Treasure hunt

20th November 1998 at 00:00
By Allan Ahlberg.
Illustrated by Paul Howard.
Walker #163;9.99.

Compiled by Belinda Hollyer.
Illustrated by Robin Bell Corfield.
Bloomsbury #163;14.99.

Illustrated by Debi Gliori.
Bloomsbury #163;12.99.

Illustrated by Alan Marks.
North South #163;17.95.

BISKY BATS AND PUSSY CATS: the animal nonsense of Edward Lear.
Illustrated by Matilda Harrison.
Bloomsbury #163;10.99.

By Shel Silverstein.
Collins #163;9.99.

By Mervyn Peake.
Peter Owen #163;7.95.

Compiled by Liz Attenborough.
Element Children's Books #163;12.99.

Compiled by Alison Green.
Illustrated by Anna Currey.
Macmillan #163;17.50.

A new Allan Ahlberg book is always an exciting event. He works his usual magic in Mockingbird, playing amusingly with the traditional song: "If that Mockingbird won't sing, Papa's gonna buy you ... a garden swing", and so on. Paul Howard's illustrations give the picture book a rumbustious Edwardian family setting with delightful period detail and plenty of fun. This well patterned, circular story should please very young readers.

Although the title and illustrations suggest a similar readership, Bloomsbury's A Book of Lullabies, compiled by Belinda Hollyer, with illustrations by Robin Bell Corfield, includes challenging poems by writers as diverse as Walter de la Mare, Russell Hoban, Eleanor Farjeon and Eve Merriam. The problem for this book may be the uneven nature of the written and pictorial text: although the illustrations (and the gorgeous end-papers) are extremely pretty, with lilac predominating in watercolours suggestive of night-time, they sometimes verge on the sentimental.

In Give Him My Heart, the award-winning artist Debi Gliori gives a contemporary twist to Christina Rossetti's exquisite carol, "In the Bleak Midwinter", while simultaneously retelling the story of the birth of Jesus.

Gliori's paintings draw on traditional imagery of trees with baubles, cards, roaring fires and winter scenes, but the real values of Christmas are emphasised by her lavish use of gold in connection with the hardship suffered by poor people in the original story and the inestimable human qualities of generosity and love. Self-referential, intertextual touches make this a quality, multi-layered text for the very young.

Also with an eye to the Christmas market is North South's reissue of Over the Hills and Far Away and A Book of Nursery Rhymes as a handsome boxed set - called A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes - gloriously illustrated by Alan Marks, which would make a wonderful gift for readers of any age.

Bisky Bats and Pussy Cats is a collection of Edward Lear's animal nonsense, illustrated by Matilda Harrison. This is her first picture book for Bloomsbury, and it's full of sumptuous detail, interesting design and witty originality. But it might be geared more to adults' taste than that of young readers.

Children will certainly fall for Falling Up. It is vintage Shel Silverstein with inimitable nonsense poetry and pictures in the same style and format as the popular Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic.Another outstanding humorist and illustrator, Mervyn Peake, is in print again with A Book of Nonsense, edited by his widow, Maeve Gilmore.

And now, dear reader, "Breathe slowly and deeply and begin to feel calm and quiet... the flat stones by your feet want to be friends too and you wonder what it would be like to listen to a stone talk". No, your reviewer has not gone mad - just offering a taster of the meditations sprinkled liberally throughout The Children's Book of Poems, Prayers and Meditations.Otherwise, Liz Attenborough's selection of poetry, to coincide with the National Year of Reading, is first class - Nelson Mandela, Cecil Rajendra and John Lennon sit side by side with Judith Wright, Cecil Frances Alexander and Wendy Cope. This varied, multi-ethnic mixture of poetry from the past and the present is divided into eight sections and illustrated by a range of artists including Peter Bailey and Bee Willey.

I object to the meditations, kind and well-intentioned though they are, not because they made me wince but because they are likely to confirm some readers' prejudices about poetry being precious. You don't need specially written meditations - the excellent poetry in this book gives you all the insight you need about what it means to be human.

Alison Green, editorial director of children's books at Macmillan, had the sense to let the poetry speak for itself in The Macmillan Treasury of Nursery Rhymes and Poems, a well-designed book amusingly illustrated by Anna Currey. Roger McGough tells us persuasively in his foreword that he "would have swapped countless conkers, Dinky toys and even sweet coupons" to have owned this book as a child. Me, too. It is expensive, but worth every penny as the selection of poetry is outstanding.

It is hard to be original with so many poetry "treasuries" steaming off the presses. What makes this anthology different is the wide knowledge of the editor, who not only includes superb examples from the oral tradition, but takes proper account of the poetry of the past (including William Blake, Sarah Coleridge, Thomas Hood, Jane Taylor, Sara Hale and, with seven poems, Christina Rossetti), as well as that of other cultures and of some of the best of 20th-century British and American poetry for younger readers.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today