Musical animals and talking vegetables: The best new children's picture books

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The Independent Culture

Written and illustrated by the American artist Laura Vaccaro Seeger, the prize-winning First the Egg (Frances Lincoln, £10.99) shows, in a series of before and after pictures, how various tiny beginnings (tadpoles, seeds and caterpillars as well as eggs) result in something larger. Glowing colours and a clever use of cut-out spaces make this book an exciting as well as charming voyage of discovery for the very young. Far less respectable, but bursting with energy, Emily Gravett's Dogs (Macmillan, £10.99; pictured right) devotes each page to a different member of this species. No one is as funny as Gravett in this sort of form, and her canine rogues' gallery should have everyone laughing. So, too, should Peas! (Puffin, £5.99), written by Andy Cullen and illustrated by Simon Rickerty. Its story about Pete and Penelope Pea is stuffed with puns, and ends up with the slogan "Give peas a chance!" Huge pictures and unpredictable text make this jolly picture book a winner.

Simon Prescott's Small Mouse Big City (Little Tiger Press, £10.99) gives a modern twist to one of Aesop's classic fables, showing a country mouse hopelessly adrift in an urban landscape dominated by high buildings and fast cars. He slowly finds his feet but is still mightily relieved to return home. This first picture book by a new illustrator is a real find.

Oliver Who Travelled Far and Wide (Hodder, £10.99), written by Mara Bergman and illustrated by Nick Maland, is equally adventurous. Its rhyming couplets tell how, with the aid of his toy train, "Oliver travelled past lakes and past seas/ past jungles with monkeys and parrots in trees," all in an effort to find his lost Teddy. Small children snug in their own beds will relish such wild journeys by someone the same age as themselves.

They should also be fascinated by Sarah Dyer's The Girl with the Bird's-Nest Hair (Bloomsbury, £5.99). Also in rhyme, it tells how young Hollie, the owner of a mass of messy curls, wakes up one morning to find a bird nesting there. Another soon follows, but ever-patient Mum finally blows the whistle when a peacock decides to join the throng. Wittily illustrated, this is a delightful story.

Cats are almost as popular as bears in picture books these days, but Sam Lloyd's Mr Pusskins, Best in Show (Orchard, £5.99) adds another excellent title to this overcrowded genre. Mr Pusskins, as readers will know from his previous adventures, is not without personal vanity. But his decision to enter a competition for the Best Looking Pet Prize results in some unexpected difficulties. Vividly illustrated and not above the occasional rude joke, it is bound to be popular.

The same should be true of The Two-By-Two Band (Oxford, £5.99). Written by David Flavell and illustrated by Alison Bartlett, it tells what might have happened had Noah given all his hungry animals instruments to play on the ark. As the noise level rises as inexorably as the floods outside, bright pictures and an amusing text make sure that good humour is maintained throughout.

Everyone is also in an excellent mood in Aliens in Underpants Save the World (Simon & Schuster, £5.99). Written in rhyme by Claire Freedman, this surreal tale of how obliging aliens trap a dangerous meteorite in a giant pair of pants made from all the underwear they can gather up on Earth is a tall story in the great tradition, exuberantly illustrated in full colour by Ben Cort.