Picture perfect

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Ted Dewan opens up the latest illustrated titles to have arrived form across the Atlantic.

Among the latest excellent avant-garde picture books from the United States are some where the artists and designers have the upper hand.

The dead and the anonymous feature among the writers of three new picture books from New York-based artists. The Lane Smith (artist)Jon Scieszka (writer)Molly Leach (designer) team that produced Maths Curse (Penguin Pounds 4.99) and The Stinky Cheese Man (Penguin Pounds 5.99) has created a bundle of modern Aesop-style fables in Squids Will be Squids (Penguin Pounds 4.99).

Unlike The Stinky Cheese Man, the stories aren't post-modern treatments of old yarns, but cheeky nine-year-old-boy-style tales with dumb morals. Jon Scieska's foreword and epilogue outline an animal fable's effectiveness at poking fun at human foibles. Outrageous animals are a Lane Smith speciality, and it's Smith's and Leach's work that keeps you turning pages. I'd be amazed if this book didn't inspire a day of fable-writing for the seven to 10s.

A bone from the late Dr Seuss's yard of unpublished ideas is given flesh with Smith's artwork in Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! (Collins Pounds 9.99) with some help from writer Jack Prelutsky. Rather than imitate Seuss's art style, Smith and Leach choose Seuss-likely themes and motifs, including bits of Seuss art in collage. This works beautifully, and has inspired some of my favourite of all Smith's artwork. Seuss collectors will love it, and so will children old enough to study picture books as a form of literature rather than merely as an aid to reading. A section at the end of the book shows Seuss's rough sketches and text that inspired this tribute.

Finally, Simms Taback has created a die-cut version of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (Penguin Pounds 9.99). Careful design and hole-cutting allow you to see the growing barnyard of creatures in the Old Lady's stomach. British kids will eat it right up.

Ted Dewan is an illustrator and author. His latest book, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, is published by Doubleday.

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