Leap of imagination

11th December 1998 at 00:00
By Jane Simmons
Orchard , #163;9.99.

By Meredith Hooper
Illustrated by Bert Kitchen
Frances Lincoln

By Hiawyn Oram
Illustrated by Susan Varley
Andersen, #163;9.99.

By Kathryn Cave
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
Hodder ,#163;4.99.

By Phyllis Root
Illustrated by David Parkins
Walker , #163;9.99.

By Emma Chichester Clark.
Andersen, #163;9.99.

Ebb the dog and Flo, his five-year-old owner, live agreeably on a river boat until one day they are joined by a goose called Bird. Ebb finds it hard to adjust to a creature that just hangs around saying "beep, beep". Bird disappears.

Sibling rivalry gives way to sibling grief and, by the time Bird reappears, Ebb has learned that life can be improved by an addition to the family. Ebb's New Friend has acute sentiments jabbed into the rounded shapes of boat and Mother and Granny and the idyllic (Australian) river setting. It's a simple recipe beautifully executed - an adroit implant of jam in doughnut.

In Tom's Rabbit, Meredith Hooper and Bert Kitchen elaborate "a true story from Scott's last voyage" into a rabbit Nativity in an Antarctic setting. Tom Crean, a member of the Terra Nova crew on Scott's final expedition, had a rabbit. According to the story, which has been illustrated in a slightly fake-painted-sea-chest manner, nowhere could be found to billet the rabbit until, on Christmas Eve, Crean bedded it down in the ponies' hay store. Hours later (and this is fact) the rabbit gave birth to a litter of 17. What happened to them is not revealed: the reader is spared the most likely outcome - rabbit stew for the surviving crew.

"Camomile was a princess with a problem. . .": topical in its whimsy, Princess Camomile Gets Her Way projects Beatrix Potter animal characterisation into a culture of shopping, kidnapping and simple cunning.

Camomile is a mouse, Bagseye a villainous but dim-witted cat. Less well-served by author than illustrator (Hiawyn Oram loses the plot somewhat towards the end), mouse and cat are a couple with plenty going for them in terms of potential sequels.

Horatio Happened is a hyperbolic fantasia about what happens when the grot shoved under a boy's bed spontaneously combusts into a mutant rodent. Chris Riddell's illustrations give the impression that decay (like corruption in the body politic) is more fertile than cleanliness. A good subversive argument, though one that is bound to be brushed aside by the authorities. Chris Riddell's strength as a political cartoonist is in his bizarre elaboration which translates well into knockabout fantasy. The more monstrous his creations, the greater the sympathy generated. Indeed, the only unconvincing personality in the story is the rubber-gloved mother, altogether too unruffled as she attempts a clean-up.

Aunt Nancy is sorely troubled by the shortcomings of her inferiors, such as Cousin Lazybones, a great lump of a man who imposes on her hospitality. Told in a folklorique manner and illustrated in a homely style, with lots of highlights and exaggerated silhouettes, Aunt Nancy and Cousin Lazybones spins itself out with loads of over-emphasis and Southern Comfort drawl. The age-old tale of a trickster out-tricked, it satisfies on several levels.

Emma Chichester Clark has perfect pitch as an authorillustrator. I Love You, Blue Kangaroo! doesn't explain why Lily prefersa blue marsupial to all her other cuddly toys. There in the illustrations is the answer - Blue Kangaroo has the unthreatening agility required of a perfect soulmate. He has obstinacy and whole-hearted irrationality and his owner appreciates that - as will any child who identifies with one particular animal to the exclusion of those engineered to be endearing. Here, Wiggly Green Crocodile, Wild Brown Bear and other claimants to affection are relegated. Graphically, Blue Kangaroo is a winner.

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