Picture books reviewed

A little learning
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The Independent Culture

The Global Garden by Kate Petty and Jennie Maizels (Eden Project Books, £12.99) is a thoughtful investigation of "the plants we can't do without" dressed up as flip-the-flap fun. Inspired by the Eden Project in Cornwall, this book shows how "the world is a garden that grows everything we need": cocoa for chocolate, cotton for fabric, rubber for tyres and sports equipment. It's full of inventive fold-outs (such as "How did your book grow?"). The creators have done their homework and, crucially, galvanised the material to make it entertaining for all ages.

Bob Graham's characters tend to insist on enjoying themselves despite an unforgiving urban landscape. In Oscar's Half Birthday (Walker, £10.99), baby Oscar has a half-birthday party, because "no one can wait for his whole birthday". So it's off to the country, or rather Bellevue Hill, a park at the end of a "tickety-clack, tickety clack" Tube line, where Oscar and his family eat special chocolate cake with a half-birthday candle. Somehow, this gentle story takes us to the heart of family togetherness: Graham gives people space, and credit for their dreams.

In Dougal's Deep-Sea Diary by Simon Bartram (Templar, £5.99), you can tell from the dedication ("To my mother, who is partial to a bit of cod") that this adventure has a unique atmosphere, a compound of the humorous and surreal. It opens with an indictment of Dougal's boring day job: commuting drones are pictured in Magritte-style suits and bowler hats, while Dougal the dissenter has a tie patterned with fish. What follows is a deep-sea treasure-trove of dolphins, mermaids and the magical world of Atlantis, all just off the mid-Atlantic.

The hero of Kevin Goes to School by Liesbet Slegers (Frances Lincoln, £4.99) has a Bunter belly, moon-shaped head three sizes too big for the body below, and the giggle-potential of being a small boy with a grown-up name. Kevin is an unbeatable character who will have young children pleading for more. "I am going out with my lunchbox and my mummy," says Kevin on his way to school, revealing a genuine and profound truth about children's priorities. Grown-ups, here, only exist from the waist down. The book is one of an eminently collectable series, in a small easy-to-hold format.

A Sound like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound by John Irving, illustrated by Tatjana Hauptmann (Bloomsbury, £12.99), is short, smart and spooky. This tale of little Tom - who wakes in the night to hear noises - hums with suspense. What could they be? Tom wakes his father, and together they look for the source of the creepy sound. The pictures are beautifully murky, the story full of jokes and terrors and excitement to keep children on the edge of their seat. It is a book that peeks into dark corners, but never reveals too much.

Anne Frank by Josephine Poole and Angela Barrett (Hutchinson, £10.99) starts with "someone you might sit next to in class", and a desire to open up the tragic story of the ordinary Jewish girl caught up in extraordinary circumstances to a wider, younger audience.

Here, the myth is shelved and Anne made appealing to children. She was naughty in class, liked telling jokes and pulling faces. We see the girlish letters, the comb and curlers, which constituted her world. Barrett's pictures are hypnotic, bringing dignity, lucidity and a curious sense of the story becoming more familiar in front of your eyes. It's a moving book that brushes important issues with its fingertips.