Author Archives: dina

Love Lesson

Jacqueline Wilson ill. by Nick Sharratt



Oct 2005

Prudence and Grace are home-educated, by a fierce disciplinarian Dad. They are dressed by their wittering Mum, in clothes she runs up on a sewing machine using market remnants. Mum only knows one pattern, ‘demure little-girly dresses with short sleeves and swirly skirts’.
One of the vivid moments in this book comes when Wilson describes Prudence trying to wriggle out of one of her mum’s too-fitted creations in the midst of a girls’ changing room, having to pull the dress up and over her head to get it off, leaving her inappropriate underwear exposed to all eyes.
Wilson does the minutiae of embarrassment so well you relive the incident with Prudence. It’s the bigger picture that is her weakness. You can’t quite believe the story because the overall scheme rings false.
Wilson has a template against which her fiction is drawn: awful adults, suffering out-of-kilter children. Every story is accommodated to this basic dress-making pattern. So, here, the two girls suffer in silence at home, until a heart-attack intervenes, which means they are sent to school and on to new sufferings. At school, Prudence becomes entangled with the young, hip art teacher, Rax.
Rax, worn-down at home by a wife struggling with two small children, is only too happy to be empathetic and endlessly patient with the kids getting the rough end of the stick at school.
The problem with the story is that to fit the template, all the other teachers have to be particularly stupid and unkind. To me, this didn’t sound like today’s teachers, but like the gorgons of an earlier age. Also, so much of the father-daughter stuff sounds wrong: why would such an unpleasant, child-hating man opt to spend the extra time with children that home-educating involves? How is it Prudence doesn’t have access to TV or computer, or even magazines other than the odd smuggled one, but she can summon up images like a vision of Rax against ‘an urban warehouse flat, large and airy and white, with huge canvases on the wall’?
But, with all that, this is of course, the usual, romping Wilson read, with a nice fairy tale ending, not too sugar-coated.

Watch Out for Sprouts! Poems, pictures, doodles and serious thinking.

Simon Bartram

Templar Publishing


Oct 2005

Children who have met Bartram’s The Man on the Moon, or Dougal, The Deep Sea Diver, will already know that they are in for a treat with this concoction from the same author. Any parents who haven’t yet introduced their offspring to Bartram’s vivid colours and writing – well, what are you waiting for?
This collection of musings and poetry has all the trademark Bartram exaggeration, not to mention his equally trademark cornish-ware cups of tea. From the opener, “What Happened to the Pirate’s Eye?” we are immediately in Bartram-land, where the reader is always encouraged to look beneath the surface, and wonder why, for example, pirates always choose to keep one eye covered. In “Puddle Trouble” he explores just what kind of big trouble parents are referring to, when they say, “you are now in BIG trouble”. This is immediately engaging poetry, and full of ideas that children will recognise and feed off, as well. As inviting as burgers and chips, and nourishing as bright green vegetables.

The Fairy Tales

Jan Pienkowski (translated by David Walser)



Oct 2005

This is a sumptuous season for fairy tales. Lauren Child’s covetable version of The Princess and the Pea is the sort of book all real princesses will want to hoard beneath their pillows. There is the much less crafted, but fun, Mixed Up Fairy Tales, from Hilary Robinson and Nick Sharratt, which lets children play around with all the familiar components – like the old game of Tops and Tails ‘ so Goldilocks can be bossed around by two horrid stepsisters, then move in with seven dwarfs before being woken by a band of forty thieves.
But even amongst all this splendour, there is one new collection of fairy tales which has the quality of an heirloom, the kind of book you might buy for a child now, but sense that in thirty years it will be on a shelf, its vividness undimmed, for some other child to rediscover. Jan Pienkowski, (he of Meg, Mog ‘ check out page 15 of The Fairy Tales – and Owl fame), has gathered together the most popular tales of the brothers Grimm and illustrated them with such clarity and such novelty of vision it really is like new lamps for old.
All the favourites are here, Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, although I’m pretty sure this is the first time Sleeping Beauty has been depicted straight off the delivery bed.
I have been reviewing children’s books for some three years now, and the one lack in the market has been a collection of fairy tales to treasure. There are plenty of Disney-fied versions, and plenty of mediocre ones with pictures as flat as their narration. More often than not these books are labelled A Treasury.
Well let us now hail true treasure. In black and white silhouettes, on the thickest of white paper edged in silver, Pienkowski has reworked the oldest genre in the world with the most ancient of skills: real magic.