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Ishtar and Tammuz.
Christopher Moore and Christina Balit.
Frances Lincoln 1996. £9.99.
The Green Man.
Bet Mooney and Helen Cann. 
Barefoot Books 1997.  £8.99.
Catkin.
Antonia Barber and PJ. Lynch.
Walker Books 1994. £5.99.

There are some wonderful picture books for young children available nowadays, and some equally wonderful story books for slightly older children in which pictures play a large part (sometimes the larger part). Because of the quality of the illustrations, though, they tend to be expensive, especially in hardback (Catkin is the only one currently in paperback, and I have given the paperback price).

Here are three books of pagan interest (added 2005 — another book is reviewed at Big Mama Makes the World), which I got for my own collection, though I may get other copies for children I know. Ishtar and Tammuz is an excellent simplified retelling of the Babylonian story (related to the Inanna and Dumuzi story, but with significant differences). The illustrations are in strong colours, with some of them — but not all — reminiscent of Babylonian designs. We see Ishtar spreading her blue cloak over the land by day, and at night riding in her silver chariot drawn by lions, the plants springing forth where Tammuz walked and the animals following him. And in Ishtar’s descent to Allatu’s realm, we see her giving up her symbols of power as she passes the gates.

Bel Mooney writes, and Helen Cann illustrates, a story about a boy who sees a green face in trees, plants, and elsewhere, and attempts to find out what the Green Man wants of him. It is a tale about gardening, about growing things, and the greyness that we encounter where plants and animals are absent, and about the power of individuals to make changes.

But for me the gem of the collection is Catkin. Antonia Barber tells a tale which she has written, but which could easily be traditional, about a young child stolen by the Little People (who don't seem so little to me, particularly in Lynch’s illustrations — the Fair Folk would have been a better name), and her little cat's journey to their land to rescue the child. The riddle game he undergoes in the rescue, and many of the other events, seem to be described by someone who knows that Land, and the illustrations, predominantly green in colour with a pre‑Raphaelite influence, also seem to me painted by someone who has seen their Land.

Wood and Water 59, Summer 1997
© Daniel Cohen

 

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