Meet my friends
The Jessame Stories, By Julia Jarman, Heinemann Pounds 7.99. 0 4349 6392 5 Silly Stories, By Andrew Matthews, Orion Pounds 8.99. 1 8588 1064 7.
Each of these collections of short stories is written in its own distinctive authorial voice, and, although they seem primarily suited to the seven to nine age group, like all good children's books, they will appeal to adults as well.
Berlie Doherty has an impressive record as a children's author and Willa and Old Miss Annie shows many fine touches. Willa is a little girl whose family moves house. The scene in which she says goodbye to her best friend is particularly sensitively observed. One of the main themes of the stories is friendship - between children, animals, and young and old. The book is full of deeper insights into the nature of these friendships, but they are explored almost as a subtext, leaving the stories to hold the attention.
Willa and Miss Annie help to save three animals: Joshua the goat, Bony, a Shetland pony; and Vicky Fox, an orphaned fox cub. There are hints of the darker side of life in the pony left to starve, the dogs sent to kill the foxes, and an almost throwaway line about Willa and her new friend, Ruth, suggesting the problems each has of being accepted by schoolmates. However, the overall tone is positive, and old Miss Annie, with her "hair like wool", her hands "full of bumps", and her voice "full of tiny words", is the real heroine, the gentle catalyst who ensures the happy endings.
In The Jessame Stories by Julia Jarman, Jessame Aduke Olusanya lives with her baby brother, mother, Grandma and Grandpa near the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood in East London. Various colourful characters visit the flat, including wonderful Uncle Sharp when he is home from sea with exotic presents and travellers' tales, and tall Aunt Gbee from Sierra Leone. We also hear the heartwarming story of the Very Fancy Dress.
According to the book's dedication, these stories are the real childhood memories of Vanessa Oduke Olusanya, and perhaps this partly accounts for their air of authenticity. However, Julia Jarman has told them in a lively style with many touches of humour and interesting turns of phrase. This is a welcome addition to the slowly growing canon of stories about black children.
Silly Stories by Andrew Matthews is a collection of 12 tales, engagingly written in the traditional storytelling mode - they cry out to be read aloud. They are full of humour and contain some memorable poetic images. Meet Billy with "eyes like pools of sky" wherein "dreams made their homes the way swallows built nests under the eaves"; and hungry Rob who says, "If I don't eat soon, I'll get so thin that my shadow won't fit me anymore".
The tales have been set in the fictional village of Waffam, where the inhabitants are all known for doing silly things. Every story is different and the collection culminates in the entertaining "Boasting Competition", and a fitting ending it is too. These are just what is needed to excite the imagination and illustrate the power of language.