THAT is how author Tony Bradman introduces the Collins Guide to Choosing Books for Children aged 5-8 (99p including voucher).

Readers, great and small, who have followed the colourful scrapes of Mairi Hedderwick's Katie Morag over the years must second Bradman. It's the blend of wry humour and homespun philosophy, sustained through text and glorious water colours that gives these snapshots of Scottish island life their unique charm.

Out of their publisher's earshot, Mairi and Katie sometimes fall out. Living on Coll, Hedderwick is sharply conscious that despite the appearance of tourists, a bistro and Bermuda shorts her imaginary island of Struay is largely a nostalgia re-run which bears only tenuous resemblance to the real McCoy. And though she goes out of her way to avoid it, fellow islanders sometimes suspect they are being caricatured.

Add to that the tyranny of a format which has tied her to stories consisting of 12 double spreads each and the imperative of tying in every illustration with both a map and previously recorded detail, and it is easy to understand why digging the vegetable patch often seems like an easy option compared with the monastic discipline of the studio.

That said, she has clearly enjoyed putting her new book together. The Big Katie Morag Story Book (Bodley Head #9.99) adopts the new square format. In fact, it isn't particularly big, but it does incorporate three new stories as well as rhymes, poems, a family tree and even a recipe. Here are the same strong characters (the battling grannies, the stressed out postmistress and Katie Morag herself, the wee scamp with a heart of gold) and the same Struay, great panoramas, hectoring notices and fabbydoo chocolate cake. But the people and places of previous books now become what Hedderwick terms ``scaffolding'' from which to construct new stories and situations.

``It's like a soap opera in a way. It's this consistency which the readers are confident with,'' says Hedderwick.

Bodley Head clearly hopes this book will open up a new audience for the Katie Morag stories, the first of which appeared in 1984. Indeed, there's much here that is irresistable: The ``shimmery Sunday'' when Katie and her brother find real gold plus a tea cosy and various other things at the rainbow's end; the cats (every cat we ever had MH) which leave one regretting Hedderwick never linked up with T S Eliot: the wicked characteristion of the two grannies (mince and tatties versus tagliatelli) and a baby seal who wolfs fish fingers, but spurns even fabbydoo chocolate cake.

Surely though, this book's strongest appeal must be to Katie Morag devotees. For them, it is full of resonances and revelations, the comfort of familiarity and the shock of the new. We find the tractor-driving Grannie Island who once took enough time away from crofting to bear twin sons and that all that red hair comes from Grandma Mainland's first husband, a butcher. And will the Church of Scotland recover from the revelation that all those naughty big boy cousins are the sons of a reverend.

For the first time there is a detailed map of the whole island. Its sweet delights include the Paps of Struay with a windy gap for a cleavage, standing stones, a castle and a deserted village, plenty of material for more stories. We look forward to them.


FOR Babies and Toddlers: Good Morning Baby (Ladybird #1.99). Follow a baby's morning through David Bennett's witty illustrations and simple text. Every parent will recognise the trail of destruction wrought by a toddler on the loose.

Benny the Breakdown Truck by Karen Ludlow and Willy Smax (Set of four at #2.99 each from Orion). Whether it's pulling Jack Tractor out of the mud or retrieving Alphie Romeo from the canal, Benny's your man, I mean your breakdown truck.

For pre-school kids: I Went to the Zoopermarket (Hippo Scholastic #5.99). Small children love wordplay and will adore this crazy verbal adventure from Nick Sharratt. Open the packets at the zoopermarket and discover that nothing is quite like what it seems. Elephants emerge from jumbo sized cereal packs from porcupines from ``prickled onions''. The combination of graphics and photographs plus garish clashing colour make for an unusual and inspired lift the flap book. Courtney is an underdog who isn't. One of John Burningham's most successful books to date is now out in large format paperback. (Red Fox #4.99). ``I'll certainly let you know if an old dog with big eyebrows who can play the violin, cook wonderful dinners and juggle to keep the baby amused is handed in'' said the policeman. Will Courtney return? I'm not telling.

Jessica by Kevin Henks (Ladybird #1.99) tackles with sympathy the dilemma of a lonely only child using an imaginary friend for comfort and company. Nice twist at the end.

Can Piggles Do It? by Bearsden-based Frank Rodgers (Ladybird #1.99) also deals with loneliness and exclusion. Piggles is a couch potato and a junk food junkie when a trip to the pool changes his outlook as well as his waistline.

Debi Gliori, another Scots author chooses the same creature as her central character in A Present for Big Pig (Walker #4.50) A gently moralistic tale illustrated by Kate Simpson. Little pig gets in a bind over a birthday present. Help comes from an unexpected quarter. Julie Sykes and Tim Warnes I Don't Want to go to Bed! (Magi #3.99) tackles a subject familiar to parents everywhere. Baby Tiger has to find out the hard way that night times are for sleeping.

We stay in the wild for our final choice. Paul Geraghty's spellbinding book The Hunter is now out in paperback (Red Fox #4.99). The dazzling colours and composition of every spread put this book in a class of its own. Add to that a deeply moving story with a powerful anti-poaching message and it's easy to see why this book has won a stream of awards. If someone gave me a fiver I could think of no better way of spending it.