Strong line in storytelling

31st January 2003 at 00:00
Michael Thorn finds illustrated readers to build confidence

THE THING IN THE SINK, THE TALL STORY, RENT A FRIEND. By Frieda Hughes. Illustrated by Chris Riddell Hodder Children's Books. pound;4.99 each. PIGFACE. By Catherine Robinson. Illustrated by Sam Hearn. Young Corgi pound;3.99.

BOBBY, CHARLTON AND THE MOUNTAIN. By Sophie Smiley. Illustrated by Michael Foreman. Andersen Press pound;3.99.

THE CASE OF THE POP STAR'S WEDDING. By Barbara Mitchelhill. Illustrated by Tony Ross. Andersen Press pound;3.99 each. HORSE FORCE 3: Riddle of a Rich Rat. By J J Murhall. Illustrated by Gary Swift. Hodder Children's Books pound;3.99.

ANIMALS DON'T HAVE GHOSTS. By Siobhan Parkinson. Illustrated by Catherine Henderson. O'Brien Press. pound;4.99.

REVENGE OF THE GODS. By Richard Moverley. Illustrated by Chris Coady. Heinemann Junior African Writers Series pound;2.75.

The importance of good illustration in books designed to build reading confidence is often taken for granted, though not when the illustrator is Chris Riddell, and the illustrations as good as those in The Thing in the Sink.

What always impresses about Riddell's work is his exquisite line drawing.

This is a new edition of a story about a boy struggling with a school project because he has no pet of his own. Salvation comes in the changeable shape of a creature that lives in the pipework, and this allows Riddell to display the flair for creating fantastic animals that has been such an important ingredient of the success of The Edge Chronicles, his collaboration with Paul Stewart.

Hodder has reprinted two more Frieda HughesChris Riddell books - The Tall Story and Rent a Friend - and all three stories are highly recommended.

Riddell's illustrations for Rent a Friend - a thought-provoking tale about a lonely boy's search for a special friend, containing messages about popularity and stereotypical reactions to people in wheelchairs - are appropriately more low-key and personal.

Pigface by Catherine Robinson is a very impressive chapter book about bullying. Here Sam Hearn's small line drawings help the reader visualise the social dynamics in each of the situations. Like many other Young Corgis, this book will be enjoyed by children who are already confident readers. But its richly dramatised episodic structure, and its readiness to depict children being every bit as nasty as they can sometimes be in real life, will enhance its appeal for less mature readers.

Hearn's picture of Pigface being the last to be chosen when sides are picked in a games lesson doesn't reinforce so much as supplement Robinson's description: "Pigface... was always left over at the end, his fat thighs mottled and wobbling with cold inside his flapping, oversized black shorts." The illustrations also have the effect of broadening the narrative point of view. The book is written in the third person, from the point of view of Noah, a boy who has gone along with the name-calling and ridiculing of Pigface, not maliciously, but because that's just the way it's always been. The illustrations, however, encourage the reader to see things through Pigface's eyes. Noah, too, is forced to rethink his attitude when a new boy at school supersedes him as the popular one. A book that should be included on any bullying-related reading list, with a suitably strong moral at the end.

Line illustration is a specialised art. That is why the same names - Tony Ross, Nick Sharratt and so on - appear so often. A good picture book illustrator will not necessarily be a good chapter book illustrator.

Michael Foreman's coloured cover art on Sophie Smiley's excellent story about a boy with Downs syndrome is very much more evocative than the line drawings inside. This doesn't matter, because the first-person voice of the narrator (the Downs boy's sister) is so immediate, so animated. A heart warming story about sibling solidarity.

Tony Ross is the perfect choice of illustrator for Barbara Mitchelhill's The Case of the Pop Star's Wedding. His madcap, cartoon-sketch humour is absolutely at one with Mitchelhill's new story about Damian Drooth, supersleuth, this time foiling a robbery at a celeb's wedding.

Another fun crime story is Riddle of a Rat in J J Murhall's Horse Force series. The idea of a horse police force is a great hook on which to hang a series of horse gags (a stunt double is said to have starred in Raiders of the Lost Bark, Star Paws, High Hoofs, and so on) and the jokes are almost more to the point than the kidnapping storyline.

In Animals Don't Have Ghosts, metropolitan Michelle takes two rural cousins on a tour of Dublin. The result is a breezy, jaunty read for those who will go on to enjoy Paula Danziger and Jacqueline Wilson.

Revenge of the Gods is produced in a Heinemann African series in which plots are restricted to linear development with chapters divided into focused episodes. Despite the dated full-page illustration style, and a rather orthodox storyline about a raid on a tomb, the richly realised Cairo setting makes this a chapter book to recommend to young readers who enjoy exotic settings.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm Primary School, Hailsham, East Sussex

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