Children's Books: Take a trip to a paper paradise

Cornish mermaids, magic flutes, a brand new Wonderland - you can find heaven in new picture-books for younger readers.
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The Biggest Bed in the World by Lindsay Camp, illus by Jonathan Langle (Collins, pounds 10.99)

If you have ever slept with a child's foot lodged in your ear you will recognise this father's quest to find a bed big enough for him and his ever-growing family. Just as any child, and there are seven here, will recognise the calm, smiley faces snuggled up to mum and dad. A very satisfying picture book.

A Million Chameleons by James Young (Mammoth, pounds 4.99)

Bored with predictable books about colours? Try watching these chameleons as they change from blue to red to yellow. The colours zing, and it's written with a lovely feel for language. Reissued in memory of Daniel Leggatt, who died aged seven from aplastic anaemia. This was his favourite book: from every copy bought, a small percentage will be donated to the Marrow Environment Fund.

Baby Animals by Rod Campbell, (Campbell Books, pounds 4.99)

These pop-ups will appeal to the smallest of fingers. The clear lines and bright colours attract immediate interest. The pop-up animals are satisfying, chunky and tough enough to resist a fair bit of tugging. And when the dribbling is done, there are a few simple facts to read.

Here Comes Mother Goose, edited by Iona Opie, illus Rosemary Wells (Walker, pounds 14.99)

A sequel to My Very First Mother Goose, this treasury has more rhymes, both familiar and obscure, to delight young readers. The pleasure lies in indulgence: the format is big, the colours rich, it's well stocked with beautiful images, and the use of space is generous. So whether dancing around the mulberry bush or tipping like a teapot, this sumptuous slab is a book to take your time over.

Wombat goes Walkabout by Michael Morpurgo, illus Christian Birmingham (Collins, pounds 10.99)

What's remarkable about this magical book about an intrepid baby wombat is not only Morpurgo's ability to plunge us into the heat and smells of the Australian Outback, but to make us care. The setting is alien, the Bush animals unfamiliar, but by glancing at personal experience - Wombat's lost mother, the danger of the bush fire - the story is as immediate as the scene outside your window. The illustrations are a treat, too: full of light and dark, and half-whispered secrets.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illus Helen Oxenbury (Walker, pounds 14.99)

New life has been breathed into this old, old tale by Oxenbury's wonderful illustrations. Gone is the Alice in prissy petticoats and pinafore. This Alice is casually dressed, a child of today - and of tomorrow. Oxenbury is careful not to concentrate on the sort of detail that dates. An abundance of lovely crisp images make this unabridged version stand out a mile.

The Children's Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Heaven by Anita Ganeri (Element, pounds 14.99)

What is heaven? A tough question, and this comprehensive survey provides 160 pages of possible answers. There's Christian Heaven, Jewish Heaven, Hindu Heavens, Japanese Heavens, as well as ways of getting to heaven, heavenly beings, visions of heaven, and much more. Well conceived, niftily executed, this is great for either dipping into or for deeper study.

Bear's Busy Family by Stella Blackstone, illus Debbie Harter (Barefoot, pounds 9.99)

Just right for the very young. This is a simple story of a family preparing for baby's birthday written in short, rhythmic sentences with big type and big beaming pictures. That's not all. It's also about kinship, the senses, and the power of the imagination. A quality production that will give endless pleasure.

Me and My Cat? By Satoshi Kitamura (Andersen, pounds 9.99)

The reason for the question mark becomes clear after the first few pages. A visit from a "an old lady in a pointed hat" results in Nicholas and his cat, Leonardo, swapping bodies. Not as original or off-the- wall as Kitamura can be, but fans will not be disappointed. It still delivers some quirky gems: Nicholas licking his jumper clean is especially amusing.

Elf Hill and Other Tales from Hans Christian Andersen by Naomi Lewis, illus Emma Chichester Clark (Frances Lincoln, pounds 12.99)

That the title is from one of Andersen's lesser-known tales is revealing. The main drive of this absorbing collection is novelty. The Little Match Girl and The Princess and the Pea are here among the more unfamiliar Little Aida's Flowers and The Moneybox Pig, but they are written with such no- nonsense directness. Illustrated with the just the right mix of naive elegance and matter-of- factness that Emma Chichester Clark does so well.

The Barefoot Book of Stories from the Opera by Shahrukh Husain, illus by James Mayhew (Barefoot, pounds 12.99)

Opera is fun, says the author of this unprecedented excursion into a world commonly perceived as being anything but. You just need an entry point. To prove it, Husain starts with the stories. Seven operas including The Magic Flute and The Little Sweep are cleverly selected to appeal, a discography nudges you in to taking things further and Mayhew's illustrations capture the stylised elegance of stage sets.

The Merrymaid of Zennor by Charles Causley, illus by Michael Foreman (Orchard, pounds 9.99)

One of those rare stories that can be enjoyed by five-year-olds as well as adults. Based on a Cornish folk tale and set in the real village of Zennor, this is the story of what Zachy sees after Tom Taskis the tin miner runs off with a mermaid. Causley's prose is spare and unsentimental, and the illustrations glow with lyrical detail.

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