Picture books reviewed

For the pig who has it all
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The Independent Culture

ABC books can be "E" for earnest, but not Alphabet Ice Cream by Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt (Puffin, £10.99). This tour from A to Z is exultant and exuberant, serving up colour, jokes, jelly, ice cream - everything children would want in an alphabet book and more. "G is for grasshopper, H is for honey; I is for ice cream to eat when it's sunny." Cue an eye-catching duo, standing in the sea eating ice creams. Clear, bright and funny, with a letter for each page, this book has no time for worthy lessons; it just wants everyone to have a good time.

In I Want to Go Home! by Tony Ross (Andersen, £9.99), moving house is the latest life lesson for the Little Princess. Over the years, she has used her comic charm and wild hair to dispatch a range of childhood traumas - potty training, sibling rivalry, dummy dependence. Wherever children go, she is the ideal guide. Here, the Queen has sold the old castle to the Duke of Somewhereorother, and bought a new one. Naturally, the Little Princess WANTS TO GO HOME! How she learns to love her new home is told in a customarily endearing dotty style.

Dino-Dinners by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (Frances Lincoln, £10.99) is a simple survey of what dinosaurs eat, hectic with energetic watercolours and exactly the sort of facts that keep young children wanting more. Tyrannosaurus Rex like to eat "dead dinos that really pong"; Coelophysis are fond of "a meaty niece, a crunchy nephew". Iguanodons might be peace-loving pond-plant eaters, but "then comes the noisy part - the more we eat, the more we fart!" The book, which ties in with the Natural History Museum's new family exhibition, Dino Jaws, even includes expert analysis of dinosaur poo.

Things look good right from the inside flap of Meerkat Mail by Emily Gravett (Macmillan, £10.99), a dense, lively picture book, with a montage of characterful meerkats picnicking and building sandcastles. Welcome to Sandy Burrow, the Dunes, home to a meerkat family, complete with cousins in every corner. It's all too much for young Sunny Meerkat, who goes off in search of the perfect place to live. The joke, of course, is visual, with Gravett's pencil and wash style having both humour and bite as our furry hero lugs his suitcase from one relation to the next. There are postcards to flip, details to pore over, and the heartwarming discovery that there's no place like home - no matter how crowded.

Melrose and Croc Find a Smile by Emma Chichester Clark (Harper Collins, £5.99) is the second instalment in this sweetly devotional relationship between a dog and a small green crocodile. Melrose feels sad, but best-friend Croc knows how to bring back his smile. First stop - the country. Exploring a more subtle palette than in her bestselling Blue Kangeroo series, Chichester Clark crafts a story with gentle, unhurried aplomb. These friends are set to be a booming hit.

Hurrah for school pets and the imagination is the message of Rex by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by David Mackintosh (Puffin, £10.99), a bewitching story of Rex, the class chameleon. Every day someone gets to take Rex home, along with a book to write down all his adventures. In the vivid imaginations of the children Rex becomes a massive dinosaur, and gets up to everything from breathing fire into a skyscraper to being dressed up like Malibu Barbie. The design is energetic, with a naive intensity that perceptively captures a child's world.

Animals at War by Isabel George and Rob Lloyd Jones (Usborne, £4.99) ranges from Murphy, the donkey who became a walking ambulance at Gallipoli, to the "para-pups" who were taught to jump from planes. From elephants carrying armies to homing pigeons carrying miniature cameras, this absorbing book offers an insight into the ways animals have saved the day in some of the bloodiest battles in history. With photographs of front-line action - such as an extraordinary one of an Alsatian in a specially fitted gas mask - and profiles of heroes such of Simon the cat and Gander the dog, there is much for children to ponder.

Who's Hiding Under the Sea? by Debbie Tarbett (Little Tiger Press, £4.99) is a guess-the-animal book. Robust and friendly, It offers not only clues in the rhymes ("I scuttle sideways with a skip. My shell is strong, my claws can nip! Who am I?") but also the gimmick of pages which slide apart to reveal answers.

It's not only the title that's emphatic in Laura Vaccaro Seeger's stylish celebration of colour, Lemons are not Red (Frances Lincoln, £9.99), but also the rich pages of yellow, orange, purple and pink. Turn the page cut out in the shape of a lemon, and a red lemon turns yellow; or else a purple carrot turns orange.

For Crispin Tanworth, aka the pig who has it all, it's party time in Crispin and the Best Birthday Surprise Ever by Ted Dewan (Doubleday, £10.99). The quest for the ultimate birthday party has already taken the spoilt porker to Cheezy Mouse Burger-Maxx and Cheezy Mouse Pizza Galaxy, gimmicky fast-food joints that only made him bad-tempered. Now he's going to have the best birthday ever at Cheezy Mouse Birthday Surprise Centre. Or will he? This wonderful comedy of excess is crammed to the corner with pizza, doughnuts and discarded bits of plastic - trash culture, in other words - in queasy colours that make the eyeballs swim.

Totally Wonderful Miss Plumberry by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chinlun Lee (Walker, £10.99), is a hymn to the powers of a good teacher. Miss Plumberry (so called to set up that sweet feeling) helps Molly make herself heard. Molly wants to talk about her crystal, a present from her grandmother "over the water", but the class crowd around Russell's stagosauraus (it's pink and green, and spurts water). Molly stands alone and her eyes "went hot and wet". Excellent on the squirms of unease that will be instantly recognisable by any schoolchild, this book has quietly skilled pictures that drive the message home. Everyone should have a Miss Plumberry!

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