Flying colours

22nd August 1997 at 01:00
CHIDI ONLY LIKES BLUE. By Ifeoma Onyefulu. Frances Lincoln Pounds 9.99

C IS FOR CHINA. By Sungwan So. Frances Lincoln Pounds 9.99

THE GREAT WORLD TOUR. By Kamini Khanduri. Usborne Pounds 8.99

OUR FAVOURITE STORIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD. By Jamila Gavin. Dorling Kindersley Pounds 8.99.

Yeats's blessing for his daughter was for her to be rooted in one dear perpetual place. It's an idea that Ifeoma Onyefulu beautifully illustrates in her celebration of the variety found in one eastern Nigerian village.

Nneka, a little girl, supplies the commentary for some fine photographs. She shows us the ceremonial red of the chief's caps, the bowls of tasty yellow gari heaped by the roadside, the black of the walls of the village huts. She talks about creamy gourds, brown sand and her mother's gold necklace.

As she talks to us about the many colours of her life, she also introduces people of all ages; other children and their games, the grown-ups with their tasks and the elders with their wisdom. It's a simple but most effective device for teaching a lesson of tolerance and for commemorating diversity - even though her little brother remains a convinced monochromatist.

Sungwan So travels much further, around four Chinese provinces, but also finds many contrasts with no sense of strain. The alphabetical format was successfully used in A is for Africa (for which Ifeoma Onyefulu did the pictures), and here shows us simple differences between old and new, city and country, family and work.

It would be helpful to have a map to clarify textual references to the Yangtze, Yellow and Li Rivers, but the pictorial pleasures are carried and real. A wrinkled hand on an abacus, seven old men dressed in blue sitting round a table - these are matched with the sight of a chubby baby chomping contentedly on noodles or a small boy rapt in his work with an ink-brush. No political disquiet here, even with "U is for Uniform", but a strong sense of a country with both settled and rapidly-changing ways.

The Great World Tour uses a Where's Wally? format, presenting a bewildering succession of scenes from all over the world, each teeming with people and objects to spot, collect and tick off. From a Thai market to an Icelandic lagoon, from a Moroccan souk to an Amazon village, the headlong rush continues, punctuated by barked imperatives. "Find nine babies in slings." "Spot 10 women sewing."

Children will probably enjoy chasing after these atomised bits of experience, even when the scenes are as ludicrous as a ski-slope where dozens of holiday-makers criss-cross in perilous and impossible frenzy, or a safari where the lion lies down with the elephant, the baboon, the ostrich, and the wildebeest.

But even where the hustle and hassle is more suitable - a Japanese city, an American shopping mall - it's not hard to find Nneka's quiet story preferable to this crowded and unreal acquisition of hundreds of unrelated fragments.

We've met the children who introduce Our Favourite Stories before. They are some of the stars of Children Just Like Me, which won the 1996 TES Information Book Award. Ten reappear in this book, including Celina from her mud-brick house in the Amazon rainforest and Rachel in her French chateau. We're also entertained in a village in the Kalahari desert and a tent in Mongolia. The stories are each told over four pages and illustrated with paintings derived from appropriate iconic traditions. Photographs in the margin supply brief information about the countries.

The stories deal with universal themes, with fears of monsters, talking animals, simple wishes and the universe of time and eternity hidden in Krishna's mouth. Occasional stylistic hazards - "reaped an abundance of corn" - shouldn't deter children from feeding on fictions that fall happily, again in Yeats's phrase, out of the mouth of Plenty's horn.

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