Picture books

20th October 2000 at 01:00
MADLENKA. By Peter Sis. Allen amp; Unwin pound;9.99. WHERE ARE YOU, BLUE KANGAROO? By Emma Chichester Clark. Andersen Press pound;9.99.

PRINCESS CAMOMILE'S GARDEN. By Hiawyn Oram. Illustrated by Susan Varley. Andersen Press pound;9.99.

MY UNCLE IS A HUNKLE SAYS CLARICE BEAN. By Lauren Child. Orchard Books pound;10.99.

COWGIRL ROSIE AND HER FIVE BABY BISON.By Stephen Gulbis. Orchard Books pound;10.99.

BIG BAD BUNNY. By Alan Durant. Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. Orchard Books pound;9.99.

THE SCARECROW'S HAT. By Ken Brown. Andersen Press pound;9.99. ESMERELDA. By Karen Wallace. Illustrated by Lydia Monks. Macmillan Children's Books pound;9.99.

This selection offers a romance of heroines in all shapes and disguises. Peter S!s's Madlenka is a traditional girl-child but everything else about the book - concept, pictorial style, layout, design - is unconventional.

When Madlenka's tooth begins to wiggle she goes round the block (the setting is New York) to tell her neighbours. Accompanying her, we discover a little about custom, culture and language across four continents.

The mixed-media artwork resembles etching and aquatint, the placement of words and images in borders on all sides of some pictures obliges the reader to rotate the book (and "perform" Madlenka's journey), and pierced pages enable the heroine to be in two places at once - all over the world as well as on her home ground.

Emma Chichester Clark's heroine, Lily, and her marsupial toy make a welcome return in Where Are You, Blue Kangaroo? Lily is easily distracted, and her habit of mislaying Blue Kangaroo upsets them both. Real kangaroos at the zoo model a practical solution.

The ups and downs are conveyed through simple, robust forms with colour like the sun shining through boiled sweets.

Princess Camomile's Garden re-introduces a frisky young mouse with a mind of her own. The line-and-wash illustration matches the measure of the words - lightly, sprightly does it. Camomile dreams of having her own garden within the palace grounds and eventually wins her parents round. At the opening ceremony, a triple page spread gives a panoramic view of the garden's delights.

Lauren Child's creation Clarice Bean, stand-up comedienneof the picture book world, is back to divulge more about her folks. When Mum has to fly to New York to look after Uncle Ernie (a policeman who has slipped on a doughnut getting out of his squad car), she leaves Uncle Ted - a fireman who thinks he's a cowboy - in charge of the family.

The ensuing trail of disasters is accompanied by laconic throw-away observations from Clarice, and pictured with comic panache.

Clarice, tutored by Uncle Ted, throws a mean lasso, something she has in common with the off-beat heroine of Cowgirl Rosie and her Five Baby Bison, a playful, spot-the-rustler mystery for younger viewers. To digress from heroines for a moment, young TV viewers who share Uncle Ted and Clarice's love of westerns will also enjoy Big Bad Bunny. Sombrero on his head, carrots in his twin holsters, Big Bad Bunny stalks out of the sunrise, casting his huge purple shadow over the scorching desert. He's coming to rob just about everybody, and the bank.

By the time Wise Old Bunny, the cashier, has finished with him, our anti-hero is outwitted, reformed, and rehabilitated. Guy Parker-Rees captures the action in bold images, and in colour which is as wild as the west.

The heroine of Ken Brown's new picture story book, The Scarecrow's Hat, is an enterprising chicken. She wants the hat, the scarecrow wants a walking stick, and so a series of exchanges goes on, with a hint of suspense, and a wry word here and there. The images of the anthropomorphised animals, although humorous, have a natural dignity. Brown is a outstanding watercolourist, and his luminous compositions include details to sustain re-viewing.

More dreams come true for Esmerelda, a frog who thinks she's a princess, and Esmond, a frog who thinks he's a prince. Either side of the pond, each waits for love. Karen Wallace's story has the essence of the fairytale, and can be enjoyed from several viewpoints - a little fun, a parody, an incentive to have the courage to be yourself, or a feminist's nightmare.

Lydia Monks achieves the perfect balance between paint and collage for the pictures, with snippets of intriguing materials set upon pure colour fields of buttercup, turquoise, and hot pink.

JANE DOONAN


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