Funky penguins

4th September 1998 at 01:00
PLEASE BE QUIET!. By Mary Murphy. Methuen Pounds 6.99. MORE!. By Emma Chichester Clark. Andersen Pounds 9.99.

MONKEY DO!. By Allan Ahlberg and Andre Amstutz. Walker Pounds 10.99.

MY MANY COLOURED DAYS. By Dr Seuss. Illustrated by Steven Johnson and Les Fancher. Hutchinson Pounds 9.99.

TWICE MY SIZE. By Adrian Mitchell. Illustrated by Daniel Pudles. Bloomsbury Pounds 9.99.

Nothing gives a sharper point to critical truth than the choosing of a book for an actual child. Is the text good enough? However few and simple, words and phrases are important; repeated often, they stay in the mind and are remembered long. Verse is an asset - but don't think that children are unaware of lumpy metres and cheating rhymes. Top-name poets can be the worst offenders.

Are the pictures commonplace, Disneyfied, twee, confusing, needlessly vulgar or hideous? Why are so many illustrators weak at depicting humans?

Emma Chichester Clark (More!) is an exception in this batch. Most keep to animals, where a formula is easier to achieve. Still, I'm glad to say that a few books here, all different, are a pleasure to recommend.

For the youngest reader (aged around three) top choice is certainly Mary Murphy's Please Be Quiet!, a skilful book of deceptive simplicity and immediate impact. It helps that the persons are penguins; their bold, uncluttered black and white bodies and expressive yellow-beaked faces charm and rivet attention.

Little boy penguin rushes joyfully about, making delectable noises. "I bounce on the bed." Boing! boing! boing! "I jump in a puddle." Splish, splash, splosh. "Please be quiet!" begs Mum. She has her reason. Ingenious boy penguin climbs to a top drawer, takes out some socks and goes on with his now noiseless play. Finally, sharing Mum's lap with wailing infant brother, it's his turn to plead for quiet.

More! By Emma Chichester Clark is for the next age group up (about four to seven-year-olds). This is a treasure: the artist at her unpredictable best. Small boy Billy always wants more, then more; one more ice-cream, one more game before bedtime. When patient Mum at last says, "That's enough!", Billy stomps resentfully up the stairs to his secret friend, a great golden lion, who offers to take him where there is "always more of everything". Off they go (passion speeds the ride, as in Satoshi Kitamura's Angry Arthur) to a land of endless games, fairground rides and forests of lolly trees - a non-stop frenzy of joys. Suddenly - can it be? - Billy has had enough. He wants to go home, but how? Fear not, the impossible journey is achieved and the pictures keep their momentum and magic to the end.

Monkey Do! is a welcome new piece of invention from Allan Ahlberg, ace recorder of (and for) cradle, schoolroom and happenings in between. Such a one is this frolic of a tale in romping verse for junior extroverts up to six. "Monkey see, monkey do" is the key refrain; here's what he sees and does in a certain day. Slipping out with the aid of the zookeeper's keys, he races into the local human scene to taste as many lifestyles as he can - postman's, milkman's, schoolboy's, teacher's. He ends by bringing a stranded kitten down from a flagpole top. Then back to Mum.

Andre Amstutz's funny pictures have no magic, but they do extend the story, and their abundant detail, especially if a few search games are suggested, should keep juniors occupied for quite a while. A touch of imagination might have given Monkey not the usual face of a stereotype buffoon, but more of a thinking look. The comic is, after all, in the beholder's eye.

Now a surprise: My Many Coloured Days by Dr Seuss. Seuss? Didn't he depart? Yes and no. In 1973, as he watched the sea from his study window, he wrote the verses which you'll find now in this book. Then, in a letter, he noted that they needed "a great colour artist who would not be dominated by me, and who would bring a new pattern of thinking into words".After he died in 1991, his widow showed the letter and text to an editor.This is the result. The opening verses give the sound: Some days are yellow, some are blue.

On different days I'm different too.

You'd be surprised how many ways I change on different coloured days.

The artists, Steven Johnson and Les Fancher, have handsomely met the challenge. See the flame-red horse for the red days, almost soaring out of the double spread; the blue day's blue bird, which the double pages scarcely can contain; the brown day's bear; the purple's far-off dinosaurish creature, with its long, winding tail. An exciting book, not only for its paintings but for its ideas.

Young artists and writers, what would you have done with the verses? What colours are the days? Quick - find paper and start.

Twice My Size by Adrian Mitchell and Daniel Pudles looks promising with its amusing cover and riot of colour within. The idea is that the picture on the left-hand page is a portion of something on the right. The next left-hand page should make all clear, but there is little to link the two. Even the smaller (half size) pictures can be puzzling. And Mitchell's casual verses do not help: To the centre of the earth I am going to fly with my good friend who is twice as big as I.

Could be better, surely, master poet.

But I will say a good word for the production, if not for the editing. Colour is this book's main asset. Set aside the words and the message and a young child might well enjoy it as a vivid assembling of interesting shapes, sometimes recognisable as a squirrel or a cat.

Naomi Lewis

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