Story collections

1st December 2000 at 00:00
At this time of year, publishers fill the bookshops with volumes aimed at a gift-buying public. Each of the books described here would make a fine gift or a treat for the primary class or school library. Some are so beautiful that you need multiple copies - one for school, one to give away, one to carry to bed and read, hug and stroke, and another to keep in mint condition as a work of art.

Two Walker collections fall into this last category. Fairy Tales retold by Berlie Doherty and illustrated by Jane Ray (Walker Books pound;14.99) is satisfying in every way. The text is set in a frame and surrounded by the most exquisitely coloured and designed background. The pictures are edged with gold and by now everyone is familiar with Ray's attention to detail and glorious feats of imagination.

It's good to see a Prince who isn't Anglo-Saxon, and the multi-cultural vision that informs this collection would make it a perfect choice for schools.

Doherty is a reliable and engaging storyteller. Her voice is one that speaks straight to the child and these stories read aloud well.

Naomi Lewis will not, I hope, be offended if I call her the Grand Old Lady of Storytelling. In Rocking Horse Land and other Classic Tales of Dolls and Toys (illustrated by Angela Barrett, Walker Books pound;12.99) she gathers together some treasures. There is, as she says in her introduction, a particular bond between children and their dolls or toys.

This world, with its strange perspectives, is depicted by Angela Barrett with characteristic elegance. Her illustrations are a sumptuous combination of the pretty and the faintly sinister. A school could make good use of this book in all sorts of ways - as a window on to a fascinating part of the past, for example.

The Kingfisher Book of Fairy Tales retold by Vivian French and illustrated by Peter Malone (pound;14.99) is another good collection. French's style is lively and direct and, again, her text reads aloud beautifully. The colours of Malone's almost primitive illustrations glow on the wide, white pages, and this bok would be easy to hold up in class.

From Barefoot Books come two delightful collections. Mary Hoffman's retellings in Brother and Sister Tales (illustrated by Emma Shaw-Smith, pound;12.99) emphasise the universality of stories and of the emotions ever-present in families. Tales from many cultures are told here and will provide much material for discussion.

Malachy Doyle sticks to Tales from Old Ireland (Barefoot Books pound;14.99) and good ones they are. Niamh Sharkey's illustrations are striking and (apart from some unswanlike swans) just right.

Children whose class library includes this collection and the new Russian Folk-tales from Oxford University Press (translated and retold by James Riordan. Illustrated by Andrew Breakspeare pound;12.99) will have their horizons widened. The Russian tradition is full of wonders and terrors, and Riordan's versions are well-written, with energy, economy and occasional poetic touches.

Nursery rhymes should be part of every child's life, and here are two enchanting books for them. Ian Beck's breezy, exuberant pictures sing out on every page of the The Oxford Nursery Treasury (pound;12.99) and Clare Beaton, in Mother Goose Remembers (Barefoot Books pound;12.99) has found an original way of illustrating the verses. Each picture is a glorious collage of fabrics, and children have to spot one of Mother Goose's feathers on each page. Patient teachers might encourage children to make their own collages.

Finally, The Shirley Hughes Collection (The Bodley Head pound;19.99) is probably the best value this Christmas. For your money, you get a retrospective of the work of one of the best authorillustrators in the world, plus a new story, "The Angel on the Roof". There's something here for children of every age, and for those who read aloud to them.

The book is subtitled "A celebration of a lifetime's work", and if ever someone's work was worth celebrating, it's Shirley Hughes's. She is a great wearer of wide-brimmed, flattering hats, so the most appropriate response to this covetable volume is: "Hats off".

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