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By Jane Bower — an advisor in art, drama, dance and literacy. She is available to work in your school. Email

From Celtic tales to rabbit detectives, Jane Bower reviews a selection of illustrated books

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico (Hutchinson, £12.99 HB)

This beautiful and heart-breaking classic, set in the years leading up to the evacuation of Dunkirk, is still as powerful as when it was first written in 1941. Set in an abandoned lighthouse on the Essex marshes, it is the haunting story of the relationship between the young girl, Fritha, the recluse, Philip Rhayader, and an injured snow goose. The illustrations, by Angela Barrett, are exquisite and perfectly evoke the text. As much for adults as for children.

Coll the Storyteller’s Tales of Enchantment by Lucy Coates (Orion, £10.99 HB)

This is a well-illustrated, attractive hardback containing tales from Celtic literature, including those of Wales, Ireland, Scotland, The Isle of Man, Brittany and Cornwall, told in traditional folk style. Some are written for children for the first time. Reading these stories is rather like listening to tracks on a Steeleye Span CD. The prose has an unearthly, long-ago magical quality – and a lot of Celtic names (but there is a pronunciation chart at the front)!

My Dad’s a Birdman by David Almond (Walker Books, £8.99 HB)

This story has shades of Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World in its relationship between child and father, the father’s obsession with birds and the theme of hope, faith and determination to win. The varied print fonts add interest and break up the page. The northern dialect (hisself, mebbe) may be difficult for younger readers. (Look our for activities based on My Dad’s a Birdman and an interview with David Almond in our March ‘08 issue.)

Beowulf retold by Nicky Raven (Templar, £19.99 HB)

This superbly presented book has a removable card case studded with ‘jewels’, golden runes edging each page, breathtaking illustrations and a stately and majestic text befitting the awe-inspiring legend of Beowulf. The dignified and traditional language makes it exciting to read aloud and absorbing for able readers. There is an introduction explaining the 1000 year old, scorched manuscript from which the original tale is taken, and at the back are character biographies and fascinating notes by the artist, John Howe, giving an insight into his deep involvement with the story.The

Thousand Nights and One Night retold by David Walser (Puffin, £14.99 HB)

This gorgeously presented book resembles a jewelled casket, with glossy, gold-edged pages, silky red ribbon marker, and rich and copious illustrations by Jan Pienkowski. His trademark silhouette style marries perfectly with the opulent tales of Ali Baba, Aladdin and Shahrazade, as well as lesser known stories. The eight exotic fables of wicked sorcerers and genies are told in a clear, traditional manner.

Frognapped by Angie Sage (Bloomsbury, £5.99 HB)

The third novel in the Araminta Spook series will appeal to children who can appreciate tongue-in-cheek humour and like witchy/wizardy-based stories. The female leads may make it more appealing to girls.

Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barrie (Hodder, £12.99 HB)

This is the original tale, retold with JM Barrie’s approval by May Byron in 1925 to make it more easily read by children. This version is amply illustrated (albeit in black and white) by Shirley Hughes.

Dirty Bertie Pants! by Alan McDonald (Stripes, £3.99 PB)

The large pair of Y-fronts and the word ‘Pants!’ splashed across the cover give you a flavour of this book’s three stories. As the last one has a pirate theme, I hoped that the title, Poop, bore reference to the poop of a ship. But no, it’s about dog poo being thrown into a swimming pool!

Sensible Hare and the Case of Carrots by Daren King (Faber, £9.99 HB)

This imaginative tale is quirky enough to grab the attention of a reluctant reader and simple enough for younger readers. Its humour derives from the unexpected and has a witty sophistication which means it will appeal to bright and older children, too.

Mammoth Academy in Trouble by Neal Layton (Hodder, £4.99 PB)

This entertaining, well-phrased story shows what happens when humans surround the Mammoth Academy, eager to capture and eat Oscar, Arabella and the other woolly mammoth children. The lavish, expressive illustrations form part of the text and add extra humour and vibrancy.

Jane Bower

Jane Bower has been a primary teacher for almost 30 years. She travels throughout the UK as a primary consultant in art, drama, dance and literacy, working with children and staff. She has several books, work packs, stories and poems to her name. Jane also works as an artist in schools, producing murals and ceramic work. She is a member of Equity and performs her own one-woman presentations. Email or “visit for more information.



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