Two legs good, four legs better

Sat, Jul 6, 2013, 01:00

Animals are up to all sorts of unusual antics in this season’s picture books. In Jason Chapman’s exciting and funny Russell, Grunt and Snort (Red Fox, £5.99), three determined pigs make a daring escape from the farm and set off in search of a safe home. But the big wide world is a dangerous place, and the likeable porkers will encounter everything from cruise ships to crocodiles before achieving their goal.

Very young children will adore Andy Pritchett’s Stick! (Walker, £11.99). Puppy wants to play with a stick, but the other animals aren’t interested until he meets another pup – with a stick of its own. With its basic vocabulary and strong, simple artwork, Stick! is a delight. As is Ellie Sandall’s Copycat Bear! (Hodder Children’s Book, £6.99), the story of a little bird called Mango, who is increasingly fed up with her big bear friend Blue copying everything she does. Mango eventually has enough and flies away, but soon realises that life is better with her copycat friend. With their rich, warm colours, Sandall’s multimedia illustrations are gorgeous, and many children will be able to relate to both Mango’s frustration and her love of Blue.

Blue isn’t the only beast who can’t stop copying others. In Ann Bonwill and Simon Rickerty’s I Am Not A Copycat! (Oxford University Press, £11.99), Hugo the hippo wants to be unique and tries his hand at water ballet – but his best friend Bella the bird keeps cramping his style. Told entirely through dialogue, this is one for reading aloud.

Anyone who’s ever tried to tuck in a toddler will be familiar with their initial reluctance to stay sleeping in their own bed. In Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow’s Too Small for My Big Bed (Oxford University Press, £11.99), a lively tiger cub keeps creeping out of his own bed to join his mummy. Luckily, his mum is able to show him that even when he can’t see her, she’s never far away. Layn Marlow’s warm pencil and collage illustrations are perfect for this comforting tale.

There are more animal adventures in Elephant Pants, by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and David Wojtowycz (Orchard, £6.99). All is peaceful on Noah’s Ark, until Major Trump the elephant discovers that his underpants are missing. All the animals parade in their pants to prove they haven’t stolen the missing undergarments. It’s a winningly silly story, and the illustrations are fun, but I’m slightly unsettled not only by the idea of animals wearing pants at all but by the fact that the female animals are all depicted wearing matching bras.

The clothed animals in the Irish-based writer and illustrator Tatyana Feeney’s Little Owl’s Orange Scarf (Oxford University Press, £11.99) are much less disturbing. Little Owl hates the new scarf his mother has knitted for him, and so he does his best to lose it, which is easier said than done. Feeney’s simple pencil pictures are as charming as ever, and the story is funny and clever.

Karen George’s Hugh Shampoo (Oxford University Press, £11.99) is a funny story with just the right level of gross-out factor. The eponymous Hugh refuses to wash or comb his hair, to the horror of his parents, who are talented hairdressers. But when they need a model for a hairdressing competition, will Hugh save the day? George’s illustrations are great, though the book’s ultimately rather conformist message is slightly disappointing.

As is Simon James’s Nurse Clementine (Walker Books, £11.99), in which a small girl called Clementine is given the sort of nurse’s outfit that was common back in the days when girls could never dream of being doctors. Clementine is determined to practise her nursing skills, but her family are more annoyed than grateful – until her little brother gets in a spot of bother. James’s pleasingly Sempé-esque illustrations are the best part of this sweet, if old-fashioned, book.

All these books pale, however, in comparison to Judith Kerr’s Creatures (Harper Collins Children’s Books, £25). One of the greatest children’s authors and illustrators of the past century is now 90 years old, and in this beautifully produced book she tells the fascinating story of her life and work, from her early childhood in Berlin to her new life as a refugee and then as a successful artist and writer in Britain, where she created such classics as The Tiger Who Came to Tea (above) and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Lavishly illustrated with everything from childhood drawings to sketches for her much-loved feline heroine Mog, it’s an utterly wonderful book.

Anna Carey’s first novel for young adults, The Real Rebecca, won the senior children’s book of the year prize at the 2011 Irish Book Awards. Her third book, Rebecca Rocks, is published next month.

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