Just the job;Children's books

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
Elaine Williams looks at stories that tackle the trauma of unemployment

Children often set a great deal of store by the jobs their parents do. Jobs create a pattern to life for the whole family, an involvement or interest to be shared. When jobs come to an end, as they so often do, children frequently pine for familiar markers and conversations and wish they had the power to put things right.

An unemployed parent might not seem the most promising subject for a children's story, but Ian Bone's Winning Back Dad (pictured right, Walker pound;7.99) takes a gutsy swing at the issue. Kel's dad is a big-bellied, straight-talking, hard-driving Australian trucker. He takes his son on some of the longer runs; they are a team. It's a "lad" thing. The bottom drops out of Kel's world when his dad comes home one day without his hat and without his truck and turns into a house father - a grumpy and sour one. They're no longer a team.

However, Kel's father had always taught his son that whatever job you do, you do it well, with pride. Life takes a turn for the better once Kel persuades "Da" to enter the district show's nappy hanging race. Bone's punchy style and pithy humour creates farce as well as pathos in this essentially thought-provoking treatment. A commendable addition to the Walker range for confident young readers.

In Lily Dragon (Collins pound;9.99), Mary Ellis spins a heroic adventure around a family faced with losing its livelihood. Lily is devastated when she is told by her parents that they are to lose their farm and that she and her brother Tom must go without them on a long-planned family trip to China to visit their grandparents and aunt. However, when her mum tells her the story of Grandpa Zhang and his treasure box, Lily is determined to discover its secret to save the farm. The Chinese holiday turns into an odyssey of discovery. Vivid pictures of contemporary life in China are inter-woven with mythology. Ellis's style is assured, her narrative lucid and compelling.

A moving, contemporary fairy tale is created from the closing of a steelworks in a picture book by Michael Ponsford with illustrator Derek Bainton. Bessemer (Pont pound;4.95) is the story of what happens when steelworker Billy Williams is made redundant. It's told by Billy's neighbour, a young boy who watches him become reclusive and retire to his backyard.

The boy is sad for Billy but becomes intrigued when Billy borrows a sewing machine and takes to sewing together scraps of red silk brought from the sari factory by another neighbour, Miss Leila. What can he be making? This is a gloriously uplifting tale, written with all the restraint and simplicity of folk-tale tradition, though the pastel pictures suffer from being a little too literal andphotographic.

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