CH ILDREN, as we now know, are like vegetable marrows: make the smallest scratch on them when they are small enough, and it is likely to grow as they do, and turn out an adult-sized mark when they are adults. By "scratch" I mean nothing sinister, just any sort of influence. So the influence of what they see and handle in the earliest years is, though perhaps blessedly incalculable, at least likely to be large.
In stable, preservative families, where hooks aren't sent to the jumble sale the moment they're outgrown, picture books, or rather the pictures in all books, are specially important. Because images linger, and just as one's mother's pincushion may become "the" pincushion, the essence of all pincushionness, even later on, so the man in the moon or a pagoda may become the essence of moon or Easternness forever, with who knows what imaginative influence, what riches.
So a few good picture hooks are things to have and to keep around, not borrow from the library. The richest I've seen for ages is Raymond Briggs's enormous illustrated The Mother Goose Treasury (Harnish Hamilton, 35s) with rhymes and riddles from the Opies and pictures (just on 900, no less) that are quite indescribably good: gay, tough, cosy and funny. at once ancient and modern, in many cases brilliantly coloured and in every case just right for the rhymes. My idea of a perfect bedtime, ill-in-bed or just looking-at and lingering-over book for anyone over six months or so, and then on for keeps.
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Salt, by Harve Zemach, with pictures by Margo Zemach (Faber, 18s.), is my next favourite, a version of one of the Russian Ivan the Fool talcs, about simple Ivan who, despised by his clever brothers, gets princess and booty in the cnd. Beautifully coloured in soft browns and blue. with plenty of mad onion-domes.
John Cunliffe's Farmer Barnes and Bluebell (Deutsch, 12s. 6d.) has a good solid text about that old favourite the runaway cow, excellent for the 4-7 group, I'd say, with modern-primitive illustrations by Carol Barker, nicely coloured.
New-brutalist pictures in Cog finds a dog by Alan Rogers and Jack Dadd (Pitman, 7s. 6d.), about the way a caveman domesticated the first friendly wolf. Get Franz von Anrooy's The Bird Tree (Okford University Press, 16s.1 for the pictures by Jaap Tol, which are magical; the text is thin and (sorry, but I feel this) sentimental.
Last, Papas, two more from OUP at I 6s. Freddy the Fell Engine has Papas pictures and a story by Peter Walsh, Tasso is all Papa's own. Both hang on our present dislike of innovations, Freddy being a puffer ousted by a new diesel, Tasso a boy boueouki-player ousted by a juke-box. My feeling about Papas as an illustrator for the very young is that his pictures are too sophisticatedly funny and at times too scarey; better for the teens and better still for adults. But their energy and bounce are phenomenal.