Images to inspire the young

16th December 2005 at 00:00
THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA. By Lauren Child. Captured by Polly Borland. Puffin pound;12.99

NUTMEG. By David Lucas. Andersen Press pound;10.99

WOLVES. By Emily Gravett. Macmillan pound;10.99

WITCH PIGS. By Colin and Jacqui Hawkins. Jonathan Cape pound;10.99

CAN YOU SEE A LITTLE BEAR? By James Mayhew. Illustrated by Jackie Morris. Frances Lincoln pound;10.99

THE WIZARD, THE UGLY AND THE BOOK OF SHAME. By Pablo Bernasconi. Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;10.99

JINNIE GHOST. By Berlie Doherty. Illustrated by Jane Ray. Frances Lincoln pound;10.99

GOOD KNIGHT SLEEP TIGHT. By David Melling. Hodder Children's Books Pounds 10.99

Jane Doonan selects picture books with a touch of magic

This is the time of year for letting a little magic into our lives, whether of the wand-waving variety, or the real thing created by exceptional picturebook makers. A dramatic impulse is at work in Lauren Child's retelling of The Princess and the Pea, for which she has created and assembled miniature sets and added dolls-house furniture and her own cut-out characters. These scenes were then photographed by Polly Borland.

The effect is theatre in a nutshell.

Child elaborates on Hans Christian Andersen's spare parody, nevertheless her retelling remains true to the main question his story poses: what qualities make a real princess? She adds kindness, courtesy, consideration, and an appreciation of beauty to the requisite royal hyper-sensitivity.

Start saving empty cereal boxes for the perfect Englishartdesign class project.

Nutmeg, David Lucas's new picturebook, is a stirring tale fit for Santa's sack or the lower primary bookshelf, thanks to endearing characters who look like wooden-top dolls, assured artwork, and an absolutely top-notch layout.

Nutmeg, Cousin Nesbit and Uncle Nicodemus live in a house on the junk-strewn mudflats of a creek. They eat cardboard for breakfast, string for lunch, and sawdust for supper. When Nutmeg releases a genie from a bottle she finds at the water's edge, he grants her three wishes. Nutmeg's modest requests transform the family diet, habitat, and lifestyle, as well as the cosmos.

Emily Gravett is all for creating active readers with her debut picturebook Wolves. Light as a whisker, she offers playful lessons in black humour, irony, and in relationships between words and images, reality and fiction.

A gullible rabbit borrows a library book: the very same book we are reading, complete with a real borrower's ticket. We turn the pages and, like Rabbit, read about wolves, while also watching his experiences. There are two endings from which to choose: one calamitous (no wonder Rabbit's book is "overdue") and the other happy. Year 3 will enjoy this metafictive magic in or outside the classroom.

Reading is good fun with Colin and Jacqui Hawkins' new picture story book, Witch Pigs. Their tale is about Pea and Pod, two little pig pot-scourers in the Castle Grimwold kitchens, who show an aptitude for making airy scary spells, and a propensity for saying rude three-letter words. The knockabout action-packed pictures are in vigorous velvety crayoning. Variations in scale and fonts act as a visual prompt for auditory effect; every reader can become a performer. Buy this book for the classroom bookshelf and it will never be there.

Can You See a Little Bear? in nursery-verse by James Mayhew, illustrated by Jackie Morris, is designed to engage Reception and Year 1 viewers and their sharers: find the (not-so-little) Little Bear hidden in every picture, and be swept along in the parade of circus entertainers and their animals moving across magical land, sea, and skyscapes. Here is a universe of snowy plains, minarets and embroidered tents, with a hare leaping over the moon, and what is surely the most elegant hen coop in children's illustrated literature.

The Wizard, the Ugly, and the Book of Shame is a compassionate tale about a wizard's assistant, Chancery, known as "the Ugly" to all the nearby villagers. One day, in his master's absence, he consults the Spell Book and wishes to be handsome. His action destroys the book's power. As an act of reparation, the wizard tells the Ugly that he must attain his innermost wish without using magic. A big smile is what it takes. The strangely beautiful, surreal illustrations involving bold collage and digital imaging should hold Year 2s spell-bound.

A poetic text by Berlie Doherty and illustration by Jane Ray creates the world of Jinnie Ghost. Beautiful, ethereal Jinnie floats into a succession of bedrooms, bringing dreams to young sleepers that enable them to fulfil their fantasies - whether that is to ride on a unicorn, boogie with bogeymen, or meet a giant or a mermaid. In a sequence of lyrical compositions, Ray achieves the dreams through intense colour, drifts of thinly applied paint, gauzy in effect, all spangled with decorative detail.

David Melling's loyal and loveable knight leaps into the saddle once again in Good Knight Sleep Tight. This time the king sends him on a quest to find something soft and fluffy as stuffing for the fractious baby Princess's pillow. Before his feet are in the stirrups he's off, and heading for the wild woods. Viewers trot, canter, gallop - and stall - thanks to the brilliant layout design that structures exhilarating changes of visual rhythm. Narrative gaps waiting to be filled, and pictorial jokes such as the knight's animated lion on his coat of arms, ensure that one reading won't exhaust this book's pleasures.

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