Classics in new colours

Sat, Dec 15, 2012, 00:00

PICTURE BOOKS:Old stories are given a fresh twist in the latest batch of picture books

Sometimes the oldest stories are the best, and several writers and artists have turned to classic tales this season. The former children’s laureate Siobhán Parkinson and the illustrator Olwyn Whelan retell several Irish legends, including The Children of Lír and Labhra with the Horses’s Ears, in Spellbound(Frances Lincoln, £14.99). Whelan’s fabulously colourful watercolours are a perfect match for Parkinson’s skilful versions of the old tales.

None other than Umberto Eco has written the introduction for a new edition of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio(Andersen Press, £16.99), illustrated by Fulvio Testa and translated by Geoffrey Brock. I was terrified by the story as a kid, and I’m not a fan of Testa’s art, but this is a handsomely produced volume.

I was totally enchanted by the artist Su Blackwell’s The Fairytale Princess: Seven Classic Stories from the Enchanted Forest(Thames Hudson, £14.95). Blackwell makes incredibly beautiful 3D sculptures out of the pages of books, and her intricately cut images have been carefully lit and photographed, with stunning results. It’s sure to inspire many kids to make their own paper sculptures. Just make sure they use spare paper rather than books.

David Wiesner manages to tell evocative stories without using words, and, in Tuesday(Andersen Press, £5.99), he depicts the extraordinary happenings of one Tuesday night, when a legion of toads fly through the city before returning to their pond. Some children will love the silliness, while others might find the thought of toads flying into their house a little creepy.

There are animal adventures of a different kind in Anna Dewdney’s fantastic Llama Llama Red Pyjama(Hodder Children’s Books, £11.99). In hilarious rhyming couplets that are great fun to read aloud, Dewdney tells the story of Baby Llama, who doesn’t like being left alone after his Llama Mama puts him to bed, but finds out that even though Mama is in another room, she’s still looking after him.

In The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit(Warne, 12.99), the actor and screenwriter Emma Thompson and the illustrator Eleanor Taylor take up the mantle of Beatrix Potter. Playing around with a legend can be risky, and Taylor’s art is inevitably a pastiche of Potter, but the story is funny and appealing in its own right, as Peter accidentally travels to Scotland and participates in a sort of lapine Highland Games.

A new book by Oliver Jeffers is always a wonderful thing, and The New Jumper(Harper Collins Children’s Books, £10.99) is no exception. The Hueys all look, act and dress the same until one of them, Rupert, knits a snazzy jumper. A funny story about fitting in and standing out.

In David Lucas’s delightful Cake Girl(Andersen Press, £5.99) , a lonely, grumpy witch makes a girl out of cake to celebrate her birthday. The witch initially makes the cake girl slave for her, but then finds it’s better to be nice to people. Sweet as the cake girl herself, but never sickly, this wittily illustrated book is full of magic and charm.

There’s another unlikely friendship in Tracey Corderoy and Sophie Allsopp’s A Flower in the Snow(Egmont Press, £10.99), in which a girl called Luna finds a beautiful yellow flower in the snowy land where she lives. When the flower dies, her polar-bear friend Bear sets off to find more. Allsopp’s illustrations are delicate but fresh, and the story has just the right amount of fantasy.

Of course, older children appreciate beautiful books too, and they don’t come much more lavish than the new 30th-anniversary edition of Roald Dahl’s classic The BFG(Puffin, £25), the story of a girl called Sophie who encounters a Big Friendly Giant. A giant paperback packed in a golden case, this new edition beautifully showcases Quentin Blake’s fantastic (and sometimes slightly scary) images.

Michael Morpurgo’s Christmas Stories(Egmont, £14.99) features four stories, each illustrated by a celebrated artist: Michael Foreman, Emma Chichester Clark, Sophie Allsopp and, yes, Quentin Blake. All the stories are moving and charming, but the one that made me cry was The Best Christmas Present in the World, centred on the famous Christmas Day truce between British and German soliders in 1914. It’s a lovely book.

As is another festive title, The Empty Stocking, written by the screenwriter and director Richard Curtis and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb (Puffin, £6.99). Sam and Charlie are twins, but Charlie is much naughtier than her sister. On Christmas Eve, it looks like Santa’s going to have to get tough, and each twin will get the gift they deserve. Cobb’s scribbly illustrations are a delight, while Curtis shows a great understanding of what will both scare and reassure children. It’s a likeable and funny book, perfect for a pre-Christmas treat.

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