Former Sheriff's Lady Brenda Tyler's children's books may be about to make it big in China. STEPHEN LEWIS reports

TAKE a very English former Sheriff's lady who's also a children's author and illustrator, and a group of mischievous woodland spirits from Scandinavia determined to save the English countryside, and what do you get?

A recipe for a big hit in China, of course.

Former Sheriff's Lady Brenda Tyler's series of children's books about the Tomtes, mischievous Scandinavian woodland spirits who set out to save Hilltop Wood and Hilltop Farm from development, have been translated into Chinese.

Chinese publisher ZhongXin has produced a box set of Brenda's first three books, The Tomtes of Hilltop Wood, The Tomtes of Hilltop Farm and The Tomtes of Hilltop Stream.

Brenda first learned about the Tomtes from the Scandinavian children's books her mother had when she was a child in the New Forest. They're mischievous 'little people' - essentially good hearted, but quick to take offence. And what offends them more than anything is people who fail to look after the woods and trees and wild creatures.

That's why, in her three books, they team up with the Robinson children of Hilltop Farm, first to stop a new road being built through their beloved wood, then to save the farm from city men in business suits who want to turn it into a factory farm, and finally to clean up the local stream which has been polluted by a nearby factory.

The Tomtes in Brenda's illustrations are friendly little creatures with green clothes, long noses, and red caps with points that fall down their backs. And the English countryside is classically lush and green - at least until it is threatened by contractors with big lorries and earth movers.

There's a strong environmental message in the books - hardly surprising, since Brenda's husband is the Green former Sheriff of York, Jonathan Tyler.

The Chinese edition of her three books is introduced by a classic quote from the Chinese scholar Lin Yutang. "The ideal life is to live in the English countryside, and to have a home full of American gadgets, a Chinese chef and a Japanese wife," Lin wrote.

There are no Chinese chefs or Japanese wives in Brenda's books - but there is plenty of English countryside, which clearly caught the eye of the Chinese when Brenda's English publisher Floris showed her books off at a World Book Fair.

The Chinese publisher was also clearly struck by the leadership qualities demonstrated by Brenda's inventive and determined little Tomtes. "They have great calmness, and the ability to make quick judgements, to organise and to communicate," an introduction to the books by the publisher says. If Chinese children could learn from the Tomtes, it would 'help them to face a rapidly changing world', the introduction adds.

Brenda, 78, who lives off Fishergate, is just thrilled to think that her books will be read on the other side of the world.

"It is lovely to think that Chinese children are going to be reading them!" she said.