The wonderful magic of miniature
PICTURE BOOKS:THERE’S SOMETHING irresistible about miniature worlds. From the Borrowers to doll’s houses, there’s something magical about houses where tiny people bathe in tea-cups and use feathers as brooms.
Bob Graham’s utterly enchanting April Underhill, Tooth Fairy(Walker £11.99) is the story of a seven-year-old tooth fairy who goes on her first mission with her little sister. These aren’t the usual sort of airy fairies – they may have wings (as does their dog), but they and their slightly hippy-ish parents wear jeans and send each other texts. The down-to-earth tone and the beautifully rendered tiny world (they use postage stamps – including an Irish one – as art, their bathroom sink is made from a thimble) make this a book to treasure.
Tooth fairies also feature in Colin Giles’s Wardsback: A Fairy Tale(Blurb.com, €17.95), in which two girls from the mysterious village of Wardsback create magic teddy bears by capturing fairies and trapping them in the bears. The fairies eventually have their revenge in this odd but striking fable.
Anthony Browne’s Me and You(Doubleday, £10.99) is a very different sort of fairytale. It’s an imaginative retelling of Goldilocks from the point of view of the three very suburban bears. As the bears go off for a walk, we see a small bespectacled girl with long, reddish-gold hair run away from her mother and wander into their house. Clever and strange, with sharp pencil illustrations, it’s a memorable book.
There are more animal adventures in Jo Hodgkinson’s jaunty The Talent Show(Andersen, £10.99). Told in rhyming couplets, it’s the story of four animal friends who decide to enter a talent show. When a little red bird wants to join the band, they tell him he’s too small – but they’ll soon discover that size isn’t everything. The rhyming text makes this colourful tale a pleasure to read aloud.
There’s even more fun to be had with Emma Dodson’s Speckle the Spider(Walker , £10.99). Speckle is a spider who loves to dance and heads off in a crate of bananas to see the world. Dodson’s jolly illustrations are enhanced by paper flaps and envelopes containing everything from Speckle’s school report to fan mail. While this is hugely appealing, it can be tricky getting stuff out of the envelopes and one can’t help thinking that the various bits will quickly get lost or torn.
In Tony Ross and Jeanne Willis’s The Nanny Goat’s Kid(Andersen, £10.99), a nanny goat who can’t have children of her own adopts a child who isn’t like the other kids – he seems to be a tiger. When some of the other goats’ kids go missing, they accuse the Nanny Goat’s kid of eating his adopted cousins, but he eventually proves he’s really one of the family. This positive message is undermined by the downright creepy portrayal of the desperately childless Nanny Goat, who is shown crazily feeding porridge to a cuddly toy kid in a high chair.
Jan Fearnley’s Arthur and the Meanies(Egmont, £10.99) is more good humoured. Arthur the Elephant feels left out when most of the other animals don’t let him join in their games; only Frog and Duck are happy to play with him. But as soon as it starts to rain, everyone wants to shelter beneath him. Arthur manages to teach everyone a lesson and make some new friends in a story that shows there’s never any point in bearing a grudge. Fearnley’s delightful illustrations combine fun pencil and watercolour drawings with vivid collage, using bright Indian fabrics to impressive effect.
Collage also features in the artwork of Mary’s Penny(Walker, £11.99), written by Tanya Landman and illustrated by Richard Holland. It’s the story of a clever peasant girl who proves that she’s a better choice to run the family farm than her dozy brothers. That sounds a bit worthy, but Holland’s warm illustrations and Landman’s lively text make for an appealing book.
But by far the most entertaining picture book I’ve encountered recently is Joel Stewart’s Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road(Doubleday, £10.99). When Dexter Bexley (a small boy) and his friend the Big Blue Beastie (a beastie) are kicked out of town for hooting too much, they happily head off through the woods looking for adventure. Soon they encounter a sleeping princess (who appreciates their hooting) and a mighty dragon (who turns out to be a naturally talented tap dancer). And it’s not long before the boy, the beastie, the princess and the dragon join forces and become travelling players. Stewart’s inky illustrations are reminiscent of the great Edward Ardizzone, but his wit and charm are all his own. This hilarious and unpredictable book is an utter delight. If you only buy one picture book this summer, make it this one.
Anna Carey is a freelance journalist