Children's books for Christmas;Reviews

10th December 1999 at 00:00
THE MACMILLAN BOOK OF CHRISTMAS. Illustrated by Diz Wallis. Macmillan pound;15

Diz Wallis's illustrations and decorations make this anthology very tempting. She uses colour subtly, and changes her palette to match the material. The stories and poems are divided into sections - on the weather, presents, celebrations - which makes it much more of a piece than many another glossy Christmas compendiums. The poems are especially good. Look at Russell Hoban's "Small, smaller" and Kit Wright's "The Frozen Man" which conjures up a world of mystery and darkness, and the thawing power of kindness.

ANNA AND THE FLOWERS OF WINTER. Retold by Nettie Lowenstein. Illustrated by Elizabeth Harbour. Viking pound;10.99

One of those folktales (from Bohemia, in this case) in which the good sister is rewarded for her kindness, and the bad sister and the cruel mother are punished. Anna is forced out into the snowy forest to gather violets. Twelve strange old men gathered round a fire agree to help her. They are the months of the year...Harbour's pictures are exquisite: delicate, misty, and full of beautiful detail.

ELF HILL: tales from Hans Christian Andersen. Translated by Naomi Lewis. Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark. Frances Lincoln pound;12.99

Naomi Lewis enchants us here with simple, graceful new translations both of some lesser-known Andersen stories, such as the wonderful "Ida's Flowers" and of favourites such as "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep" and "The Emperor's Night-ingale". Emma Chichester Clark is the perfect illustrator for these tales. Her vibrant colours, and the sense of humour and movement in every picture, are touched with magic and a weird light. I've always admired the delicious whisper of something sinister in her work, and it's displayed to perfection here.

ON CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE MORNING. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Foreword by John Langstaff. Walker pound;9.99

Once again, Walker has produced a book that is perfect of its kind. The music for this traditional farming carol is provided so that children can sing with all the animals as they go about their agricultural tasks on their respective holdings. Design and illustration are just right: the naif and colourful pictures manage to be both full of relevant detail and blissfully uncluttered.

On the endpapers, there's a map of the countryside with every creature's land marked out. Christmas symbols which appear in the artwork are carefully explained. An economically priced hardback which will continue to give pleasure at Christmas well into the next century.

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