Picture books: traveller's tales

24th August 2001 at 01:00

Eloise in Paris
By Kay Thompson. Illustrated by Hilary Knight
Simon amp; Schuster pound;12.99. TES Direct pound;11.99
A Tale of Two Kitties
Illustrated by Linda Jane Smith
Pavilion Children's Books pound;9.99. TES Direct pound;8.99
The Fantastic Flying Journey
By Gerald Durrell. Illustrated by Graham Percy
House of Stratus pound;9.99. TES Direct pound;8.99
Saving Sinbad
By Michael Foreman
Andersen Press pound;9.99. TES Direct pound;8.99 (020 8324 5119 99p pamp;p per order)

Eloise is a little girl with a big personality who naturally belongs centre stage. A wealthy American child, Eloise lives in luxury at the Plaza Hotel in New York: in this book she takes a trip to Paris with her long-suffering nanny.

In the 1950s, when these books first appeared, travelling in style was more important than travelling light: "Oh my Lord did we ever have to pack pack pack," Eloise says, assembling no fewer than 37 pieces of luggage, the contents of which include a button hook for her Mary Jane shoes, a pair of pliers, a parachute, a hot water bottle and two tins of kippers. And, of course, her pets. As Eloise points out, "Sabena is the only airline that will allow you to travel with a turtle."

The flavour of Kay Thompson's witty, sophisticated and eccentric text, full of delightful non sequiturs, is perfectly captured by Hilary Knight's pen-and-ink drawings which propel Eloise across each beautifully designed page with such comic vitality. Knight is a fine caricaturist whose style recalls the spiky wit of Ronald Searle and the robust humour of Thelwell.

Linda Jane Smith's A Tale of Two Kitties reaches further back in time, taking the form of a deliberately well-thumbed, dusty-looking travel journal for the year 1899. Anxious to find a missing relative, Agatha Cat and her daughter Jessica (a keen artist) set off on a grand tour, visiting France, Italy, Greece, India, China and America. No chance of getting bored on this journey.

Graham Percy has illustrated a new edition of The Fantastic Flying Journey by Gerald Durrell. Although Great-Uncle Lancelot is something of a stock character with his white beard, pith helmet, Boys' Own enthusiasm and hot air balloon, the eccentric old buffer certainly has something to offer when he arrives out of the blue to take the Dollybutt children on a trip round the world.

Ostensibly, the journey is a search for a missing relative, but really it's Durrell's excuse to introduce children to wildlife. The great-uncle offers additional help in the form of a magic powder that allows the children to understand the language of the animals.

Saving Sinbad by Michael Foreman is the only book in this batch that doesn't involve foreign travel. Set in St Ives, Cornwall, it focuses on the lifeboat. When there's an emergency, we learn, the crew have to drop whatever they're doing and fly into action. So when a storm blows in and a ship gets into trouble, we see the builder, the barman, the butcher's boy, the barber and even a bridegroom, all running to the harbour, along with the builder's dog, which plays an important part.

Foreman's atmospheric watercolours tell you everything you need to know about the changeable weather and the treacherous sea.

  • Picture: one of Hilary Knight's illustrations for Eloise in Paris
    • A longer version of this review appears in this week's TES

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