RACHEL ISADORA's Ben's Trumpet is a miracle of simplicity, concealed art and poignancy. Ben is a ghetto Cinderalla.He passes away the hot city nights playing his make-believe trumpet-his "horn"-on the fire escape and to his loving, protective family. All fantasy is fragile and Ben's is destroyed by the mocking of other boys. No fairy prince rescues Ben from the ashes of sadness, just the good-natured trumpet player from the local jazz club. The black-and white illustrations capture every nuance of the tough, angular ragtime atmosphereof the '20s. They evoke the feel of jazz and the feelings of a small boy. Isadora has captured a haunting fragment of Americana and brought it to life for children.
Imaginary companions are the stock-in-trade of childhood. Ben can hold his pretend trumpet in his cupped hands and Angela, told to make herself scarce and go to the zoo, creates an imaginary polarbear from a drawing she makes. A bear she can conjune up at will. Angela and Bear by Susan, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] chke (available next month) chronicle their adventures, the inevitable clashes with reality, and the final surrendering of a beloved fantasy. The soft charcoal drawings prove once again that lavish color illustration isnot crucial to a successful picture book.
Color is, however, the essence of the Jamaican carnival that provides the setting for Errol Lloyd's Nini At Carnival. This is a tale of both friendship and celebration, of the Cinderalla with no costume becoming queen of the carnival. (How fundamental that tale is to so many stories in so many guises.) Nini's friend Betti puts on her own costume, that of a fairy godmother, and takes advantage of it to "magic" Nini a costume out of a simple strip of cloth. Happiness is infectious and in no time Nini is dancing with the best of them. The pictures are full of movement and the sounds and smells of the carnival seem to jump from the pages.
Anita and Arnold Lobel have produced another classic "house-that-Jack-built" reiterative morality tale in A Treeful of Pigs. Their first such collaboration, How the Rooster Saved the Day, was imensely popular with children who delighted in the downfall of the wicked robber and in the cuning of the rooster. The moral at issue here, laziness, lacks drama; despite the enchanting art and bevy of squiggly piggles, this deprives the book of zest. The farmer and his wife have decided to raise pigs, but time and again the lazy farmer refuses to get up and do his share of the work. His wife tries every kind of ingenious trick and does succeed, finally, in securing a promise of cooperation. It strikes me that even quite small children will wonder, in the course of all the evasions andtricks, why the wife doesn't throw a saucepan at her recumbent spouse.
John S.Goodall's new book is truly for all ages. The Story of an English Village has no words, just rich, earthcolored paintings and the ingenious "half-pages" he has used before to such good effect. Here they take the eye daily goings on. The first painting of the village in the 14th century shows the wattle and daub stage of the humble hut, with the villagers hauling home firewood on their backs. Inside the hut are rushes on the floor, not to mention chickens. Each century shows the same scene and the room changes in small ways:flagstones succeed the rushes, then wood, rugs and finally carpets. While outside the streets become paved and horses give way to coaches. The book is a fascinating adventure into the small details of history until the final page:the 20th century. What a shock! A salutory lesson for even the smallest child. A four-year-old with whom I explored the book was enchanted to discover every minute development. When we turned the last page, she said "Oh, mommy. Yuk!" (Looking at this book demands to be a family project. A few well-directed questions will soon start an eager "spot the changes" game.)
The gentle greens and pastels of a pre-modern era dominate Irene Haas' illustrations in Ruth Crafts's Carrie Hepple's Garden. Three children stray into Carrie Hepple's garden looking for their ball. They beleive she is a witch, but theirs turns out to be a Hansel and Gretel story in reverse. the wrinkled crone is, in fact, a kinkly old lady who dispenses information aboutthe origin of nasturtium seeds along with spicy orange buns she calls "hermits." The green tone of the paper and the illustrations has an almost underwater effect and the rhyming text compounds the impression of putting the reader under a spell-a sensation revealed in by any imaginative child.