Read it any way you want

25th April 2003 at 01:00
This year's book fair winner proves there are at least 99 ways to tell a tale. Geraldine Brennan reports from Bologna.

The most talked-about book at Bologna this month was not, strangely enough, Madonna's first picture book (The English Roses, a story of five friends, to be published sumptuously by Puffin in September). It wasn't even Philip Pullman's elegant short story, Lyra's Oxford, which will be published at the end of October by David Fickling Books complete with John Lawrence's map of landmarks in the Dark Materials trilogy.

The winner of the overall Bologna Ragazzi prize was Raymond Queneau's Exercices de Style (published in France by Gallimard Jeunesse), a strange and wonderful book that shows there are at least 99 ways to tell a story.

It takes two simple scenes: on a hot day in Paris, a young man on a bus accuses another passenger of jostling him, then later meets another man who points out a lost button on his coat. He then serves up the same incidents repeatedly, with illustrations by 99 artists, including familiar UK names (Satoshi Kitamura, Quentin Blake, Colin McNaughton).

Primary pupils will recognise some of his tools as he rewrites in reported speech, in the style of a book blurb, and an official letter. You can also have your bare narrative bones fleshed out as a comedy in three acts, as a sonnet or ode, in what translates as Cockney rhyming slang or "gastronomic" style: "After slowly roasting in the browned butter of the sun, I finally managed to get on to a pistachio bus."

And the ingenious page layout means you can sample any illustration with any version of the story. Please, somebody, publish the excellent translation soon so the man on the Paris omnibus can hop on Eurostar.

But first, this autumn Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart will offer You Choose (published by Doubleday), a vast story-building kit in picture-book form that will appeal beyond key stage 1 thanks to Sharratt's funky images.

He illustrates Jacqueline Wilson's books, and her Tracey Beaker character can be spotted in his spread of potential players in the reader's own story. The scene-setting image bank also includes fantastical houses and exotic locations, food and furniture.

Also this autumn, Sharratt collaborates with Sue Heap for Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly, an early reading and colour concept book that also introduces young children to comparison of illustration styles, coming from Puffin in October.

For those who want to start the story with their own images, see The Dot by Peter Reynolds, illustrator of the Judy Moody series (Walker Books) in which a young artist, paralysed at the "polar bear in snow storm" stage of creativity, grows in confidence after making and celebrating a first mark, and proceeds to a lavish dotty output.

For readers who will benefit from putting themselves in the picture, there's The Shape Game, Anthony Browne's forthcoming picture book generated by Visual Paths, the London Tate galleries' visual literacy project for primary schools, to be published by Doubleday in August. When a family of four visit Tate Britain (the gallery itself subtly enhanced by Browne's trademark surrealist touches), only the mother is enthusiastic at first.

But father and sons follow her out of a shadowy blue haze into full colour as the barriers that stop them appreciating the works drop away, with even Dad won over by his resemblance to Peter Blake's self-portrait.

Meanwhile, Shirley Hughes will win the hearts of body-conscious girls with Ella's Big Chance (Bodley Head Children's Books), a recasting of the Cinderella story in a 1920s dressmaker's establishment. A voluptuous redhead apprentice with dainty feet goes to the ball in full flapper regalia (despite her mannequin-thin sisters' worst intentions), and knows what to do the morning after. Hughes makes an appearance as Madame Renee, an haute couture fairy godmother.

For readers of 10 up to older teens struggling to get their own show on the road, Jan Mark's The Stratford Boys (coming in August from Hodder Children's Books) follows the shaping of a play and the players'

relationships as apprentice glover Will Shakespeare and his friend Adrian coax an unpromising company into producing a play fit for public performance.

Set to be a major commercial and literary success, this novel will engage readers who prefer Fame Academy to Shakespeare, or whose attempts to form a band have been barely tolerated by their parents, but also contains important messages for more sophisticated readers about play-making, illusion and the power of art to transcend social divides, plus all the anguished heroes, rude mechanicals, fake priests and poetry you would expect.

The Eden Project books commissioned by Kate Petty coax stories out of the soil, as Adam is shaped by Mother Earth in the opening spread of Jane Ray's Garden of Eden; later, Adam and Eve leave Paradise armed with God's gift of "useful cuttings" from the garden. This is one of two Eden books coming in 2004; the other is A Child's Guide to Wild Flowers by Charlotte Voake with text by Kate Petty, a botanical reference book for children, including those who explore pavement cracks and city parks rather than woods and meadows.

The flowers are arranged by colour, then in terms relevant to a child's world such as "flowers you can see from the car". Names (English and botanical) are a source of stories, as are plant-related proverbs and sayings: "When gorse is out of blossom, then kissing's out of fashion."

War is tragically never out of fashion, and authors and illustrators have responded with Lines in the Sand: new writing on war and peace, edited by the mother-and-daughter team of Mary Hoffman and Rhiannon Lassiter. Their contributors' list grew throughout the fair to more than 90 and the results will be published by Frances Lincoln on June 12, with 10 per cent of royalties going to Unicef to fund aid for child victims of war in Iraq.

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