Getting into a flap

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Discovery Flaps, Come And Play With Us! Come Home With Us! Come And Eat With Us! Come And Ride With Us!, Illustrated by Annie Kubler and Caroline Formby, Child's Play Oxfam. Pounds 3.99 each. Madhur Jaffrey's Market Days, Concept and illustrations by Marti Shohet, Gollancz Pounds 4.99

We like to say that children are the same the world over. ls this true, is it sentimental or is it both? And what is the best way to celebrate diversity while strengthening the bonds of global fellow feeling? These books provide some of the answers.

Discovery Flaps are for the Where's Spot? audience. In a few simple sentences they introduce us to children from many different countries, all with round heads and snub noses - although their backgrounds vary from the lush blue-green of Lake Titicaca to the sombre orangey-brown of Egypt and the chilly white of Canada.

Their countries make a true global mix; from Albania to Nepal, Mozambique to Australia, Japan to El Salvador. The pictures and texts bring out slight but appealing details of particular cultures, such as the sunflowers and beet roots growing in Bog Dan's backyard in the Ukraine or the sun-baked mud bricks used for building Assitan's house in Mali.

There are also things that most children recognise as common to their lives, such as baby chairs, bicycles and TV sets. The most appealing part will be to lift the flaps and see inside vehicles and houses, or the processes whereby toys are made or crops harvested. The common elements of travelling, playing and eating clothe national differences in supranational similarities. War, famine and poverty are ignored in the interest of that shared feeling, considered too harsh for the infant optimism it should nurture.

Madhur Jaffrey restricts herself to six markets in four continents which act as a window on the world. The first thing readers - probably around eight years old - are likely to notice are the vibrant pictures in bright primary colours with powerful black outlines - something in the Expressionist style of early Kandinsky.

They show people buying and selling, meeting and eating, working and resting. Silks and camels, tortillas and antelope horns, wisdom and excitement are all on offer.

Madhur Jaffrey's prose matches the colour and challenge of the imagery. Sentences like "The church smells of time and incense" or "Nothing is hidden here, neither life nor death" provide thoughtful moments among the polychromatic descriptions of aubergines, turmeric, dates and cumin. The only lapse is when Senegalese women are said to look like "creatures from an exotic heaven". Six attractive recipes conclude a slim but memorable book that invites children to travel the world and find people both like and unlike themselves.

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