Little Fluffy Bird and a beguiling bus


PICTURE BOOKS:FEW SONGS CONTINUE to exert as much mysterious power over small children as The Wheels on the Bus. The German illustrator Britta Teckentrup’s delightful new book based on the song, simply titled The Wheels on the Bus(Orchard Books, £10.99), sees the eponymous vehicle driven by a small cat in a jaunty peaked cap. On its journey, the bus picks up a variety of animals, whom we see through cut-out windows and doors. The cheerful pictures, combined with the familiar words, should make this a firm favourite.

There are more animals in Rollo and Ruff and the Little Fluffy Bird, by the aptly named Mick Inkpen (Hodder Children’s Books, £10.99). Rollo is a small cat who discovers someone has been chewing on his mat: “Have you been pecking my mat?” he asks his friend LFB (Little Fluffy Bird). Both soon meet the real culprit: a nervous little rat called Ruff, who is tired of living with the other stinky rats. A new friendship is soon forged in this charming book.

Unorthodox animal friendship is also at the heart of David Wiesner’s Art and Max(Andersen Press, £10.99), in which two desert lizards embark on a day of painting. Cultured Arthur is an experienced painter, while his friend Max has more enthusiasm than skill, and soon begins using Arthur as the canvas. What follows is an imaginative romp through artistic styles, as Max tries to undo the damage he’s caused.

One of Ireland’s most celebrated illustrators, PJ Lynch, teams up with the American author Douglas Wood for No One But You(Walker Books, £11.99). Lynch’s work reminds me of Ladybird books from the 1970s, which isn’t a bad thing, and the book is a charming reminder to children that their view and experience of the world are unique.

Chris Van Allsburg’s Queen of the Falls(Andersen Press, £10.99) is based on the true story of Annie Taylor, a 62-year-old widow with money troubles who, in 1901, decided she would make her fortune by becoming the first person to go over Niagra Falls in a barrel. It’s an amazing story, but does it make for a good picture book? Not really. I’m not a fan of Van Allsburg’s plodding pencil art, and, although the story is well told, its depressing ending (the fortune Taylor hoped for never materialised, and she ended up selling postcards of herself and her barrel for pennies at fairs) leaves the reader feeling flat.

Maya Soetoro-Ng’s debut children’s book, Ladder to the Moon(Walker Books, £11.99), was inspired by the “life and spirit” of the author’s mother, Ann Dunham, who also happens to be the mother of Barack Obama. Beautifully illustrated in rich pastels by Yuyi Morales, it tells how a little girl is visited by her warm-hearted Grandma Annie, who died before she was born. Grandma Annie takes the girl up a golden ladder to the moon, where she shows her what unites people all over the earth. This story by Obama’s half-sister is a little twee and incoherent, but its warmth is appealing.

There’s more than a hint of twee in Jeanne Willis’s Mole’s Sunrise(Walker Books, £11.99), in which a (blind, of course) mole is “shown” a sunrise by his animal friends, who describe the rising sun in vivid words. It’s a sweet idea, illustrated simply by Sarah Fox-Davies, but slightly let down by the fact that their description of the sunrise as a fried egg that has burst “dripping hot, runny sunny stuff everywhere”, immediately followed by a comparison of the clouds to custard-drenched ice cream, is more revolting than evocative.

Much more original and exciting is Belfast-born David Mackintosh’s Marshall Armstrong Is New to Our School(Harper Collins, £10.99). When Marshall Armstrong starts a new school, his classmates think he’s weird. He looks funny, wears a straw boater, eats odd food, doesn’t play sport and rides home on a giant penny farthing. So the other kids aren’t very enthusiastic when they’re invited to his birthday party. But, once there, they discover that Marshall’s peculiar life is actually a lot of fun. Mackintosh’s delightfully squiggly pencil and ink illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to this entertainingly eccentric and likeable story.

An unusual relationship is also at the heart of John Hegley and Neal Layton’s fantastic Stanley’s Stick(Hodder Children’s Books, £10.99), which is everything a picture book should be: funny, engaging, slightly odd and utterly original. Stanley is a small boy with a stick that was “once part of something tall and grand and it will never return. But it can still be a stick as best as it can”. The stick serves as a pretend banana, part of a dinosaur, a sand-writing implement and a fishing rod before Stanley decides to set it free to find a new home. Hegley, a poet, tells the story in slightly lyrical language while still being funny and unaffected. A delight from start to finish.

Anna Carey’s first novel for young adults, The Real Rebecca, was published earlier this year