Picture books: Roses, lilies and winsome wolves

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The Independent Culture

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Egmont, £14.99)

There is double delight in Eugene Trivizas' reworking of the classic story of the three little pigs. Power from knowing the original, and pleasure in discovering the twists and turns as, here, three little wolves "with soft fur and fluffy tales" outwit a big bad pig. It's a simple swap - pigs for wolves; wolf for pig - but full of rich comedy. Plus, there is an upgrade in building materials (barbed wire and concrete in place of sticks and straw), a surprising dénouement involving flowers, and a happy ending, where neither pig nor wolf ends up in a pot. Glorious fun to read and look at: the illustrations are splendid, as are the pop-ups.

The Three Grumpies by Tamra Wight, illus. Ross Collins, (Bloomsbury, £9.99)

Grown-ups have the black dog. This little girl wakes up to the grumpies: Grumpy, Grumpier, and Grumpiest, three gangling, gawping goofballs, sat on the wrong side of her bed. Their mission? To jiggle her milk, hide one shoe from every pair she owns, and generally be annoying, no matter how hard she screams and shouts (and lor, does she scream and shout). Then she smiles, and things change. Spirited and sharp, with witty, larky drawings, this is a highly recommended way to dismiss bad company.

I am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child (Orchard, £10.99)

Lauren Child is a must for any child: it's her deadpan humour, lightness and loopy élan that's so seductive. In addition, she writes about the trials of childhood with a clairvoyant eye. In this, the latest in her series of conquering fears with brother and sister Lola and Charlie, Lola is about to start school. (She has, after all, overcome the misery of peas and bedtime). But Lola is not sure. How she ends up happily hopping home after her first day, accompanied by the usual mix of cut-outs and decorative typeface, feels fresh and instantly consoling.

Antonio on the Other Side of the World, Getting Smaller by Malachy Doyle, illus. Carl Cneut (Walker, £10.99)

Antonio is a little boy who gets littler after visiting his granny, on a tiny island on the other side of the world. Unlike that other shrinking pint pot, Treehorn, Antonio's vaporising is not down to busy parents but homesickness. Antonio is missing his mother. And so, shrugging off the fact that he is now "only a titch of a thing", he makes a perilous journey back home. Magnificently illustrated in a surreal, retro style, this book makes real the nature of love.

Gentle Giant by Michael Morpurgo, illus. Michael Foreman, (Collins, £9.99)

Here's a story to compare with any classic from the past. With characteristic narrative agility, Morpurgo tells of the Beast of Ballyloch, who is huge and terrifying, but ends up saving the village, getting the girl, and is celebrated as the Gentle Giant. To make this fairy tale especially relevant to 21st-century children, there is an ecological message too. The images are powerfully, delightfully, gorgeously classic, as well.

Oscar and Arabella Hot, Hot, Hot by Neal Layton (Hodder, £9.99)

There's a dynamic, distinctively different air about the woolly mammoths Oscar and Arabella. Surrounded by Ice Age splendour, they cavort in freezing winds. But then an unusually hot summer arrives. What happens next is funny, fast-moving, and of profound significance to the future of mankind. Oscar and Arabella are brilliant comic creations.

Guess What Happened at School Today: a playground full of rhythm and rhyme by Jez Alborough (HarperCollins, £10.99)

Anyone who has ever experienced life in a primary classroom (most of us) will relish this excursion through a school day in verse and colourful pictures. A perceptive sense of humour exactly captures the roller-coaster fun, panic, fear, embarrassment of being late, giggling in class, getting scabby knees, not knowing the answer to nine times three. Every book-bag should hide a copy.

The Dot by Peter H Reynolds (Walker, £8.99)

"Just make a mark and see where it takes you," says the teacher to Vashti when she says she can't draw. Where there's a dot, there's art. Her jab of frustration leads to an oeuvre of dot-based paintings exhibited at the school show. Designed with accessibility in mind - it's compact, illustrated with pace and economy - this book bristles with can-do energy, somehow making children feel good at drawing, just for reading it.

The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt (Frances Lincoln, £10.99)

Of course, there are pretty pictures of water lilies to look at, but most of all, this introduction to Monet is tremendously readable. When journeying through history, it's always best to have an entertaining guide. Anholt draws children in by focusing on an actual encounter between the artist and a child. Seen through the eyes of Julie (in real life, Julie Manet, daughter of artist Berthe Morisot, niece of Edouard Manet), the remote master is brought down to earth as she visits his green and pink house at Giverney, and has tea with Mrs Monet.

The King of Capri by Jeanette Winterson, illus. Jane Ray (Bloomsbury, £10.99)

Curious that a writer who has a reputation for unconventionality should produce a modern fairy tale that's so traditional. The King of Capri is rich and greedy, but when a great wind blows away his clothes and fortune, he becomes a changed man. Her prose, however, is charged and original. As are the pictures, which sing with magical otherworldliness.

The English Roses by Madonna (Puffin, £12.99)

Based on the mystical teachings of the Kabbalah, this is a moral tale of four girls (the English Roses) who are unkind to a fifth, the beautiful Binah, because they are jealous of her apparent perfection. (Unhelpfully, however, all the girls here look like American supermodels.) Like her ad for Gap jeans, this rolls long, is buoyed up by lots of cash, and is nice to look at, but lacks any real depth.

Who Will Comfort Toffle? by Tove Jansson (Sort of Books, £8.99)

A Scandinavian favourite for over 40 years and now arriving in the UK, this is the story of Toffle, another character from the late Tove Jansson's weirdly poetic world of Moomin Valley. As it chronicles the lonely creature's search for friendship and confidence, this book has everything that makes Jansson's work so extraordinary: whimsy, joy, economy and complexity. Teletubbies come and go, but Moomintroll, the Snork Maiden, Miffle and the dreadful Grokes have the sort of classic appeal that lasts.

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