Gumdrop and the Bulldozer, by Val Biro, Hodder pounds 4.99. Nimbyism rules when the four-legged occupants of a country-house safari-park fight motorway builders about to lay concrete across their estate. Frankie loved it for all the wrong reasons: "Digger! DIGGER!" The reviewer is a boy who would rather attend a JCB sales conference than playgroup and would approve of rainforest destruction because it involved the use of some neat chainsaws. Remained in Frankie's cot all week, the highest accolade.
Just You and Me, by Sam McBratney, illus Ivan Bates, Walker pounds 9.99. Some of these books are so heartbreakingly benign that I fear for them in a world dominated by dumper trucks. Nostalgic drawing illustrates a cute yarn of a gosling seeking quality time with Dad as a storm approaches their wood. Attempts to find shelter are frustrated by goose junior's refusal to share holes and caves with squirrels, rabbits and mice. It was rather wordy, but Frankie loved the pictures, especially the scene where a mini El Nino strikes.
Jamil's Clever Cat: A Folk Tale From Bengal, by Fiona French, illus Dick Newby, Frances Lincoln pounds 9.99. The most tastefully illustrated and, one might think, the least appealing to a child. I feared that the Klimt- like style would render the shapes of the people and animals indistinct to toddler eyes. But Frankie had no trouble identifying the characters and lapped up this Asian twist on Puss-in-Boots, in which a weaver engages his Mensa- level mog to chat up a princess. He especially enjoyed intoning the unfamiliar names.
Barney's Easter-Egg Hunt, by Stephen White, illus Aaron Pendland and June Valentine-Ruppe, Puffin pounds 3.50. This title is probably the only one really intended for under-twos. A series of Technicolored creatures of indeterminate species (dinosaur and jellybaby DNA in there somewhere) seek Easter eggs. Bright and wacky with lots of colour indentification. Frankie will understand the story better after Easter.
Bear in a Square, by Stella Blackstone, illus Debbie Harter, Barefoot Books pounds 8.99. A very, very good book for a two-year-old. Bright colourful drawings of a variety of shapes to find and count on each page. No real story but interesting enough to keep a lively child's attention to the end. Tests how good children are at finding shapes. With squares, stars, triangles and much more, this picture book is a tour of simple shapes that also gives children plenty of counting practice. "Get the bear in the square daddy. I like the bear in the square."
Jerry's Trousers, by Nigel Boswall and David Melling, Macmillan pounds 8.99. Jerry has a collection of trousers of which any dog would be proud. Unfortunately for Jerry, pride comes before a series of falls and all his trousers are ruined. A fun book - a bit too demanding to hold the attention of a two- year-old from start to finish but the pictures are nicely drawn and full of detail. "I want it daddy - I want the balloon (in the picture) please."
Picnic Farm, by Christine Morton and Sarah Barringer, Macmillan pounds 8.99. Disappointing. The illustrations in a simple, childlike style are neither clear nor particularly charming. Lucia looked at one particularly ambiguous picture of a sheep and declared: "It's a cow." A simple listing of crops and animals you might see on a farm and the things you can make with their produce failed to hold her attention, or mine, for more than 30 seconds. "I want the bear in the square please."
This Little Baby, by Tony Bradman and Jenny Williams, Frances Lincoln pounds 3.99. Beautifully observed illustrations and a familiar "pat-a-cake"- type rhyme take you step-by-step through a baby's day. Utterly charming and capable of stopping cold Tom's regular bed-time tantrum - there's no higher praise.
Silly Silly, by Tony Ross, Andersen Press pounds 9.99. A duck and a mouse compete to see who's the silliest. Went over Jack's head a bit, particularly the sophisticated punchline (a gag about who picks up the bill at a restaurant). And pounds 9.99 is too much for a picture book, even one by the normally spot- on Ross.
Oops!, by Colin McNaughton, Collins pounds 4.99. Preston Pig (from the slapstick Suddenly!, which we loved, and Boo!, which we didn't) outwits the Big Bad Wolf in an ironic reworking of Little Red Riding Hood. Too knowing and complicated for my kids at every level - humour, language and pictures. Older ones might do better. DW the Picky Eater, by Marc Brown, Red Fox pounds 1.99. DW (a snub-nosed child with mouse ears - why?) learns not to be so fussy about her food. I didn't take to characters called "Mother" and "Father" who regularly take their brood to expensive restaurants. Jack (himself a picky eater) went very quiet afterwards - the fact that DW is virtually conned into eating her greens made him feel insecure. And he still won't eat spinach.
What's Alice up to?, by Harley Jessop, Viking pounds 10.99. Our favourite: a story about a little girl, told by her dog. Jackson could relate to the little girl - going through her father's clothes, pushing chairs around, hiding under the bed. I was woken up by Jackson tugging at my arm and saying "Mummy, Mummy, let's go downstairs and read Alice." I liked the crayon and watercolour illustrations, drawn from unusual angles.
