Oldies but goodies

13th January 2006 at 00:00
Jane Doonan sees potential in new visualinterpretations of familiar fantasies, fables and fairy tales

Alice Through the Looking-Glass

By Lewis Carroll

Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Walker Books pound;14.99

Mice, Morals, and Monkey Business: Lively lessons from Aesop's Fables

By Christopher Wormell

Running Press Kids pound;12.99

Strong Stuff: Heracles and his Labors

Fierce Words

By John Harris

Powerful Art

By Gary Baseman

Getty Publications Pounds ?.

The Barefoot Book of Fairy Tales

Retold by Malachy Doyle

Illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Barefoot Books pound;14.99

The Fairy Tales

By Jan Pienkowski

Translated by David Walser

Puffin pound;14.99

The Adventures of Pinocchio

By Carlo Collodi

Illustrated by Roberto Innocenti

Random House pound;14.99

King Kong

From the story conceived by Edgar Wallace and Merian C Cooper

Illustrated by Anthony Browne

Picture Corgi pound;7.99

Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp

Retold by Philip Pullman

Illustrated by Sophy Williams

Scholastic Press pound;7.99

he stories in this collection have stood the test of time, and now glow from being given a fresh polish. Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Helen Oxenbury's collaboration with Lewis Carroll, is a wonder. Verbal and visual texts share the quality of brilliant absurdity as Oxenbury puts her drawing, with its clarity, eloquence and literal sobriety, at the service of Carroll's deadpan naivety. Episodes and characters are interpreted with freshness. Alice, large as life and twice as natural, could be spotted in any playground, the Walrus and the Carpenter might have come straight from the beach at Whitstable, and, like Alice, viewers will remember the White Knight with his ill-fitting armour, shaggy hair, and kindly smile, for years to come.

John Locke, writing in 1693, argued that if a child's Aesop has pictures in it, "it will entertain him much the better, and encourage him to read when it carries the increase of knowledge with it." He would have approved of Christopher Wormell's Mice, Morals and Monkey Business, illustrated with linoleum-block prints enclosing luminous colour. Each page-opening shows the moral and the title of the fable, with a large frame illustrating a key moment in the plot. The opportunity is there to make up a story before turning to the appendix to discover Aesop's tale. Years 2 to 6, as appropriate, might look, read, hypothesise, invent, cross-reference, try making a relief print or research Thomas Bewick, an artist who inspires Wormell.

The Golden Apple Award goes to Strong Stuff: Heracles and His Labors, with Fierce Words by John Harris, and Powerful Art by Gary Baseman. Their account of the hero in action includes a map of his world and a helpful little pronunciation guide: HARE-ah-kleez, HAY-dees. Perfect for a class project.

The text is studded with asides and corny jokes, while the pictures pack a punch in a large-scale faux-naif style and sizzling colour. Heracles displays The Hulk's bulk, Tarzan's muscles, and Pop-Eye's jaw, all topped off with Elvis's quiff. Literally and metaphorically, he's im-MENSE.

The Barefoot Book of Fairy Tales contains a broad selection of stories from around the world, all well worth reading. Malachy Doyle has a winning way with words. Nicoletta Ceccoli is an accomplished artist, but her style does not begin to connect with the dark actions and intentions, and the shadowy places, which play their necessary parts in many of the tales. However, if you value decorative qualities they are here in abundance, with delectable colour flooding the pages.

Encore! It's the second appearance for the rest of the books, and a good opportunity to be reminded of their worth. Pienkowski's The Fairy Tales, containing four of the most popular of European tales (Snow White, The Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella), was first published in 1977; this is a handsome gift edition, complete with gilded edges to the leaves.

Pienkowski's illustrations are in black silhouettes on marble-effect backdrops of radiant colour, and their presentation is still something of a novelty; we could be watching a play in a puppet shadow theatre. The silhouette, in which the profile rather than the detail is everything, allows Pienkowski to emphasise the action and drama with great vigour.

The next three picture story books are for top primary children who enjoy a good read. The Adventures of Pinocchio, Roberto Innocenti's collaboration with Carlo Collodi, appeared in 1988. A new edition features additional illustrations, and is based on a translation by Mary Alice Murray.

Innocenti reflects Collodi's original late 19th-century setting. His style is sombre in palette, rich in detail, and has acute attention to surface qualities. He goes for the heart of reality, however surreal that might be.

Anthony Browne's King Kong makes a welcome and timely appearance in paperback. Pre-empting the new film version by over a decade, Browne creates an understanding for the creature's emotions. Without spectacular cinematic special effects, the themes of the story are much more apparent.

Year 6 pupils could be encouraged to ponder on nature versus technology, civilisation in contrast with savagery, and man's relationship with animals, and to read the old tale of Beauty and the Beast.

Also newly available in paperback is Philip Pullman's retelling of Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp, which is the length of a short story and is illustrated by Sophy Williams and set in China. Pullman's great storytelling skills carry readers through the young hero's adventures as effortlessly as Aladdin's palace is transported through the sky. Williams's pictures - in pastel braced by the strength of good drawing - have a sensuous, warm russet tonality, as if they have been painted on copper.

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