Fables for high fliers

10th November 1995 at 00:00
The Magical Bicycle, By Berlie Doherty and Christian Birmingham, Collins Pounds 8.99. 0 00 193740 5. Andrew's Angry Words, By Dorothea Lachner. Illustrated by The Tjong-Khing North-South Books Pounds 8.95, 1 55858 435 8, Age range 4 plus

It is hard to remember now the blend of determination, risk-taking and confidence needed to master the psychological trick of bike-riding, Berlie Doherty's dreamy The Magical Bicycle brings it all flooding back.

When a young boy is given a "shining" bike with a "silver voice" for his birthday he is delighted. The one catch - he can't ride. Using half rhymes and short rhythmic sentences Doherty captures the jolting stops and starts as he pedals furiously, wobbles, and falls off - again and again.

Balancing the bicycle seems to its rider a kind of mental magic. When he finally succeeds, fantasy and reality merge. He feels a surge of power - re-living his dream of being pulled through midnight skies by a glimmering white horse.

Beautifully hazy illustrations create the effect of summer days and add to an almost poetic evocation of psychological intensity.

Any child struggling to understand other people's anger and control his own will be intrigued by Andrew's Angry Words. This reassuring picture-book depicts a crescendo of rage effectively punctured by a kindly-looking stall-holder's calm rebuke: "Don't be so dramatic". Andrew's fury with his sister, cleverly illustrated by a speech bubble filled with symbols, is passed down a line of characters drawn from both contemporary urban life and fairy-tale . When the stall-holder swings the angry words into the sea Andrew is mightily relieved and flies home dispersing to all and sundry the kind words she has given him instead. A simple message - anger breeds anger, kindness is much more beneficial - is charmingly conveyed.

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