On the wings of desire

11th July 2003 at 01:00
LAVENDER: THE BRAVEST RABBIT IN THE WORLD. By Posy Simmonds. Jonathan Cape pound;10.99

BEN'S MAGIC TELESCOPE. By Brian Patten. Illustrated by Peter and Sian Bailey. Puffin pound;5.99

GINGER FINDS A HOME. By Charlotte Voake. Walker Books pound;10.99

DELIGHTFUL DELILAH. By Nigel Gray and Anna Pignataro. Lothian Books pound;8.99

GROW UP. By Sandy Turner. Walker Books pound;10.99

THE LOVE-ME BIRD. By Joyce Dunbar Illustrated by Sophie Fatus. Scholastic pound;11.99

Jane Doonan is carried away by fictional flights of fancy

Why not make a wish and see what happens? That's what the main characters in these picture books do. Posy Simmonds's Lavender, an anxious little creature who enjoys drawing and reading, wishes for a quiet life.

She and her friends become involved with a group of jolly, plump, town foxes, who travel to the countryside bringing picnics of pizza and doughnuts. Things go well until the lean, mean, wily, country foxes decide to throw a party. When it becomes clear that Lavender is on the menu, the town foxes leap to her defence.

Simmonds's robust characters are unsentimental in concept and brought to life in brown crayon and subtle colour. With its genuine, unforced humour, Lavender's story is a delight from the first word to the last image, which shows her with her nose in a book - again.

Ben's Magic Telescope begins in a tower block in the ugly town where Ben lives. On his birthday, he wishes "something wonderful could happen to him". Then he finds a small silver telescope that transforms his view of the world.

As the magic takes over, Brian Patten's everyday prose slides into poetry and, on each double spread, Peter and Sian Bailey's look-and-look-again illustrations give two views on each scene: the far view as perceived through Ben's naked eyes, depicted in desaturated colour and delicate broken lines, and the magnified details brought close up through the circular lens of the telescope, pictured with photographic realism. The range of the telescope is wonderful, showing the bruising on apples in the local street market, and the footstep of an astronaut in the moon's craters.

Ginger Finds a Home is Charlotte Voake's companion book to her prize-winning Ginger. The cat is living in a patch of weeds. One day, he finds a plate of food. Later, he finds a small girl waiting for him; she wishes he would become her pet. The food woos him and her patience wins him.

Pictorially, this book couldn't be simpler - only the merest suggestion of settings and whispers of colour. All the attention focuses on the two participants, and the mobility of Voake's tremulous, fleeting line is particularly fitting for portraying the nervous animal. The paper stock is the colour of Cornish cream.

How many children are happy with their names? Ewan isn't; he's the hero of Delightful Delilah. Ewan wants a new name, and chooses one daily, on the basis of how it sounds. Then he chooses Delilah. It takes some time before he comes round to the idea that his parents' choice was a good one after all.

The text is hand-written rather than typeset, which gives the lettering a child-like association. The beautiful, bold images are in grainy pencil and mouth-watering colour - think of walnuts, plums, raisins, lemons, sage, and cool aqua blue.

Sandy Turner's Grow Up is built round that silly question adults ask children: "What are you going to be when you grow up?" Wishing to tease his questioner, or maybe amuse himself, a little boy runs through almost 40 occupations before he gives the obvious answer.

Turner has a liking for visual punning - picture a palm tree, or a child who stamps his feet. Fresh, witty, stylish, the artwork is in faux-naive drawing and collage, with hand-written words.

Sophie Fatus's illustrations for Joyce Dunbar's The Love-Me Bird are in flights of sharp pink, lime green, cerulean, and flutterings of red hearts.

The love-me bird longs for a mate, and calls, twitters and warbles for one.

Shut-Eye the owl wishes she would stop making a racket and let him get some sleep. He advises various strategies, but all to no effect. Then he wisely suggests she changes her tune to "Love-you". She gets an answering call, and it's peace at last.

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