Picture Books: A wild party - with mud pies for all

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The Independent Culture

Jungle Party by Brian Wildsmith (Egmont, £10.99) is set in the rich habitat of Wildsmith's imagination. A hungry python throws a party with the intention of eating his guests. How the scheming snake tricks Fox and Goat et al to climb into his mouth (and how they get out again) provides the dash of suspense that comes from every good adventure. But what lifts this up to a more sublime level is the pictures which beam with skill and zinging good humour. Check out the jungle fowl balancing beak down on the back of a gnu.

With Sleepy Places by Judy Hindley, illustrated by Tor Freeman (Walker, £9.99), a soothing rhythm is the clockwork that drives this gentle exploration of where animals sleep. "A frog takes a snooze in the ooze of a pond; a rose makes a bed for a bee." We also learn that swifts sleep on the wing, horses on the hoof, but each page with its easy-on-the-eye pictures of snoozing bees and yawning bats, lulls like a sleepy sigh, with facts never disturbing the book's dreamy night-time feel.

This Little Piggy and Other Rhymes to Sing and Play, selected by Jane Yolen, illus Will Hillenbrand (Walker, £14.99), reaches out to parents, children and the lucrative gift market. This glossy anthology offers a rich, inexhaustible tour of everything you ever need to know about songs and rhymes.

With action rhymes, clapping games and songs to bounce babies on laps, here are familiar favourites: Goosey, Goosey, Gander and I'm a Little Teapot; and less-known rhymes, like Harry Whistle, plus tips on hand actions, musical arrangements and historical facts. Did you know that Goosey, Goosey Gander originates from a rhyme called Old Father Long Legs?

In Trust Me, Mum! by Angela McAllister, illus Ros Collins (Bloomsbury, £10.99), a first visit to the shop is a big adventure for Ollie: a spot-on tale of a child overcoming fear. His mum warns him about strangers and crossing the road, but not the bug-eyed monster, witch or ghost that confront him with that fatal feeling en route to buy his Fireball Fizzers. This scatters drops of unease, but the silly looking monsters and Ollie's bravery wins through to make this a buoyant read: the picture book equivalent of self-help for kids.

One, Two, Three with the Little Red Train: an adventure with numbers by Benedict Blathwayt (Random House, £4.99) makes counting to ten a delight. This busy board book that goes about its appointed task with vigour. There are animals and balloons to spot and count, a rescue story of a broken-down engine, plus drool resistant pages. Best of all, this has a lead character that will prompt engine-mad young eyes to gaze in wonder.

As for The Opposite by Tom Macrae, illus Elena Odriozola (Andersen, £10.99), the sustaining joke in this wonderful book is that opposite isn't just a literary concept: it's a being with face and arms. We first meet it hanging upside down over Nate's bed - an unsettling sigth and, indeed, the Opposite goes on to cause trouble, making Nate spill his milk, and splatter paint on his teacher. But by working out what opposite means (you see, it's instructive, as well as funny), Nate gets the better of it.

The low-key, quirky humour of the pictures do the story proud, and its sheer originality induces the pleasant, goosebumpy feeling you get around something special.

In John Burningham's Edwardo, the Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World (Random House, £10.99), Edwardo is the horriblest boy... because everyone says so. Consequently, being nasty and messy is the only available option. He is not good at keeping his room tidy and forgets to wash. But then, one day, someone says something nice, and everything changes.

All of which could reasonably be found in a parenting manual, but Burningham is a more engaging and amusing ambassador from the world of childhood. This book has all the ingredients his fans pounce on: a sharp, clear-sighted edge, grace and wit.

If you think castles are made from stone, think again with Castles by Colin Thompson (Random House, £10.99). This anthology shows they are built from mushrooms, roses, cold potatoes and guitars (the Music Castle).

Welcome to the fantastic world of Colin Thompson where a boat bobs in a moat of gravy and castles float in the air. There is so much wildness and wittiness to wonder at here. Each castle is precise, detailed and pictured in a full-colour, double page spread.

In Silly Suzy Goose by Petr Horacek (Walker, £9.99), Suzy Goose goes from wanting to run from the crowd, to wanting to run to the crowd, over 22 blooming, beautifully designed pages. If only she could be different, she thinks. If she was a bat, she could flap her wings, If she was a toucan, she could make a loud squawk. If she was a lion, she could roar. The whole book is a nicely measured brew of naïve, paired-down design and warm-hearted emotion.

Nature's Playground: activities, crafts and games to encourage children to get outdoors by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield (Frances Lincoln, £16.99) is three parts source book to one part treatise. This anthology of things to do outdoors takes us further, deeper than most, with glossy, lifestyle photographs to offset any folksiness. Divided into seasons, it covers mud pies and dens, but also making perfume from fallen petals, fairy beds from moss, camouflage games, scavenger hunts and a hearty feeling that Nature is the greatest toy in the world.

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