On with the show

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Jane Doonan finds picture books with a sense of performance


By Tony Kushner. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Walker Books pound;12.99

Biscuit Bear

By Mini Grey. Random House pound;10.99


By Sean Taylor. Illustrated by Bruce Ingman. Walker Books pound;10.99

No More Teasing!

By Emma Chichester Clark. Andersen Press pound;10.99

I Took the Moon for a Walk

By Carolyn Curtis. Illustrated by Alison Jay. Barefoot Books pound;10.99

Experimental and challenging as ever, in his eighth decade Maurice Sendak collaborates with dramatist Tony Kushner to bring us Brundibar (illustrated above). It has a moving dual narrative structure with fictional triumph embedded in tragic historical circumstance.

On the page, two penniless small siblings go into town to get milk for their sick mother and attempt to earn money by singing. Brundibar, a bullying hurdy-gurdy player, opposes them but with the help of a trio of talking animals and a choir of 300 schoolchildren, success finally is theirs. On the book jacket we learn that Brundibar is based on an opera by Hans Kr sa and Adolf Hoffmeister which was performed in the 1940s by children in TerezinTheresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Kr sa and most of the young cast were later to die in Auschwitz. Sendak designs the picture book as an imaginary re-creation of the opera, and adopts a style reminiscent of Chagall, another artist who was fascinated by the theatre, while lyrics form a substantial proportion of Kushner's text. While the story will be accessible to primary children, as a totality this homage to moral courage and elegy for the dead belongs more fittingly with materials on the Holocaust theme for secondary school students.

Roll up! Roll up! See the circus in Mini Grey's Biscuit Bear. Like many children of about seven or eight, Horace loves messing about with pastry scraps and one day he makes a bear-shaped biscuit. During the night, feeling lonely, Bear goes to make himself some friends - more biscuits of all shapes and sizes. Then ringmaster Biscuit Bear and company put on a spectacular show, only to be literally broken up mid-performance by the arrival of Horace's dog. Crumbs! How will Bear save himself from becoming a midnight feast? Grey's design is a fine fusion of words and images, there is genuine humour on every frame and the colours are as bright as Smarties.

Don't practise your quadruple head-first flip beside an open window because you might then find yourself out somewhere over the rooftops, dicing with death like "The Great Elastic Marvel", five times World Trampolining Champion, in Sean Taylor's story, Boing! After a dazzling display - half twists, seat drop, triple back twist, piked jump, barrel roll and all - the champion is back inside his living room again, though it's not his feet he falls on. This picture book is a pace-gaining page-turner with lively narration, naturalistic dialogue, and additional sound effects. Bruce Ingman's painterly freestyle cartooning has all the energy needed for keeping the action buoyant. Just watch this picture book bounce from hand to hand in Years 4 and 5; it's a cure for reluctant readers.

No More Teasing! is Emma Chichester Clark's second picture book featuring slightly disguised four-year-olds as two little monkey cousins, Mimi and Momo. It's perfect for nursery and Reception class children who will readily recognise the theme of dealing with teasing. Naughty Momo gets a buzz out of calling Mimi names, taunting her, and scaring her with tales of the imaginary Grizzly Grilla. Grandma takes up theatricals in Mimi's defence, brings the Grilla to life, and together with Mimi, gives Momo a taste of his own medicine. An outstanding colourist, Chichester Clark's pictures bloom in sharp pinks, lemon, and a profusion of jungly greens.

I Took the Moon for a Walk is ideal for shared reading, or sampling the pleasures of verse and imaginative language in the classroom, at key stage 1. In a magical adventure, a little boy walks across a rural landscape, the moon beside him, with neighbourhood dogs supplying a choir. Moon's-eye, and worm's-eye perspectives free the viewer to roll, bowl, rise, fall, and float effortlessly with the main participants. Surreal and serene, the distinctive illustrations have a folk art quality, with the medium creating crackle-glazed surfaces and sensuous colour. The book includes a reference section about the moon, nocturnal animals and flowers.

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