12th May 2000 at 01:00
Primary. THE HIDDEN FOREST. By Jeannie Baker. GROWING FROGS. By Vivian French, illustrated by Alison Bartlett. Walker Books. pound;9.99 each.

Few science books for young children succeed in appealing to their audience's natural sense of wonder quite as well as Jeannie Baker's The Hidden Forest. Here is an author and artist who has been inspired by the underwater kelp forests off the Tasmanian coast. She has no desire to instruct - she simply passes on to children her fascination and enjoyment.

Her highly original illustrations ("What beautiful pictures," said my five-year-old) are constructed from seaweeds, sponges and sands, and the kelp itself modelled from translucent artist's clay. They have a marvellous three-dimensional quality, so that by the end of the book the reader has virtually learned the feel and the texture of the kelp.

Jeannie Baker's writing, too, has a poetic simplicity and elegance, asshe tells the story of young Ben, who learns to "see things differently" in the underwater world he explores with his friend Sophie.

The story of how frogspawn turns into frogs is one of the great narratives of childhood that no one should grow up without. For those unlucky enough not to have witnessed this mini-marvel first hand, or those who simply like to be reminded, Growing Frogs does a nice job.

Vivian French's text sacrifices imaginative flourishes for a straighforwardness which captures the way in which a child might recount, or write about, the experience (also reflected in the book's pseudo-childish printing). Alison Bartlett, in her illustrations, makes a virtue of bright primary colours, not least in Mum's unmissable red lipstick and her "not-quite-frogs". The science notes here, interspersed with the story, take the form of gentle instructions on growing your own.

Diana Hinds

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