By ISABEL QUIGLY
MALL children are the
underprivileged, when i comes to stories. Picture bO. oks pour out, and people seem to realise the importance of their visual effect al the earliest age; the best of t em are magnificent. and even the second and third best are pulled up by the present high standard of illustration and book design. They are expensive but lasting, and the libraries seem to go in for a generous number of them (you see tots staggering out clutching books half their height).
But when it comes to stories, or rather (because picture books all have stories) books in which the text matters more than the pictures, the sevens and under are pretty meagrely served. That's why I give a specially warm welcome to the BBC's stories from Jackanory, brought out as goodlooking, well-illustrated paperbacks at the satisfactory price of 3s. 6d. There's Noel Streatfield's The Barrow Lane Gang (which could really do for older children as well: Miss Streatfeild is, in a good sense, an ageless children's writer); Jack Stories, about various fictional Jacks (Giant Killer, Beanstalk, etc.); Stories from Scotland, which still seem to hold the very voice of James Robertson Justice telling them; and Bier Rabbit Stories, old favourites brought up to date with some solemnly-wild illustrations, my favourites of which are those of a sweet-sly Inrer Fox.
Young Puffins. at the same price, include some good new
Ones for the same sort of agegroup: Lucy Boston's The Castle of Yew (Green Knowe addicts will know the kind of magic), another Paddington, another Mrs. Pepperpot, another of the best of the lot for that size, the Naughty Little Sister books.
Series, at this age, seem to be hot favourites. Repetition, after all. is something most children love; perhaps the greatest boon in early childhood is pleasant monotony. And so perhaps it is reassuring to meet the same characters in new circumstances, to repeat the pattern of a familiar story without actually repeating the same events.
A new series from Holland about a six-year-old called Jan (Dent, Ils. 6d.) starts promisingly with Here Comes Jan and Jan's Birthday: warmhearted familyish tales about mischief and mild adventure. E. S. Bradburne's Elizabeth Ann books are more girlcentred, likeable stories about the simple doings of a small girl, her baby brother. her friend Sally and the dog Tip. Elizabeth Ann Again (Hutchinson. 13s. 6d.) is the third in this pleasantly written and illustrated series. Another series is Michael Bond's Thursday the mouse books. Mr. Bond is the creator of Paddington, the most famous bear since Pooh but not a Teddy, so his stamina as a serialiser is well known. Thursday Rides Again (Harrap. 15s.) is number two in the series and surely not the last, but. although fluent as Paddington, the Thursday books seem to me to lack his charm Among picture books at a remarkably 'high level a few are original as well as decorative and/or witty: Spike Milligan's The 'Bald Twit Lion (Dobson. 18s.), handsomely illustrated by Carol Barker; Malcolm Carder's Tobias Pilgrim Builds a Starship (Dobson, 15s.); and The Griffin and the Minor Canon, by the
gentle nineteenth century American who wrote The Bee. Man of Om. Frank Stockton, with pictures by Maurice Sendak. of Where the Wild Things Are, that surely-futureclassic fantasy about a small boy's agreeable terrors.
For older children there is. as always, plenty. For some children and all adult sociologists, the Arthur Ransome books are pouring out as Puffins. (Swallowdale, Peter Duck and Winter Holiday are the latest, 55. each for their extra fatness), and a new generation is meeting those hearty extroverts. Dent's Children's Illustrated Classics continue to bring out worth-keeping editions of mainstream stories. this time Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days and Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, and, best-looking of all as well as my favourite among them. Jack London's The Call of the Wild, with beautiful pictures by Charles Pickard to match those in his edition of White Fang.
Among modern stories I pick John Rowe Townsend's lively Pirate's Island (Oxford University Press, 15s.), which has undercurrents of feeling and a fat, greedy hero whose mother spoils and stuffs him with goodies, and who finds, if not the treasure he hoped for on the mysterious island, at least friends and a boy's way of life.
Science fiction of a sort is Mission Underground by the French speleologist Norbert Casteret, who writes credibly about an atomic-powered burrowing machine that creeps through the rocks beneath Europe and the Mediterranean, with four passengers inside it. Winifred Finlay's Danger at Black Dyke (Harrap, 185.) is about a boys' gang that calls itself the Men of Mithras.
Finally, Ingemar Fjell's Jack Fox Detective (Macmillan, 16s.) is a slyboots send-up of Sherlock Holmes, beautifully translated and, as it were, rethought into the English idiom by Mary Sandbach, about a Holmes-and-Watson team consisting of Jack Fox, Accredited Detective, and his assistant, Edward Ezekiel Edgar Ermine, as snappy a pair of foresf dwellers as I've met for a long time.