This dinosaur is a scream

20th September 1996 at 01:00
DILLY AND THE VAMPIRE Mammoth. Pounds 3.50. DILLY AND THE GOODY-GOODY Mammoth Blue Banana Pounds 3.99, Both by Tony Bradman Illustrated by Susan Hellard. MISS WIRE AND THE THREE KIND MICE By Ian Whybrow, Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark.

MR COOL, By Jacqueline Wilson, Illustrated by Stephen Lewis, Both Kingfisher I Am Reading Pounds 3.99

Dilly the Dinosaur loves birthdays. At least he loves his birthdays. His creator, Tony Bradman, told us this in the first Dilly book published a decade ago.

That story was Dilly's Birthday Disaster and the birthday in question was not Dilly's at all but his sister Dorla's. This infuriated him. He STOMPED off during the party, STAMPED his foot and SCREAMED his supersonic scream. And he got away with it. "You're not too bad, Dilly. Not too bad at all," said Father Dinosaur at the end.

But Dilly is bad and that is why he is so great. He is - as the backs of the 15 Dilly books note - the naughtiest dinosaur in the world. Children love this. "He is fun," says my five-year-old (high praise indeed). In a world where so many stories are unsubtle ruses for dispensing educational information or vehicles for stuffy moralism or (worse?) so ideologically correct that they make you queasy, Dilly continues to be outrageous.

"He's the eternal six-year-old, a megastar," Tony Bradman said in a recent interview of the character created from his own experiences of family guerrilla warfare and sibling rivalry. In Bradman's latest book, Dilly and the Vampire - illustrated, as always, by Susan Hellard - Dilly is dreadful to a guest at his birthday party, steals his sister's Swamp-Chocs and is banned from screaming by his parents.

Tony Bradman says the first Dilly book took him a week and the last took four months. He rewrites and rewrites again, and it shows. The Dilly books are classics for early readers, although the few picture books do not work as well, mainly because of the small type.

Much more reader-friendly is Dilly and the Goody-Goody, a new title in Mammoth's Blue Bananas series of fiction for key stage 1. This book - the first one not narrated by Dorla, but told objectively - is delightful, as Dilly corrupts a very clean and tidy dinosaur who comes to tea.

The Blue Bananas series is good. Particularly helpful are the speech bubbles that appear in the illustrations on every page. They are irritating for the adult reader, but great fun for children and provide a good way to read a book together. The type is large and clear and they are well laid out and colourful.

The same can be said for Kingfisher's I Am Reading series. No speech bubbles here, but the illustrations are as good as we have come to expect and the stories are ingeniously plotted. Particularly notable are Ian Whybrow's Miss Wire and the Three Kind Mice about an eccentric 95-year-old who wants her fellow ancients in the nursing home to believe that Christmas is not just for children, and Jacqueline Wilson's Mr Cool, the story of a rock'n'roll band which can all sing, dance and be cool - except for one member called Kevin.

But Dilly stands out from the crowd. You can tell that he is 10 years old (though, like Peter Pan, he will never grow up) because he is so bad.

The last word has to be that Dilly signature that sums up the frustrations of childhood - that ultra-special, 150-mile-per-hour superscream. The kind that every child dreams about - and every adult dreads.

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