Children's Books: Chicken, peas and eggs (with Herb)

Sally Williams meets a greedy new baby, a veggie dragon and a grumbling God as she chooses picture-books for young children
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The Independent Culture
Daisy and the Egg by Jane Simmons, Orchard, pounds 9.99

Looking for something seasonal, but sick of cutesy bunnies and soppy chicks? The story of Daisy the duckling who helps her mother to hatch out a new baby brother strikes a perfect balance. Sweet, but not schmaltzy; sunny, but not sickly, this book is full of luminous colour, strong shapes, and real spirit.

Whadayamean by John Burningham, Cape, pounds 9.99

For a grittier, less picturesque window on the whole world, children will find lots to talk about in this thought-provoking fable. God is shown around Earth by two children, and finds man (funnily enough, it is men) has destroyed His paradise with greed, pollution, intolerance and apathy. It's weighty, yes. Scenes of the children, tiny and vulnerable, against vast backdrops of destroyed rainforests, guns and tanks are no tea party. But it's not doomy. A brightly coloured, uplifting picnic and a leap of faith (the children tell the grown-ups that God wants them to shape up. And they do!) make this an excellent book for raising awareness, not bad dreams.

Touch and Feel Kitten, Dorling Kindersley, pounds 4.99

What makes this feel-a-different-texture-on-every-page book so appealing is the quality of the materials used. No ratty felt; instead, fur thick and soft enough to get lost in; a tongue so rough, it sets your teeth on edge and, by the time your fingers get to the scratchy straw basket, the whatness of a kitten is revealed.

The Truth About Babies by Andrea Shavick, illus by Charlotte Hard, OUP, pounds 9.99

A familiar theme: birth of a new sibling is standard stuff, but this really captures the older child's point of view. New babies, says this older sister, are not cute and adorable, but hideous. All they do is feed (for hours), cry "louder than a jumbo jet taking off," throw up and hog the limelight. All true. As is the intoxication of grown-ups and their blindness to the unfairness of it all. Perceptive and funny, this will really give older siblings a boost. I Want a Pet by Lauren Child, Frances Lincoln, pounds 9.99

A little girl wants a pet. Maybe an octopus? No, says Mum, think of all the footprints. A wolf? No, says Dad, "howling gives me a headache." "Nothing with a buzz," says Granny. It interferes with her hearing aid; while Grandad says stuffed pets are best. Dealing with a small child's wild desires isn't easy, but this wry tale deftly shows how small-minded grown-ups can be. Visually exciting, it will be enjoyed by all ages.

Hipperty-hop, Hippety-hay: growing with rhymes from birth to age 3 by Opal Dunn, illus by Sally Anne Lambert, Frances Lincoln, pounds 10.99

Don't change nappies or pop-up baby-gros in silence, urges the author of this absorbing anthology of rhymes, an expert in language development. Sing. And if you're hazy on the details, then this selection is the perfect book to help you to help your child. There is advice on how to act out the rhymes: a basic requirement, you'd have thought, but plenty of books don't.

Little Bo Peep's Library Book by Cressida Cowell, Hodder, pounds 12.99

Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and doesn't know where to find them; so far so predictable. But from this follows a wonderfully inventive story of a trip to the local library which includes a cast of nursery-rhyme characters, "real pull-out books" and lots of visual gags. This exuberant story will have a long shelf-life.

Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass, illus by Debbie Harter, Barefoot, pounds 9.99

Dare to be different, is the message that drives this story of Herb, the dragon who prefers leek and potato soup to the crispy crunch of brave knights. This is a terrific book. Less for the moral, than the full-of- detail illustrations and cliffhanger story. The knights, sick of being eaten, decide to hunt dragons. Meathook, chief dragon, wises up to the plan, and warns his fire-breathing friends. All except one: Herb.

Fast Fox, Slow Dog: Chicken, Chips and Peas; Slow Dog Falling; The Hen House by Allan Ahlberg, illus by Andre Amstutz, Puffin, pounds 4.99 each

For each of the three tales in this series, Ahlberg writes the same story again and again. Fast Fox is always hungry, Slow Dog sleepy, Mother Hen's chicks always in danger. How boring? But no. What is perfect about this nifty idea is that each story has cunning twists and subtle changes. The fun comes from reading a story that's different, yet the same.

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