Stories made for two

6th August 2004 at 01:00
Ted Dewan chooses books packed with talking points

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus By Mo Willems Walker Books pound;9.99

Belonging By Jeannie Baker Walker Books pound;10.99

Orson Blasts Off! By Raul Colon Simon amp; Schuster Children's Books pound;5.99

Ted By Tony DiTerlizzi Simon amp; Schuster Children's Books pound;4.99

Jitterbug Jam: a monster tale Words by Barbara Jean Hicks Pictures by Alexis Deacon Hutchinson pound;10.99

If you enjoy putting on voices, inventing your own commentary, or just shouting a lot, this satchel of picture books will do for you. It offers a combination of dialogue-heavy and wordless texts that work best with a bit of performance or interpretation.

Mo Willems's Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus features a pigeon nagging the reader to allow it to drive the bus, and works best when read with a child who has been invited to shout "No!" at the persistently pesky pigeon.

Its retro American advertising crayon technique, accompanied by a very limited palette, gives it the atmosphere of a classic.

Belonging is a series of Jeannie Baker's painstaking collage reliefs shown through the same window over a generation. She depicts a changing urban scene from grotty wasteland into lively, leafy marvel using natural materials in her collagemodels.

At the heart of the book is the notion that trees and greenery can transform an urban neighbourhood (although it's certainly helped along by gentrification, as coffee shop replaces auto-body workshop).

It's fascinating to watch the central character growing up in her garden while the neighbourhood changes in a convincing progression. Clues in the foreground on the windowsill reveal the girl's age at each point. Whether Belonging is meant to be a quiet manifesto or just wishful thinking, it's enchanting and heartfelt and withstands many repeated "readings", with wide age and reading ability appeal.

After Orson's computer breaks and he's forced to use his imagination instead, Orson goes on an Arcticspace adventure. Orson Blasts Off! is all colour-coded dialogue between Orson and his jack-in-the-box. It's especially good as an advanced key stage 1 school reader to be taken home and read with a parent or carer who can read the part of the jack-in-the-box. It introduces some wordplay, with scientific and idiomatic terms that are amusing when taken literally. Authorillustrator RaNol Col"n uses an appealing combination of crayon pastels and textured paper, which gives the story a dream-like atmosphere reminiscent of Ian Beck's work.

Ted by Tony DiTerlizzi is the story of a father and son and an enormous pink imaginary friend called Ted. Although I found Ted himself a somewhat alarming depiction of what a "real" imaginary friend would look like, his Shrek-like presence is benign, mischievous, and hilarious. The son repeatedly pardons his unintentional naughtiness by claiming it's brought on by Ted (as in Helen Cooper's Little Monster Did It) but the father refuses to play along.

Ted himself, when sent into exile by the father, proclaims that "sometimes when people grow up, they forget how to have fun". Turns out Ted was known to the father by another name when he was a kid and, with a bit of magic, father finds a way to join his son's imaginary play.

Although Ted is emotionally unconvincing at times, the story does hold up as a good parable about shared imagination annealing a parent-child relationship.

Alexis Deacon is a great new British illustration talent, shortlisted for this year's Kate Greenaway medal (for Beegu). His artwork adds an undeserving grace to Barbara Jean Hicks's role-reversal monster story in Jitterbug Jam: a monster tale. The story itself isn't a patch on Deacon's own Beegu, but the artwork introduces the tenderness and pathos that the cliched text lacks.

The story is all told in a first-person ersatz hokum with lots of dialogue, which makes for an interesting counterpoint set against Deacon's limited earthtone palette, gloomily cosy Victorian lighting (as in Maurice Sendak's black-and-white work) and exquisitely expressive figure drawing. Cute and endearing without being at all cloying or sentimental, this book is another bulls-eye for Deacon.

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