First things first

11th September 1998 at 01:00
EARLY WORMS SERIES. Who Are You? titles. In the Polar Lands; In the Sea, In the Rainforest; On the Farm. By Vic Parker Illustrated by Ross Collins

My World titles. My DayMy Seasons My Days of the WeekMy Night. By Siobhan Dodds

If You Choose Me titles. PuppyKittenGuinea PigRabbit. By Jakki Wood. Watts Pounds 4.99 each

THE DROP GOES PLOP. A Seed in Need. By Sam Godwin. Illustrated by Simone Abel. Macdonald Young Books. Pounds 4.99 each

Susan Young digs into some tasty-looking non-fiction titles aimed at early years

I'm fat, with a curly tail and a snuffly snout. I love messing about inI" Turn the page - and alongside the word "MUD!" in blaring capitals is a rumbustious illustration of a wallowing, leering porker.

Pouncing tigers and mooing cows alike get the same faintly exotic treatment in Ross Collins's wonderfully over-the-top pictures for the Who Are You? books, one of the latest of three new Early Worms series from Watts.

The Who Are You? format appeals strongly to under-fives, relying as it does on a question-and-answer formula with an over-the-page punchline to guess initially and remember later. There are lots of possibilities for discussion in the illustrations: the child asking the pig Who Are You? is losing a welly in the glorious mud of the sty, while the Polar Lands human cast is a succession of Inuit youngsters going about their everyday lives.

Vic Parker's text is a marvel of brevity, encapsulating the vital information about an animal in a few, well-chosen words. However, many children could easily cope with more information, and while the Rainforest,Sea and Polar Lands books are excellent for three to five-year-olds, On the Farm covers extremely well-trodden ground.

Who Are You? is the most visually dramatic of the series, intended as textbooks for the pre-school market and targeted at three to six- year-olds. Featuring children as central characters and lots of lively illustrations (though rather stolid textbook-ish covers), they appeal primarily to the very young. They are probably not challenging enough for children at the older end of the target age range; the content and ambition is more suitable for three and four-year-olds.

They are clearly aimed as much at anxious parents as playgroups and nurseries coping with the early years curriculum: each book includes a page about reading with your child, explaining the milestones which lead to confident handling of books.

The If You Choose Me foursome would be particularly useful in enticing reluctant children to enjoy books. Each is written from the perspective of a prospective pet and covers the animal's physical needs (including toys), care and handling. The urgent desire of most children to own a pet provides an irresistible hook, and the books are genuinely informative, providing much to discuss. There are even handy hints from a vet.

My World is more suitable for younger children. The best is the imaginative and beautifully illustrated My Night, which tells how foxes, bats and other beasts go about their business once young Jessie is tucked up in bed. Least successful is My Seasons, which uses adjectives and pictures to show how children's outdoor play changes throughout the year.

But if there were prizes going for masterpieces of making complex concepts clear and accessible, they should go to Sam Godwin and Simone Abel for The Drop Goes Plop and A Seed in Need. Intended for use at key stage 1 - but so beautifully written and illustrated that they could also, with careful use, be suitable for younger children - they use the device of an inquisitive baby seagull following a single drop of water to explain the water cycle, and chatty insects observing the progress of a seed from germination through flowering and back into dormancy. More, please.

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