The best new picture books and novels: children’s books roundup:

25 Dec 2017

Many a gorgeous gift awaits picture book fans this Christmas, including Oliver Jeffers’ Here We Are (HarperCollins), a heartfelt introduction of child to planet in ethereal shades of blue and violet, and a departure from his familiar naive style. New parents, especially, will delight in the tenderness that permeates Jeffers’ first foray into non-fiction; the gentle text, both humorous and admonitory (“You have a body. Look after it, as most bits don’t grow back”) and luminous images add up to quietly glowing treasure.

In Oliver Elephant by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens (Nosy Crow), little Noah enjoys Christmas shopping, careering about with his favourite toy elephant and patient, buggy-pushing mother in tow. But when their list is checked off, Oliver Elephant is nowhere to be found … This rhyming, timeless, Christmassy tale of disaster averted feels serene and sweet.

Children of four and up, especially those with a yen for elementary microbiology, will adore Do Not Lick This Book (Allen & Unwin), by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost – a pared-down, brightly coloured introduction to the world of germs, full of fascinating facts, microscopic photography and worryingly adorable microbes.

From Words & Pictures, a stylishly abridged The Wizard of Oz, adapted by Michel Laporte and illustrated by Olivier Latyk, boasts a shaded palette of peachy orange and cool greens, and elegant die-cut overlays, entirely appropriate to the original’s themes of illusion, perception and magic.

Readers of nine and over are also well served for mythology. Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki (Walker Studio) will delight both the newcomer and the Norse aficionado, instantly immersing its reader in the tragedy and treachery of the Scandinavian pantheon. Crossley-Holland’s well forged words, as right-feeling in the mind as a sword’s hilt in the hand, are the perfect medium for these compelling tales, with their rich poetry (“Freyja wept. Each of her tears was an almond of pure gold”) interleaved with Jeffrey Alan Love’s iron-dark, silhouetted images.

In The Hippo at the End of the Hall (David Fickling), Helen Cooper, the Kate Greenaway award-winning author of picture books such as Pumpkin Soup, has written a glorious first work of full-length fiction, complete with charismatic illustrations. When a mysterious invitation to the Gee Museum arrives for Ben Makepeace (“Come now or come never!”), his mum is curiously reluctant to let him go. But Ben is the only one who can preserve Constance Garner-Gee’s curiosity shop collection of stuffed animals – many of which are secretly alive – from the unscrupulous Tara Snow. A warm, transporting fantasy with echoes of E Nesbit.

Andy Mulligan’s Dog (Pushkin), though less overtly fantastical, is another animal story with a difference. At its heart is the pain of rejection, felt both by unhappy boy Tom and by Spider, the runty reject puppy with the projecting tooth to whom Tom gives his heart after his parents’ separation. But Spider’s expensive mishaps and Tom’s ferocious anger – not to mention school bullies and the cruelties of an arachnid called Thread – seem to militate against a happy ending. Poignant, funny, savage and ultimately uplifting, this is Mulligan at the top of his challenging form.

In her enthralling debut, I Have No Secrets (Electric Monkey), Penny Joelson undertakes a difficult task, narrating from the perspective of a character without speech: 14-year-old Jemma, who has cerebral palsy. Relishing her apparent helplessness, her carer’s boyfriend confides to her that he has committed a murder – but when a technological advance offers Jemma the chance of a voice, she becomes a danger to him. Both a compelling thriller and a warm, lively portrait of unusual family life, Joelson’s first book marks her out as a writer to watch.


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