Planet-hopping;Children's Books

17th April 1998 at 01:00
Frog finds there is life outside the pond in his latest outing. Geraldine Brennan reports from the International Children's Book Fair in Bologna

The whole point about the world is adventure," the gung-ho Rat tells the wimpish Frog in Max Velthuijs's forthcoming book, Frog and the Wide World.

This is the eighth story in the Andersen series about the amphibian hero in striped shorts. Frog is 10 years old next year, and as usual, speaks for humanity. Anyone of any age who has endured a miserable excursion will recognise: "Are we nearly there? Are we nearly there now? When are we going home?" Rainforest, desert and volcanoes are all wasted on Frog - until the adventure improves in the retelling by his fireside.

Rat, who cajoles the ill-prepared frog into more feats of daring and, eventually, carries him home, first appeared in Frog and the Stranger, as a drifter "from everywhere and nowhere". Like all other new arrivals, he had to overcome the other creatures' prejudice by being resourceful and courageous. Frog and the Wide World represents homecoming for Rat too.

A more direct look at ideas of belonging, friendship and nationalism comes in Jane Ray's illustrations for Julie Gold's song "From a Distance" (made famous by Nanci Griffith). The book, to come from Orchard, follows the cycle of war and fragile peace in a setting that evokes the Balkans, representing a departure from this artist's usual fairy tale and mythological material. Either of these books would make a good basis for a World Book Day assembly - but it'll have to be next year.

Helen Cooper's universe-in-a-book for the delectable Pumpkin Soup (to be served by Doubleday in time for Hallowe'en) concentrates on the interior - even when her expressive duck, squirrel and cat venture out of their cocoon into the scary beyond, their psyches are attached to their front door by elastic. Adventure in this world need only consist of jiggling the established order that holds the trio together. Then chaos on a global scale hits the little round house in the pumpkin patch where everything comes in sets of three.

The "Wooden O" of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is making a key contribution to World Book Day next week. Marcia Williams celebrates the Globe in a comic-strip collection of seven of Mr William Shakespeare's Plays (to come from Walker). It contains selected (not edited) lines from the plays in speech bubbles, and asides from gallery and groundlings (groundling on Julius Caesar: "You wait, one day they'll reward ambition").

King Arthur is another truly British hero, and Kevin Crossley-Holland's The King Who Was and Will Be, illustrated by Peter Malone and to be published by Orion, illuminates the world of Arthur and his knights and tours the "imaginary country" of courtly love. His sources include a guide to carving (meat, not wood) by one of Caxton's apprentices.

Collections of tales from around the world continue to loom large on publishers' lists. Frances Lincoln rounds up Christmas stories retold by Saviour Pirotta, illustrated by Sheila Moxley, in Joy to the World, with tales from Syria, Malta, Mexico, Ghana and Russia; and animal stories in A Twist in the Tail by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Jan Ormerod.

I feel more assemblies coming on. For riotous ones, try an Aesop's Fable from Jon Scieska and Lane Smith, who have reinvented retelling. Their Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables (Viking) reveals the hideous truth about the Wasp, the Bacteria and other organisms rarely celebrated in fiction. It's a side-splitting and slightly sick interpretation, and a reminder that World Book Day is a good opportunity to try a different kind of book, or to try something different with a book. Here's a moral maxim for April 23 from Max Velthuijs's Rat: "You have the rest of your life to sit around at home."

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