Remarkable stories

28th October 2005 at 01:00
DICKENS: HIS WORK AND HIS WORLD. By Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Robert Ingpen. Walker Books pound;12.99

ANNE FRANK. By Josephine Poole. Illustrated by Angela Barrett. Hutchinson pound;10.99

ACTION JACKSON. By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Frances Lincoln pound;10.99

RUN, HARE, RUN! THE STORY OF A DRAWING. By John Winch. Little Hare Books Pounds 10.99

Jane Doonan selects biographical picture books that throw light on great works

The art of telling stories, diary writing, painting, and drawing, are celebrated in these picture story books about remarkable creators and their works.

Dickens: His Work and World is a collaboration between Michael Rosen, poet, author and broadcaster, and Robert Ingpen, Australia's most distinguished artist-illustrator. Rosen asks why Dickens remains so popular and so well worth remembering; what makes him a great writer. He gives us some convincing answers.

There are four linked biographical chapters, and a section on "The Work"

which contains plot summaries of A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and a more detailed look at Great Expectations. Key incidents in the books are analysed to show how Dickens's technique engages the reader through his use of nearly a dozen conventions and literary devices; it's a crash course in literary criticism conducted in a friendly conversational tone and without recourse to any technical terms. Brilliant.

Rosen is teaching his readers (from 10 years up) what questions they fruitfully may ask about writers, their work, and the experience of reading. He constantly makes links between Dickens's life and art and the way our own lives are shaped, thus making his writing relevant today.

Ingpen is a magnificent draughtsman and painter. Images of real and imaginary worlds are equally convincingly portrayed through the naturalism of his style; colours look mellowed by time.

More than 30 million copies of The Diary of Anne Frank have been sold worldwide. Her story now takes a different form in Anne Frank, by Josephine Poole, illustrated by Angela Barrett, meticulously researched and intended for upper primary children. Poole begins her text with Anne in her cradle, born into a happy, apparently secure middle-class family. As well as including many homely details, Poole offers an accessible rationalisation of Hitler's rise to power in the Thirties.

Barrett's haunting illustrations are in low-key colours - muted greys and sombre sepia. The frames show the contrasts in Anne's life: her comfortable home is but a page-turn from the desolate street life of the poor children; orderly rows of school coats in the cloakroom bear mute witness to disorderly verbal attacks visited upon Jewish classmates by their former friends; within Anne's home there are both jokes and tears; she is shut out of the cinema, then shut into the annexe; her spacious bedroom is exchanged for cramped quarters. The back pages offer information about what happened to Anne's diary after the war, and a chronology from 1918, to the death of Anne's father in 1980.

One late spring afternoon in 1950, the American painter Jackson Pollock began work on the canvas that would become known as "Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)". This afternoon is the point of departure for Action Jackson, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

The main text is a fictionalised account of what followed that summer based on first-hand reports and articles, partnered by Robert Andrew Parker's illustrations in expressive line and wash. The result is a virtual visit to Pollock's home and studio. He is portrayed primarily at work on his action painting, which entailed long periods of sitting and brooding before he began to pour paint rhythmically from a brush or stick in unbroken lines, and to drip, scatter, and splatter the medium upon the canvas spread on the floor.

The picture story is followed by a photographic reproduction of the finished painting, a short biography, a bibliography, and a detailed list of notes and sources. This book would be an illuminating addition to both upper primary, and lower secondary school libraries, and could kindle an investigation into how Pollock changed the course of modern painting.

In Vienna in 2003, John Winch was fortunate enough to see Albrecht Duerer's drawing of a hare, which is rarely exhibited. Nothing is known about the conditions in which Duerer made this work, but Winch believes the hare was drawn from life, and in his picture book, Run, Hare, Run!, he imagines how this might have come about.

His story begins at the edge of a forest, with a hunter and his hound striding along the boundary of an adjacent cornfield. The hound picks up the scent of the hare and the chase is on - through field, farmyard, and within the city walls, until the exhausted hare is finally caught in the hunter's net and taken back to his home. Only then is the hunter's true intention revealed.

Winch's style, colourful and decorative, displays a minutely detailed manner - every frayed thread, every eyelash is in place. And to add to the excitement, the perspective repeatedly shifts between that of the hare and the hunter. For Year 1 children there's narrative suspense, and for Years 3 to 5 the book provides an introduction to one of the greatest painter-engravers of the Northern Renaissance.

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