's laureate.

He introduces extracts from 50 of his favourite classic and contemporary titles (picture books, poetry and fiction for all ages up to the teenage readers who might tackle Twain and McCullers) and insists on squeezing in 20 more for last orders.

Blake is an outward-looking laureate who even before his appointment has encouraged UK readers and publishers to peer tremulously beyond these shores. Hee he lines up his choice of European and US classics alongside recent UK favourites such as Northern Lights by Philip Pullman and Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo.

His introductory notes offer a sense of looking over his shoulder as he chooses Esio Trot from the shelf of his collaborations with Roald Dahl ("I think you would have to be rather happy to write this story") and admires Josephine Poole and Angela Barrett's Snow-white ("It has the confidence, in words and pictures, to behave as though no other version has ever existed").

Even when you're enjoying his voice, you're constantly aware of his eye. Mulling over the fascination that islands have exerted over writers from Daniel Defoe to Michael Morpurgo, he writes: "There must be something that both focuses and stimulates the imagination in a place that you can draw a line round."


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