Hungry minds to feed

19th May 2006 at 01:00
WINSTON THE WOLF. By Marni McGee. Illustrated by Ian Beck. Bloomsbury, Pounds 10.99

THAT'S NOT FUNNY. By Adrian Johnson. Bloomsbury pound;10.99

MY MAP BOOK. By Sara Fanelli. Walker Books pound;10.99 (new edition)

STAR OF THE WEEK. By Barney Saltzberg. Candlewick PressWalker Books Pounds 9.99

SEVEN FOR A SECRET. By Laurence Anholt. Illustrated by Jim Coplestone. Frances Lincoln pound;10.99

WHAT WILL I BE? By Dawne Allette. Illustrated by Paul Cemmick. Tamarind Books pound;5.99

TALK PEACE. By Sam Williams. Illustrated by Mique Moriuchi. Hodder Pounds 5.99

A NEW HOUSE FOR MOUSE. Petr Horacek. Walker Books pound;6.99

Young readers are invited to make the most of the learning opportunities in the latest picture books. Jane Doonan makes a selection

Learning by doing is at the heart of all these picture books. Winston the Wolf, hero of Marni McGee's story, is transformed by learning. Winston loves and hungers for books. He gobbles them up, literally, and that includes the cover of the book in which he appears. Naturally, such behaviour gets him into trouble in the library when Red Riding Hood saves Winston by teaching him to read, with literacy leading him to an ideal job.

Ian Beck's illustrations, with their benign innocence, resemble an animated sampler, with the contour lines embroidered to the page. He shows Winston's world to be full of traditional wonders, including the yellow brick road, a moon-jumping cow, a cheeky blackbird, and three industrious little pigs. The book should prove irresistible for Reception and Year 1 audiences.

"Schadenfreude" is an impressive word for key stage 2 pupils to roll round the tongue and they can discover it in Adrian Johnson's witty, cautionary tale That's Not Funny. Alfie takes malicious delight in the misfortunes of others. It takes a trip to the circus with his grandpa, a hungry mouse, a frightened airborne elephant crash-landing on Alfie, and other people's laughter to effect our anti-hero's well-deserved comeuppance.

There's a geometric elegance to Johnson's cartooning, with its adventurous layout, subtle colour combinations, and perfect balance between passages of action and uncluttered background.

My Map Book by Sara Fanelli is an implicit invitation to create an autobiography via drawing - a lovely idea for individual or class project work. From a childhood perspective, and in graphic style to match, Fanelli makes maps of her bedroom and family, her neighbourhood, her dog, tummy and heart, her favourite foods and colours, and the pattern of her day.

This light-hearted approach to mapping could travel from art across the curriculum into telling personal stories, looking at maps of the locality, the world and the heavens. It could be used to consider the maths of measuring objects, the care of pets, and the making of a simple family tree. The slip cover unfolds to become a poster.

Shy and retiring young children who are in need of some non-threatening encouragement to draw will warm to Star of the Week, by Barney Saltzberg.

The hero, Stanley Birdbaum, who looks like a humanised groundnut with short stubby limbs, is beside himself with joy. He is "star of the week" at school, which means it's his turn to take along his favourite things to share in class. Neither the food nor the toy he loves best is a hit. But art, which is his favourite activity, sets off a craze for drawing.

Saltzberg's illustrations are fittingly unsophisticated, with simple images, restrained detailing and cheerful colour.

Seven for a Secret, an epistolary picture book, is a reminder of the importance of letter-writing. Ruby lives in the city, Grampa in the forest.

The letters they exchange are shaped by the traditional rhyme about magpies, prompted by the birds that live in Grampa's oak tree - here's joy, sorrow, birth, death, and Grampa's gold (hidden beneath fold-out flaps, for the viewer to discover).

Coplestone combines a sketchy line with a brush which flutters across the pages, carrying colour as light as a feather.

Tyra, a sparky little black girl, reviews the possibilities of her future career in an upbeat rhythm and rhyme, in Dawne Allette's What Will I Be? Sexual stereotyping doesn't come into it, for Tyra knows that any occupation is possible, with outer space as the limit, but in the meantime, she needs to learn how to spell. Paul Cemmick's comics-style cartooning has a matching verve.

With citizenship in mind, Talk Peace, by Sam Williams and Mique Moriuchi, could easily be adapted as a short play for assembly. Every page opening carries images of children of all nationalities engaged happily in peaceable activities, together with a brief rhyming text, which could be divided between performers. Alternatively, the theme could be discussed, or the illustrations of paint and collage with their stylised shapes and luminous rainbow hues could inspire art work.

Petr Horacek's A New House for Mouse has a peep-hole on every page-opening.

Viewers join Mouse when she finds an apple too big to get into the tiny hole in which she lives. She lugs the apple round as she asks a succession of woodland creatures if she can move in; when she gets peckish she takes a bite. Reception classes can predict the outcome of this subtraction in action.

The artwork is in collage and rich painting with sensuous texture and almost electrifying colour: crimson, emerald, and cerulean glow in contrast to inky dark areas.

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