Picture Books: Here be giants. And zaks, and bears...

Our critics choose the best new stories for children to lose themselves in this summer. Nicholas Tucker begins, with picture books

Charles Fuge's Astonishing Animal ABC (Gullane, £10.99) progresses from an arty aardvark to the hitherto unknown-to-zoology zak, so allowing zebras a welcome relief from their normal position at the end of any animal alphabet.

Lavishly illustrated and linked together by bouncy rhyme, this is early learning at its best. So too is Alison Murray's One Two. That's My Shoe! (Orchard, £10.99). Here, a child chases a naughty pet up the number chain from one to 10, where everyone is friends again. It is also told in rhyme and illustrated with huge pictures, and the numbers flash by as part of the fun.

Marla Frazee's The Boss Baby (Simon and Schuster, £5.99) takes a wry look at what really goes on after a new arrival. Dressed in a sharp black suit, a small, bald and scowling baby is shown taking over his new home. Prone to tantrums, demanding meetings at any time in the day or night, and expecting instant attention from his staff of two, he only looks pleased when he finally starts to talk. Parents will surely want to lend this book to other sufferers; babies may wonder whether they have finally been rumbled.

Meanwhile, in the less pointed world of picture book animals, Catherine Rayner's Solomon Crocodile (Macmillan, £10.99) brings glowing jungle colours to a story about an animal which just can't help being a nuisance to everyone else on the river bank. Temporarily put in his place by an enormous hippo, he ends by meeting another of his kind who is just as mischievous. Double trouble, indeed, and very entertaining.

Watch out, too, for Rhinos Don't Eat Pancakes (Simon and Schuster, £5.99). Written by Anna Kemp and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie, it offers a good-humoured warning to parents who don't listen. Despite mounting evidence, no one believes Daisy when she insists that there is a big purple rhinoceros in the house. Finally convinced, Mum and Dad then have another surprise on the final page. The massive, full-colour pictures make this a delicious book.

Also good, Ross Collins's Doodleday (Gullane, £10.99) shows what can happen when children fail to heed advice. Warned by his mother never to draw anything on Doodleday, young Harvey still goes ahead and does so. Initially sketching a fly that becomes real, he quickly creates a spider, a bird and finally a giant squid in a vain attempt to get each one to demolish the one that came before. Just in time, Mum arrives and orders every new creature back to the drawing pad. Splendidly illustrated, this is a book to pore over.

For older infants, Niki Daly's No More Kisses for Bernard! (Francis Lincoln, £11.99) is a welcome antidote to those sentimental love-in picture books featuring permanently beaming human or animal children and their parents. Bernard is a determined little boy who declares a unilateral prohibition on over-enthusiastic embraces. Wittily illustrated, this is a story for everyone.

And for those about to start their education, David Mackintosh's Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School (HarperCollins, £10.99) features a wonderfully eccentric title character. Utterly unpredictable from one page to the next, this is a seriously funny book. So too is Andy Stanton's extraordinary Here Comes the Poo Bus! (Puffin, £10.99). Illustrated in full, foetid detail by Noëlle Davies-Brock, this anarchic picture book about insects lured into a doomed trip to the seaside has to be seen – but thankfully not smelled – to be believed.

Alex T Smith's Claude in the City (Hodder, £4.99) is a book with pictures rather than a picture book. Engagingly written and with plenty of odd asides, it tells the story of a small plump dog named Claude and his best friend, who happens to be a sock. Together they explore the town, ending up as local heroes after foiling a robbery. The author is a comparative newcomer to children's books; on this evidence, he should go far.

Steve Voake, on the other hand, has been around for ages. He is on top form in Hooey Higgins and the Big Boat Race (Walker, £4.99), a tale about three boys building a bouncing boat. Emma Dodson's explosive illustrations add to the fun.

Nicola Davies's Welcome to Silver Street Farm (Walker, £3.99) has three children devising and then opening their own city farm. Written in short, easy to read chapters and pleasantly illustrated by Katharine McEwen, this is effective wish-fulfilment stuff, in a multicultural urban setting. There are three more titles in the series for children who like it, as many surely will.

Tamsyn Murray's Rabbit Racer (Simon and Schuster, £4.99) is part of a series too – the Stunt Bunny series. Full of incident, and illustrated to semi-surreal effect by Lee Wildish, these jolly stories come off extremely well.

Janet Foxley's Muncle Trogg (Chicken House, £5.99), the deserved winner of The Times' 2010 Children's Fiction Competition, is also recommended. Its story of an under-sized giant has a lot going for it, including ingenious black-and-white illustrations by Steve Wells.

Babette Cole is a wickedly witty illustrator, whose picture books touch on tricky topics with such alarming frankness that even broad-minded parents sometimes find them difficult to swallow. She has turned to fiction in her Fetlocks Hall Series, and The Enchanted Pony and The Curse of the Pony Vampires (Bloomsbury, £5.99 each) are the latest to appear. A self-confessed pony freak herself, she mixes magic with practical tips in a headlong rush of over the top plotting that somehow works even when it shouldn't.

More restful, René Goscinny's Nicholas (Phaidon, £6.95) is the first paperback edition of a collection of stories originally written in 1960, but which are just as fresh today. Illustrated by the celebrated cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé, these mini-adventures describe a determinedly contented French schoolboy who is forever getting into mild trouble. They may lack the vigorous humour of the same author's Asterix series, but certainly make up for that in charm and gentle nostalgia. Translated by Anthea Bell, than whom there is no one better, this unfailingly delightful book is one to treasure.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering