Graphics to shout about;Books;Childrens books

26th March 1999 at 00:00
DON'T WAKE THE BABY. Illustrations by Ross Collins. Words by Francesca Simon. Hodder. pound;9.99.

RABBIT FOOD. By Susanna Gretz. Walker. pound;9.99.

WHAT BABY WANTS. Illustrations by Jill Barton. Words by Phyllis Root. Walker. pound;9.99.

TRUCK JAM. By Paul Stickland. Ragged Bears. pound;11.50

GRUNTER. Illustrations by Deborah Allwright. Words by Mike Jolley. TemplarRagged Bears. pound;9.99.

Like thrillers and romance novels, children's books can thrive on a few well-tried themes. Eating difficulties, bullying, and the weirdness of babies are all well-covered territory. Just as hearing an interesting new arrangement of a favourite jazz standard is always worthwhile, so is having a look at old themes revisited.

I hadn't seen Ross Collins's illustrations before, having missed his book Supposing last autumn (words by Frances Thomas, Bloomsbury pound;4.99 pbk). So I was pleasantly surprised to discover his marvellous work for Francesca Simon's text in Don't Wake the Baby. The brief, chaotic tale concerns a family's deafening efforts to kill a fly before it wakes the baby.

Collins manages to combine sophisticated graphics with appealing, well-drawn characters. Even though the tale is lightweight fun, the compositions alone are sure to improve the shape of young brains.

Susanna Gretz has penned and painted a pro-vegetable yarn, Rabbit Food, featuring John, the picky rabbit. Bohemian Uncle Bunny is recruited to encourage reluctant John to eat his vegetables. But Uncle turns out to be a closet carrot-hater (which accounts for his lethargy and bad eyesight).

The rabbits' facial expressions are loaded with pathos, with special attention paid to surprisingly expressive eyes. The story steers far from any finger-wagging about the benefits of vegetables, making this a good-for-you book that tastes good, too.

Jill Barton graces Phyllis Root's What Baby Wants with her classic apple-cheeked characters in a story that depicts a family's struggle to interpret the baby's cries. This fairly familiar story is taken to a fantastic extreme as Barton fills the sitting room with farm animals and wild flowers, drawn in Walker's trademark pencil-and-wash style.

Although there are several pop-up lorry books around, there's still room for Paul Stickland's Truck Jam. He has put together a well-constructed gallery of paper-engineered trucks that fluidly do what they're supposed to. Dump truck and fire truck rear right up over the covers, and one truck even blows a head-gasket.

I popped these pop-ups over and over again to ensure that they still worked after some handling and sure enough, they kept on truckin'. This book seems simple in concept compared to the more elaborate pop-ups on this subject, but it may just last longer.

Finally, new artist Deborah Allwright has been perfectly paired with writerdesigner Mike Jolley in a raucous bully book, Grunter. The tale concerns one badass pig with attitude, his nasty habits and the other farm animals' solution. Allwright's explosive, punky paintings rumble with Jolley's punchy text, and there's a good pop-up at the end.

The extra thick paper will stand abuse - a wise move, as the book will probably get juvenile adrenaline squirting. These are the sort of production values that would be appreciated in all picture books (especially when this 32-page book is no more expensive than many others). Indestructible mayhem.

Authorillustrator Ted Dewan's new science adventure picture book, 'The Weatherbirds', is published by Puffin

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