Box of delights;Ideas for Christmas;Books

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
Ted Dewan and Philip Pullman (below) get their teeth into some pictorial festive fare that should still be on the menu this time next year

The fascination that Westerners feel for Tibet is like a powerful nostalgia, but for something we have never known. Tibet Through the Red Box by Peter S!s (Allen amp; Unwin pound;12.99) plays on that nostalgia and adds a note of its own in one of two picture books with an appeal that will stretch to older readers and into adulthood.

It tells the story of an expedition made by the narrator's father, a film-maker, in the years after the Second World War. He is away for 14 months, and for that time the little boy experiences his father as an absence, a notion beautifully rendered by the mock snapshots (a family picnic, a birthday tea-table) with a father-shaped white space in them.

The bulk of the story is told through the father's diary, locked in a red box, that the son opens many years later. It's a tale of wonder and adventure, and the pictures have all Peter S!s's command of the medium - the meticulous tiny cross-hatching, the layered depth of the design, all add up to an experience to take time over and treasure.

S!s is an illustrator of extraordinary accomplishment. His pages have a power that partly lies in the meticulous precision of the detail, but also in the authority of the overall design. Most of all, his art is deployed in the service of a serious and humane delight in the wonder of things and the richness of the world.

At first sight, nothing could be further from the jewelled precision of Peter S!s than the illustrations of Satoshi Kitamura. Me and My Cat? (Andersen Press pound;9.99) has a simplicity that seems artless - a thin, scratchy line, large areas of flat colour, odd-looking perspectives. The story is neat - a witch casts a spell in the wrong house, and as a result, Nicholas the boy finds himself occupying the body of Leonardo the cat for a day, and vice versa.

Their adventures are funny and truthful - cats and boys are just like that. Kitamura's ability to make animals look human and dopey approaches that of the great Steve Bell, and these pages have a charm and wit (look at the paintings on the walls that comment on the action) which is rare and unmistakable. It's a triumph.

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