Wrap it up, Hip-Hop

21st March 1997 at 00:00
YOU'RE SPECIAL, TOO By Alexandra Parsons Franklin Watts Life Education Pounds 8.99

CAFE AT THE EDGE OF THE MOON By Francesca Simon Illustrated by Keren Ludlow Orion Pounds 9.99

LITTLE BEAN'S FRIEND By John Wallace Collins Pounds 8.99

GIANT PIE By Paul and Emma Rogers Illustrated by Nick Schon Viking Pounds 10.99

WHAT NEWT COULD DO FOR TURTLE By Jonathan London Illustrated by Louise Voce Walker Pounds 9.99

CHARLIE'S CHECKLIST By Rory S Lerman Illustrated by Alison Bartlett Macmillan Pounds 8.99

In tales that teach children the rules for winning friends, Ann Treneman findsa little moralising goes a long way I find it hard to see what is so special about You're Special, Too and its little moral tales, each one illustrated with cartoon strips and photographs and hammered home with a rhyming homily from Hip-Hop, the Rapping Rabbit.

In one section, on unkindness, a cartoon boy says to a red-haired girl: "Get out of my way carrot-head! Your head's on fire ... no one's going to play with you." Hip-Hop has something to say about that: "There's a lot of sad people on this here page. Other people did it, and that puts me in a rage. Why can't people look out for one another, and make life sweet for their sisters and brothers?" All rather cringe-making.

The book is a hodge-podge of ideas on the sticky subject of social skills - Hip-Hop is never at a loss for words on subjects such as helping others, telling fibs, selfishness. Its prescriptive tone is exactly what it aims for as part of a Life Education series in which "the importance of self-esteem is particularly highlighted".

It could indeed be used in the classroom to launch discussions with up to nine-year-olds but I did not expect it to be a successful bedtime book for my six-year-old and hoped to make it "disappear" after one reading.

She had other ideas. She loved You're Special, Too. She wanted to take it to show-and-tell. We com-promised: I "found" the book but ref-used to read it that night. Instead, we enjoyed Cafe at the Edge of the Moon, the snazzily illustrated story of Janey, who eats her cakes before her sandwiches, does not care if her socks are falling down and uses her toy car as a skateboard. On the Moon, where there are no rules, she has a delightful time squirting ketch-up on her fruit. Janey is a wild sort of child (who eventually sees sense, of course) and will be a good friend for my six-year-old.

This is more than could be said for Little Bean's Friend, a quirky but sparse tale for the under-fives about a little girl who learns how to play with others. Any sign of the magic that would make a child read this book again and again is missing.

Giant Pie is one of those books grown-ups find magical. The design is bold and confident and I expected the same of the story. What a disappointment, then, to find that the book does not really know what it wants to say: there are traces of a tale about co-operation as two boys try to trap a giant but the story does not really hang together. Confusion reigns - on the page and in the plot - and one is left wondering how such a half-baked idea ever got into print, unless it was an excuse for Nick Schon's rather more memorable illustrations. These do give you something to talk about: the witch appears pushing jars of eyeballs and tongues in a supermarket trolley, wearing bat earrings with a (real) ladder on her stockings.

"Wonderful!" I thought. "Delightful!" The six-year-old tried to show interest for my sake, but then started going on about Hip-Hop. We made another deal: first something else, then more Rapping Rabbit.

This time we both liked the something else. What Newt Could Do for Turtle is a story of two creatures who are as different as can be, but care for each other as close friends should. The drawings by Louise Voce add to the fun and there is a happy ending, too.

But it was in Charlie's Checklist that we finally agreed on a winner. Charlie is a little dog in search of an ownerfriend who will love him forever. He enlists the boy next door, Chester, to help him in this quest. The outcome is familiar, but moving none the less. The text is not too simplistic for an early reader and the drawings bring the story to brilliantly coloured life.

Then, finally, it was time for that Special moment and the six-year-old plunged in, reading the cartoon script, pointing out the rhymes. But, no matter how hard I tried, Hip-Hop and I were not going to get along. But then again, we did not need to. This book was not meant to be my friend.

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