Curious animals of all stripes

Sat, Mar 27, 2010, 00:00

PICTURE BOOKS:DOGS IN checked trousers and felines in hats, brave rabbits and cunning monkeys, stripy horses and three blind mice – there are all sorts of animals in this season’s appealing new picture books, writes ANNA CAREY

 In Jim Helmore and Karen Wall’s Hold on Tight, Stripy Horse!(Egmont, £10.99), the curious creatures who live inside the bric-a-brac shop must unite to save their friends, the pepperpot penguins, from a flood. The story is just the right mixture of exciting, silly and comforting, and the illustrations are lively and charming.

Written by Hiawyn Oram and illustrated by Sarah Warburton, Rumblewick and the Dinner Dragons(Orchard Books, £10.99) is the entertaining story of Rumblewick, a witch’s cat whose dragon-loving owner Haggy Aggy doesn’t want to be a witch any more. It’s good fun, though Warburton’s scribbly artwork left me cold.

Very different felines appear in Emma Dodd’s I Don’t Want a Cool Cat(Orchard, £5.99), in which a little girl finds the perfect cat for her. The rhyming text and appealing art make it a perfect read-aloud bedtime book.

As is Ursula Dubosarsky’s The Terrible Plop(Egmont, £5.99), in which the animals who live by the river are scared away by the sound of the Terrible Plop (readers know it’s just an apple falling into the water, but the animals don’t). A fierce bear and a timid little rabbit return to investigate, but it’s the rabbit who gets the last laugh. Andrew Joyner’s delightful illustrations, which are reminiscent of 1950s graphic art, add a retro touch to a funny story.

Equally perfect for reading aloud is Ellie Sandall’s Birdsong(Egmont, £10.99). One by one, a group of gorgeous, brightly coloured birds land on a tree, each making a different rhyming sound (whoever’s reading aloud can have fun with this). But then a huge noisy bird threatens to spoil the party. Sandall’s imaginative pastel and watercolour artwork is a delight – you’ve never seen birds quite like this before.

The animals in Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham’s Cloud Tea Monkeys(Walker Books, £12.99) tell a more serious tale. Based on an Indian legend, this story is much more text-heavy than the other books, making it perhaps less suitable for very young children. It’s about Tashi, who has to take over her mother’s tea-picking job to pay for a doctor when her mother falls ill. She is helped along the way by some mysterious monkeys. The story is great, but I would have loathed Juan Wijngaard’s slightly hyperrealist pencil illustrations as a child, and they don’t appeal to me now.

Children who are already familiar with nursery rhymes should enjoy The Great Nursery Rhyme Disaster(Hodder Children’s Books, £5.99). Writer David Conway tells what happens when Little Miss Muffet gets bored and decides to visit some other rhymes; Melanie Williamson’s vivid, witty illustrations match the story perfectly.

The Giant Carrot(Orchard, £10.99) is the story of a farmer who has to enlist all his friends to help when he grows a ginormous carrot. Allan Manham’s simple language and Penny Dann’s lovely art, which mixes real textiles and collage, combine to memorable effect.

It’s not every day you come across a mini-masterpiece, but then it’s not every day that Oliver Jeffers produces a new book. The Northern Irish illustrator’s The Heart and the Bottle(Harper Collins, £10.99) is the story of a young girl with a passion for knowledge who puts her heart away in a bottle when her beloved grandfather dies. But of course, without a heart she doesn’t really care about anything any more.

All young children can enjoy the pictures and the story of how the girl recovers her enthusiasm for learning and life, but this beautifully produced and profoundly moving book will strike a deep chord with anyone of any age who has ever experienced loss. It made me cry, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only one.

In comparison to Jeffers’s exquisite book, Bob Graham’s How to Heal a Broken Wing(Walker, £5.99) feels worthy and heavy-handed. It feels rather churlish to criticise a book that has been endorsed by Amnesty International for contributing to a better understanding of the values that sustain human rights, and there’s nothing really wrong with the story of a little boy who discovers an injured bird on a busy street and restores it to health and freedom. Graham’s Sempé-esque art is charming too, but it all feels a bit leaden. That said, I can imagine plenty of children finding it genuinely moving.

But I much prefer the utterly wonderful I’m the Best(Walker, £11.99). Lucy Cousins tells the story of Dog, who is convinced that he’s better at doing just about everything than his good friends Ladybird, Mole, Goose and Donkey. Sporting a snazzy pair of checked trousers, he struts around boasting amusingly until his sensible friends show him that everyone is the best at something different. So far, so heart-warming – but the final hilarious page, which made me laugh out loud, reveals that Dog may not really have learned any lessons at all. Anarchic, joyful, funny and colourful, I’m the Best is a perfect picture book.


Anna Carey is a freelance journalist