Children’s picture books round-up: From None the Number to Over the Hills and Far Away

Over the Hills and Far Away is a treasury of 150 nursery rhymes collected from around the world and is illustrated by 77 of the world’s leading artists

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The Independent Culture

“Four tantrums?” “Nine seagulls that are after Frank’s chips?” Welcome to counting the Oliver Jeffers way in None the Number (HarperCollins, £12.99).

Featuring his trademark egg-shaped Huey characters, there is also something to think about here when it discusses whether zero is actually a number.

Mixed fun and facts can also be found in Robert Crowther’s Pop-Up Dinosaur Alphabet (Walker, £12.99). Lift the flap labelled D and a diplodocus leaps out almost at eye level plus a text describing his vital statistics. Peter Bently’s The Tooth Fairy’s Christmas (Hachette, £11.99) combines children’s two best suppliers as Santa and this other ever-popular source of gifts or money join forces. Garry Parsons does both characters proud with his swirling, atmospheric illustrations.

Sarah Warburton is also in excellent illustrating form in The Princess and the Presents (Nosy Crow, £10.99).  Caryl Hart’s accompanying story takes a seasonal swipe at those who already possess plenty but always want more. But this tale is more comic than cautionary, still ending happily ever after.

For parents tired of the current over-representation of cuddly bears in picture books, Jenny Offill comes up with something different in her delightful Sparky! (Orion, £10.99). Choosing a sloth for a pet, reputedly the laziest animal in existence, looks a bad idea when he always sleeps rather than allowing himself to be shown off to other children. But the young heroine of the story comes to love him even more because of his oddness, and many readers will surely feel the same for this sad-eyed, somnolent creature so sympathetically depicted by illustrator Chris Applehans.

A different pet problem occurs in Helen Stephens’ How to Hide a Lion from Grandma (Alison Green Books, £6.99 paperback). The old lady in question is short-sighted enough not to notice this large presence when she comes to visit, but what might be in the box she has insisted on bringing with her? All ends well, though Mum and Dad returning from a short break have their doubts.

Rebecca Cobb’s The Something (Macmillan, £11.99) features a boy who discovers a small but apparently bottomless hole in his garden. He imagines a series of possible inhabitants, with the mystery only solved when he nods off at his window, at which the hole finally reveals its secrets. Cobb’s dreamy illustrations are perfectly in tune with this affectionate little story.

But the most beautiful and enduring picture book of the year could well be Over the Hills and Far Away (Frances Lincoln, £14.99). This treasury of 150 nursery rhymes collected from around the world by Elizabeth Hammill is illustrated by 77 of the world’s leading artists. They have all given their services free, with profits going to Seven Stories, Britain’s National Centre for Children’s Books, in Newcastle. Bringing so many outstanding talents together in one book ensures hours of pleasure and also the chance to marvel at all the different ways brilliant illustrators take on both the strange and the familiar. 

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