Just desserts;Children's books

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
SASSY GRACIE. By James Sage. Illustrated by Pierre Pratt. Macmillan pound;8.99.

SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE DINOSAUR STOMP. By Carol Diggory Shields. Illustrated by Scott Nash. Walker pound;9.99.

TOPS AND BOTTOMS. By Janet Stevens. Hazar pound;7.99. SILLY SILLY. By Tony Ross. Andersen pound;9.99.

BEWARE OF THE BEARS! By Alan MacDonald. Illustrated by Gwyneth Williamson. Magi pound;8.99.

THE WOLF IS COMING!

By Elizabeth MacDonald. Illustrated by Ken Brown . Andersen pound;9.99.

Ted Dewan savours a collection of picture book treats.

For your enjoyment, may I present a selection of picture books from the dessert menu? Not particularly "good for you", but tasty and fun.

Sassy Gracie has to be top dish. Pictures and text share the storytelling workload in a way one rarely sees in most picture books created by two people. Sassy Gracie, a hyperactive domestic servant, recklessly polishes off the dinner she was supposed to serve to the Master of the House and his Very Important Guest. She manages to wriggle out of trouble with a couple of skilful porkies. Her delightful bad behaviour is enlivened with reiterative sound effects that work their way seamlessly into the story.

While Sage's text has a jazzy American rhythm, Pierre Pratt paints in the stylish vein of some of the latest French picture book illustrators, using well-chosen bright acrylic and oil colours. His skills as a colourist are matched by his draughtsmanship; Pratt's strong iconic characters and well realised world have been graced with good editing, design, and high production values. Sassy Gracie has lots of child appeal and will delight adults, too.

Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp is a clever trifle, sort of a Jurassic Park take on Disney's 1937 bugfest, Woodland Cafe. Carol Diggory Shields takes on the difficult challenge of working unwieldy dinosaur names into an entertaining romp, complemented perfectly by Scott Nash's appealing charcoal-and-wash characters.

Walker's excellent designers and editors have clearly had a hand in weaving text and illustrations together so the book flows splendidly, once you're practised in getting through those impossible names. Noisy and fun.

Tops and Bottoms pits the wits of a poor tenant farming hare against the sloth of next door's land-owning bear. The hare's cunning and wisdom win out over the bear's ignorance and sloth. Stevens's paint and crayon illustrations inventively describe the bear's endless variety of floppy sleeping positions and the hare's bountiful harvests.

The book makes good use of the gutter to complement the story's topbottom theme - readers hold the book sideways and flip pages upwards. Some adults may find this novel aspect of the book awkward, but children will like it.

The latest issue from Tony Ross, Silly Silly, depicts a trans-species couple trading off their stories of near self-inflicted disaster in a contest to determine which of them is silliest. It is a reasonable kernel of an idea, but I felt the book needed more development. I wondered if young children would even understand the ending, which subtly implies that one of the characters has done a runner from a restaurant.

Alan MacDonald and Gwyneth Williamson have whipped up a very funny post-mod sequel to Goldilocks in Beware of the Bears!. MacDonald appropriates the rhythm of the original text to tell the story of the Three Bears' attempt to give Goldilocks a taste of her own medicine.

Williamson has chosen to illustrate the tale in the wobbly-linewash picture book style believed by many British publishers to be popular with young readers.

The Wolf is Coming! is a story of strength in numbers against a bully - in this case, the usual canine baddie. Ken Brown's watercolour illustrations augment Elizabeth MacDonald's somewhat predictable story: he creates a subtext focusing on social life among the farm animals as they gather and hide from the wolf. His animals are well observed and loosely rendered amid gently stained backgrounds and a riot of wet-on-wet wildflowers.

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