Echoing green

5th July 1996 at 01:00
Maudie and the Green Children, By Adrian Mitchell, Illustrated by Sigune Hamann, Trade Wind Pounds 8.95. Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble, By Phyllis Root, Illustrated by David Parkins Walker Pounds 9.99.

Lucy and the Piratesm, By Glen Petrie, Illustrated by Matilda Harrison, Trade Wind Pounds 8.95. Seeing Red, By Sarah Garland, Illustrated by Tony Ross, Andersen Press Pounds 8.99. The Pet Person, By Jeanne Willis, Illustrated by Tony Ross, Andersen Press Pounds 8.99

A Lear-lookalike leads the list for William Feaver, as he casts his eye over some of the latest picture books. Suffolk dialect and a once-upon-a-time that's 16th-century going on 20th give Adrian Mitchell's Maudie and the Green Children an echoing timbre.

Maudie Hessett is said to be simple, but it's she rather than the other villagers who finds and welcomes the two children from over the underground river in Merlin Land; and it's she who protects them and yearns for them when they are gone.

Sigune Hamann illustrates this retelling of a folk tale in a pointy style that owes quite a bit to Edward Lear, which is appropriate in that the story carries on with an air of limerick consequentiality. Cunningly, conversationally, we are told about prejudices and petty tyrannies, lack of imagination and false religion. The character of Maudie gradually reveals itself to herself, and we are left with a sense of self-discovery.

Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble also has a folksy ring to it, only this time the tone is more Uncle Remus. Old Man Trouble has the look of a stage villain with a top hat and saw teeth. His presence in the neighbourhood may scare others, but not Aunt Nancy.

She acts just like Brer Rabbit in one of his encounters with Brer Fox, outwits her absurd adversary and, in the final picture, settles in her rocker on the porch well pleased with her smartness. Readers will feel, momentarily, that they would like to see those teeth clamping Aunt Nancy good and proper.

Captain Blacktooth of the 40-gun Blacktooth's Revenge is another preposterously wicked figure. In Lucy and the Pirates, Glen Petrie ransacks the dressing-up chest of yo-ho-ho yarns and leaves no timber unshivered, no buccaneering convention unturned. Matilda Harrison eagerly abets with illustrations that look like the Olde Shippe paintings in dodgy antique markets. There's plenty of satisfaction to be had from the way they make every cliche of the genre walk the plank.

Seeing Red also dates from the Hornblower era. This time it's Boney's invasion of Cornwall, a venture that would have been successful had it not been for Trewenna and her red flannel petticoats.

The Frenchmen row for the shore but Trewenna and the other girls and women of the fishing village improvise a brilliant defence scheme and see off the invaders long before their menfolk return from a wild-goose chase. Tony Ross adds his usual exuberant touches: panicky cats, seasick Frenchies, steaming pasties.

His drawings for Jeanne Willis's The Pet Person are bolder and broader, as is the humour involved. Rex, a splodge of a dog, wants to have a person as a pet but the canine world warns him that they are greedy and smelly and unreliable. Rex meets "a little ginger one", and finds it more than he can handle so he changes his mind. But Rex's parents, being parents, decide to indulge their pup after all. Rex finds himself, to his pop-eyed dismay, lumbered with a baby. He would have settled for a tennis ball.

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