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14th August 1998 at 01:00
Allan Ahlberg's Happy Families series is one of those happy ideas that grew legs and ran and ran (literally in the case of Mr and Mrs Hay the Horse - a pantomime specimen, naturally).

Now four of the series are available from Penguin in a book and tape (only 11 minutes a story) format (#163;4.99, or #163;2.99 for the tape alone), perfect for individual reading at home or back at school. Master Bun the Baker's Boy, Miss Jump the Jockey, Mrs Wobble the Waitress and Mr Biff the Boxer match the delightful, cosy detail of the original picture-book illustrations (in some cases by Andr Amstutz, in others by Janet Ahlberg) with the treacly warm voices of Richard Briers and Jan Francis.

In some ways the plots of Happy Families books are extended jokes - Mrs Wobble is a waitress who cannot get to grips with her work, Mr Biff is a boxer who is too easy to hit. But they are also full of friendly dialogue and encouraging morals. Thus Mrs Wobble's family helps her out with her wibble problem, Mr Biff's family teaches him how to give up cream cakes and get hard enough to defeat Mr Bop, although both families later go out for a meal together.

Josie Jump is too young to ride her pony at first, but a series of disasters gives way to triumph when she is the only one of her jockey family to win a race. Deservedly popular with ages three to seven, these are classics for the very young.

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