CULTURE

A selection of new children’s picture books

Need some help picking your way through the bewildering array of children’s picture books on offer? Kathimerini English Edition has selected a few recent titles that are sure to make pleasing gifts. The obvious choice for Christmas, and not only because of its seasonal theme, is a bittersweet tale by the indefatigable Eugene Trivizas – author of more than 100 titles for children. Set in a city of Dickensian fog and gloom, «Ena dentro, mia fora» («Once Upon a Time There was a Tree»), published by Kalentis, presents a sharp contrast to the image of carefree consumerism that has come to be associated with Christmas. Atmospheric illustrations by Nikolas Andrikopoulos depict the mean streets and the moments of joy that illumine them. A young boy lives in the cold washroom of an abandoned house that is listed for demolition. Not far away, a tree is due to be felled to make way for a new building. Delight The tree yearns at least to be decorated for Christmas before the ax falls, while the lad longs for some warmth and company. Their encounter leads to delight when the boy, summoning up the force of his imagination, does indeed decorate the tree, with shiny sweet wrappers discarded by rich children, soap bubbles, fireflies and a shooting star. The boy dreams that a princess passing by in her coach takes him and his friend the tree away, but a legend grows up concerning the pavement where they met. Years later, the locals say that once upon a time a tree stood there and that a child was found frozen at its foot with a peaceful smile on his face. It is said that every Christmas Eve a swarm of fireflies hovers around the site, as if seeking something. Strong meat for small children? Not if they’ve grown up with archetypal fairy tales. Christos Boulotis has a wonderful story to tell in «O gaidarakos pou ipie to fengari» («The Little Donkey that Drank the Moon»), illustrated by Fotini Stefanidi and published by Hestia. Fengarenia is the daughter of a pastry maker in a country where the moon never shines. Legend has it that an exceptionally callous and overweening forebear of the present king once hunted down and killed a deer with silver horns that was under the moon’s protection so the moon vowed never to shine again on that land. Fengarenia grew up loving the moon, though she had never seen it. When her father gives her a twig and some bread that has been given to him by a fairy he helped, Fengarenia starts drawing the moon, which reappears in the sky, to the delight of all. The celebrations last for months until the curmudgeonly king, no more lovable than his ancestor, forbids his subjects to enjoy the moonlight. They must keep their heads down on pain of losing them while he alone enjoys the sight. Suspense and fantasy One day in the forest, Fengarenia’s donkey drinks deeply from a pool where the moon is reflected and accidentally drinks up the moon itself. The girl’s attempts to hide the light that is shining from inside the unfortunate animal, the king’s cruel treatment of both them and the pastry cook until the girl remembers the fairy’s gift and finds a way out at the last minute have all the elements of suspense and fantasy that mark a classic fairy tale. Playful humor is the keynote of Argyro Kokoreli’s «Paichnidi me pringkipisses» («Games with Princesses»), just out from Ellinika Grammata. Kokoreli puts her own lively spin on material familiar from old tales. Her hero, Prince Azure is a lazy, petulant chap who longs to meet the woman of his dreams, Princess Blue, infuriating his father who just wants him to get on with it and get married. In his search, the prince keeps kissing two sleeping beauties then rejecting them when they don’t match his specifications. Pursued by the indignant beauties, he takes refuge in the cave of Lazybones, a witch who was too busy playing truant at school to learn more than one trick, how to turn humans into frogs. How Azure avails himself of her sole skill and in what condition he meets the equally spoiled Princess Blue makes an engaging story, attractively illustrated by Natalia Kapatsoulia. A CD with songs by the author and Hara Yiannakopoulou with music by Vassilis Tzavaras comes with the book. Two more authors, with two books apiece, have something to teach very small readers. Mark Weinstein’s cheerful illustrations offer an amusing way into the mysteries of the alphabet in «Avgo-Volta» («Egg Walk») from Patakis. An egg walks its way through the alphabet – over pigs, out of volcanoes, across the stage of a theater and through mazes – motivating children to move on to the next page and the next letter. Stickers and lettering practice make the book interactive. In the same series, Weinstein’s «To katsiki pou ponae i koilia tou» («A Kid Goat whose Belly Hurts») introduces numbers by listing the many items that must be retrieved from the greedy kid’s belly. There are stickers for the numbers and for the objects that have to be replaced. Vassiliki Nika is the educational editor for both books. Makis Tsitas is one of those rare adults who haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a child at the mercy of grownups’ incomprehensible dictates. In «Poianou einai afti i soupa?» («Whose Soup is This?»» and «Den m’aresei to gala» («I Don’t like Milk»), both from Psychogios, he applies gentle humor to small matters that can loom large to children.