Time for rhymes

31st October 1997 at 00:00
A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES. By Robert Louis Stevenson. Dorling Kindersley Pounds 8.99.

BIG BOOK OF RHYMES AND STORIES. Edited by Ronnie Randall and Peter Stevenson. Ladybird Pounds 9.99.

A YEAR FULL OF STORIES. By Georgie Adams. Illustrated by Selina Young. Orion Pounds 20.

FIRST VERSES. Edited by John Foster. Illustrated by Carol Thompson. Oxford University Press Pounds 12.99.

TEA IN THE SUGAR BOWL, POTATO IN MY SHOE. By Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. Walker Pounds 9.99

Morag Styles wonders whether today's anthologies for young children will last as well as Robert Louis Stevenson's 1885 classic, A Child's Garden of Verses

Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses was published in 1885 and has never been out of print. This collection seems to appeal to generations of young readers and the adults who choose and buy books for them. I wondered what Dorling Kindersley would make of Stevenson's innovative depiction of childhood.

First of all, the 65 poems have been cut to 13, so the reader is getting only a fifth of the original. All the poems are accompanied by lavish colour plates, which range from a Duerer study of plants and well known examples of Impressionism, such as Monet's "The Artist's House at Argenteuil", to a living artist working in the naive school - though the vast majority are somewhat sentimental examples of Victorian and Edwardian paintings.

Although the pictures match the themes of the poems quite well, the overall effect is of a coffee-table book. Adults with a taste for nostalgia will probably enjoy it more than their children. The one exception is Carl Larsson's "Lisbeth at Table" which satisfyingly picks up the irony in "Whole Duty of Children". A beautiful book, but I imagine young readers will find some of the alternative versions of Stevenson currently available more to their taste.

At the other end of the spectrum, for almost the same price, children can enjoy Ladybird's Big Book of Rhymes and Stories.

It contains nursery rhymes, traditional stories retold by Brian Morse, plus some new ones by such writers as Tony Bradman. There is not much difference between the last two genres, as Morse updates the old tales with his contemporary vernacular. If predictable and on the bland side, the illustrations are attractive and humorous and there are plenty of them. Not for purists, but for under Pounds 10 Ladybird, as ever, offers good value. I suspect many children will like it.

A Year Full of Stories - 366 "brand new stories", to be exact - appears daunting. But it is a pleasant surprise to discover that Georgie Adams can rise to the occasion. She has a good voice for very young children; her best stories have a nice sense of fun, are well written and, like fairy tales, pared to their essentials. Quite a few are variations on traditional tales or verse, such as the three little kittens who lost their (in this case, fur-lined) mittens. Adams also has a talent for writing simple, appealing poems for the very young.

Selina Young's illustrations, a mixture of realism and fantasy featuring a multi-ethnic cast of characters, are a delight - charming, inventive and amusing. At Pounds 20 it is expensive, but you get a lot for your money. The design may be too busy for some adults, but children will enjoy the Richard Scarry-like detail. It is just the sort of book I longed to receive for Christmas when I was about six.

Oxford University Press has done it again with John Foster's First Verses, where well chosen finger, action, chanting and counting rhymes are enchantingly brought to life with Carol Thompson's illustrations. Most of the rhymes are not only modern, but new. Each of the four sections is available on tape.

Another beautiful book in terms of colour, design, print and paper is Tea in the Sugar Bowl, Potato in my Shoe, which teams Michael Rosen, in hilarious yet thoughtful form, with his old collaborator, Quentin Blake. Like Earl Grey with lemon, they make a quality act and a winning combination, though Pounds 9.99 in hardback only buys you nine poems.

Which of this crop of attractive texts for the very young might, like A Child's Garden, last a century or more? It's interesting to speculate.

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