Jenifer Wayne writes really good middle-class domestic comedy and although plenty of people try this, few succeed as she does. Her "Sprout" stories are at the younger end of a large output that is always wellobserved, unpatronising and funny.
Rupert Entwhistle Smith is a fat seven-year-old known as Sprout after a tuft of hair on his forehead, with a small sister called Tilly and a thin, serious friend called Raymond. In Sprout and the Helicopter (Heinemann, £1.60) they are all at the seaside and Sprout wins, then loses, and finally recovers what he wants most on earth — a rubber dinghy.
In the excellent Antelope series, for six to nine-year-olds, (Hamish Hamilton, 95p) Jean Wills' The Sugar Trail is about amateur detection. Dan tracks down • a warehouse thief and
clears the name of his friend Mr Brook, the security man under suspicion.
Brian Ball's Jackson's House is sharper and more original. Which, out of three, is really Jackson's house and what is the difference between a house and a home? Jackson and Marilyn are two cats, Jackson a strongminded torn, Marilyn a creamloving kittenish creature who likes her home comforts.
On a single adventurous day, when Marilyn thinks herself deserted forever because her human family has gone off on a picnic, Jackson teaches her to be self-reliant rather than human-centred, and to see that cats are just as well suited to a place in the woods as a cushion on the sofa.
Paddington on Stage by Michael Bond and Alfred Bradley (Collins, £1.50) contains seven plays about Pad
dington the Peruvian bear, to be acted by children; songs, too, and practical costume notes with advice on the appearance and personality of the characters.
Paddington is one of the few characters who, out of dozens of pretenders, has in recent years become part of children's folklore, and there must be plenty who now believe the doggerel that says:
When you're next in London, Look around and there You will find a station, That has been named after this bear.
A lot of fun, I think, could be found in acting these short, simple plays; and Paddington, as always, really lives in Peggy Fortnum's drawings. The difficulty is (as professional stage productions have shown) for mere human figures to rival him. Isabel Quigley