Illustrated tales

14th April 2000 at 01:00
HOW THE WHALE BECAME AND OTHER STORIES. By Ted Hughes. Illustrated by Jackie Morris. Faber pound;17.99

THE SONGS OF BIRDS. By Hugh Lupton. Illustrated by Steve Palin. Barefoot pound;12.99

Two wonderful books to handle, to look at with a baby, to read aloud to a child, to urge a child to read. Yet they are quite different from each other.

The first is a ravishingly illustrated new edition of a book first published in 1963, by one of the 20th century's greatest poets and children's writers. The voices of Ted Hughes - his physical voice and his poet's voice - are in every story. The telling is unmistakable Hughes, flowing from that same wild, inventive imagination as the language of his poetry, his way of speaking, the way he told a tale to adults between poems.

These are human morality tales. Hare is "about the vainest creature on the whole earth". Fox is known as "Slylooking". The language can be biblical, reverent, suggesting the slow work of evolution in the hads of a careful creator. The text, and Jackie Morris's light-rinsed landscapes, her painterly washes, her animals as breathingly, quiveringly real as Hughes makes them in words, make this book worth its price.

Hugh Lupton can hold spellbound an audience of any age, and this book can be enjoyed by readers of around nine or read to younger children (the Hughes collection can be tackled by any confident reader).

Here Lupton sets down in his own words some of his great store of collected tales from many cultures. Here is the opening of a Finnish story: "In the beginning there was water. In the beginning there was nothing but grey water, and flying over the water there was a golden-eye."

Taking half a page in this two-page story, Steve Palin's golden-eye sits on her eggs of stone and iron. All the traditional characteristics of story-telling are here: the repetition of phrases, simple language, brevity. The story ends: "That was how our world began."

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