From goose to dinosaur;Children's books

30th April 1999 at 01:00
A CULTIVATED WOLF. By Becky Bloom. Illustrated by Pascal Biet. Siphano Picture Books pound;8.99.

THE LITTLE GREEN GOOSE. By Adele Sansone. Illustrated by Alan Marks Translated by J Alison James. North-South pound;9.99.

DAISY AND THE EGG. By Jane Simmons. Orchard pound;9.99. LITTLE BUNNY'S SLEEPLESS NIGHT. By Carol Roth. Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. North-South pound;9.99.

Animal characters have a thing or two to teach us in these picture books reviewed by Jane Doonan

We have a new storyteller in our midst, one who reads with confidence and passion. He is the eponymous hero of A Cultivated Wolf. Down-at-heel and hungry, Wolf makes a surprise attack on a farm, only to find that Cow, Duck and Pig are too busy enjoying a good read to be much bothered with him. Wolf is impressed.

The experiences of school, the public library, and buying his first Very Own Book follow, interspersed with return visits to the farm, where, alas, he receives scant encouragement. Finally, he meets his cultivated acquaintances' exacting standards so successfully that they all form a band of travelling storytellers.

This is more than an advertisement for the National Year of Reading: the approach to animal characters is fresh in word and image. Becky Bloom's text is witty, and Pascal Biet's artwork is nimble in line and frisky in colour; the animals' poses are convincing, expressive, and wonderfully absurd. The book's messages include that reading gives good fun, takes a big effort, improves your manners and appearance, and brings confidence, friends and happy prospects. David Blunkett should donate a copy to every primary school.

Hatching eggs, mistaken identity and searching for parents keep the birds busy in The Little Green Goose. Mr Goose longs to be a parent, manages to hatch a large egg that the dog has dug up and cares for his chick tenderly and tirelessly. The chick goes off to find its "real" parent but, after being rejected by frog, fish, and lizard, it returns to the protective wings of Mr Goose.

With beautiful simplicity, the pictures are designed as a continuous frieze of large-scale images. Grainy sensuous graphite mimics the contours of feather and fur, and water paint ebbs and flows against outlines. Humour arises through the ironic relationship between the text which refers throughout to the "little green goose", and the pictures which show a rapidly growing young dinosaur.

Daisy and the Egg sees Jane Simmons's duckling waiting for the arrival of a sibling. Daisy takes her turn in the protracted hatching duties, and eventually Little Pip struggles out of his shell. The slender story is illustrated by rich paintings, with naturalism taken close to semi-abstraction. Pigment is layered in bold dryish over-lapping brush strokes to create a surface that is a continuous stretch of interlocking colour and texture: multiple blues and green, creamy pink tints and dabs of yellow.

Loneliness is responsible for the hero's need to go out and seek company in Little Bunny's Sleepless Night by Carol Roth. Little Bunny calls on his good friends, one after the other. Each makes him welcome. But Squir-rel crunches acorns in the early hours, Skunk sprays the room, Porcupine's bristles prickle Bunny in bed, Bear snores, and Owl keeps the candles lit - these animals are not just barely disguised humans, despite their clothes. Valeri Gorbachev's pen flickers over the paper, making webs of fine marks. Colour is warm and dusky.

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