When a former student of mine who became the head of Penguin’s children’s book department alerted me years ago to the fiction of Sophie Masson, I read her books for readers aged 12-15 with intense interest. They fairly flew because of their excellent plots in overseas settings not always familiar to me. Printing errors in the third edition of What Should My Child Read? prevented two of them from appearing as starred entries.
Since for well over a year I’ve concentrated on children’s literature written by writers previously unfamiliar to me, I hadn’t caught up with Sophie Masson’s huge output. But finally, writing to her and exchanging books we’d both written after we were last in touch, I read with great delight two short volumes in full colour that I intend on an immanent visit to give to my youngest grandchildren in New Zealand. She chose and sent them to me.
Building Site Zoo, a picture book intended for littlies, transforms machines into animals and birds with the help of gorgeous illustrations by Laura Wood. The language is sometimes multi-faceted: e.g. cranes as birds and as machinery used for building. It is also nuanced and amusing. Since this age group, especially boys, is often obsessed with machines, its appeal is enormous.
Two Trickster Tales from Russia, charmingly illustrated by David Allan, can be read aloud to young children or pored over by older ones able to read these stories for themselves. In ‘Masha and the Bear’ a brave young girl on the way to her grandparents gets lost in a forest and, hungry, eats porridge in an inviting, empty log cabin belonging to a huge bear. To punish her when he arrives home, he makes her his housekeeper; so her task is to outwit him and escape.
Fleeing from danger is also the major theme in ‘The Rooster With the Golden Crest’. But this time the threat is posed by a rude female fox to a rooster whose two best friends, a cat and a thrush, come repeatedly to his aid by responding to her songs with clever musical poems of their own. As in Masha’s adventure, cheekiness plays a prominent role in deception.
Naturally I eagerly anticipate the imminent arrival on my doorstep of more promised tales from Christmas Press told by other gifted Australians.
Dr. Susan Reibel Moore first began publishing literary criticism in the 1970's. Her most recent book, the fourth edition of What Should My Child Read? (Five Sense Education, Sydney), will soon be out.