Eye Spy Colours by Debbie MacKinnon, illus Anthea Sieveking, Frances Lincoln pounds 7.99. Brightly coloured photographs of children and objects familiar to them, each page with a colour theme. Jackson liked the peepholes, and guessing what the picture was on the next page, and went back to the book several times.
It could have been worse by A H Benjamin, illus Tim Warnes, Magi pounds 8.99. This is the story of Mouse's journey. On each page he has a mishap and we are told "it could have been worse" as a series of predators are dealt with. Jackson got bored despite the large bright pictures, and although we tried reading it several times, we never reached the end. I didn't like the crudely drawn illustrations.
Wake up Charlie Dragon!, by Brenda Smith, illus Klaar Verplancke, Little Hippo pounds 3.50. Harriette read this one lots of times and now keeps going back to it - she asked about the creatures on the page but didn't understand what Hallowe'en was. She was anxious that Charlie wasn't waking up. The next day, she picked it out and asked to read "this special book".
If You Love a Bear, by Piers Harper, Walker pounds 8.99. H looked intently at the pictures and generally agreed with what the bear did. Halfway through she lost interest and wanted to read the dragon one again, but she did laugh at the tickling page. The dullest of the lot.
Milo and the Magical Stones, by Marcus Pfirter, North-South pounds 12.95. T was attracted to the shiny pictures of glowing stones, but both of them were too young to appreciate the moral of the story. The book has alternative endings to which H listened carefully. Older kids might enjoy it more.
When I was Little Like You, by Jill Paton Walsh, illus Stephen Lambert, Viking pounds 10.99. H listened carefully and made no comment apart from pointing out the cat on the fish page. She asked to hear it again immediately after the first reading and copied the actions of Gran in the surfing scenes. When she saw the sweets and ice-cream she said that we'd have to buy some, but she didn't understand the ending.
Schnitzel von Krumm Forget-Me-Not, by Lynley Dodd, Puffin pounds 4.99. The rhyming story is really comfortable and easy to read and to lollop through. Billy Ross enjoys filling in the next word of the rhyme. The title is a bit odd and meant nothing to Billy (but then he ignored it anyway).
Baby Duck and the New Eyeglasses, by Amy Hest, illus Jill Barton, Walker Books pounds 4.99. Billy Ross has glasses so I thought that this might strike a chord. He didn't appear to make the connection. The book has some good action pages which makes reading it fun as he could join in with the counting and the actions. I didn't enjoy the two songs because I couldn't work out a tune quickly (not being gifted like that). I found the story a bit saccharine and I smelt an "encourage your child to accept glasses" theme. The pictures are nice and bright.
Beware of the Bears!, by Alan MacDonald and Gwyneth Williamson, Magi pounds 8.99. Last out of the parcel and I think the one that Billy Ross preferred (although he said that he liked them all best when I asked a leading question). It is a continuation of the Goldilocks story in which the three Bears get their own back. He took it at face value and ignored the puns. I'm not sure that I like the idea of reading a story where revenge is exacted (in the nicest possible way). And if you are feeling politically correct, the Wolf is coming home from shopping (obviously a New Wolf).
Bear's Adventure, by Benedict Blathwayt, Walker pounds 4.99. A bear goes missing on a beach. This was our favourite book. The pictures really are superb - very detailed and with lots of things going on in the background for Mary to point out and ask about. This is the one she keeps picking up over and over again.
From Head to Toe, by Eric Carle, Hamish Hamilton pounds 11.99. His books are always wonderful, with garish, surreal illustrations. This one inspires children to do actions like bending your head or wiggling your toes. Mary loves it: she does the actions while I hold the book. A good one to tire her out.
Daisy is a Mummy, by Lisa Kopper, Puffin pounds 4.99. This book is a hit with my animal-obsessed daughter purely because it has a puppy in it like hers. There isn't much of a story to speak of, so adults may get a bit tired of the fact that not very much happens.
Oh Where Oh Where?, by John Prater, Bodley Head pounds 6.99.This turns the rhyme into a picture book which sounds like a good idea, but is in fact a bit limited. We got rather fed up with the same picture of dull Daddy and boring Baby Bear sitting on the sofa intoning "where oh where ..."
Come on Daisy, by Jane Simmons, Orchard pounds 9.99. A rather sinister story about a duckling who loses his mummy. The drawings are all very looming, dark and gloomy. I was frightened. Mary was uninterested.
See How They Grow: Kitten, Dorling Kindersley, pounds 3.99. I think we both agreed that this one's rather tedious. It's too samey with picture after picture of the same kitten as it grows up. It may be good for older kids who have a cat, but once Mary had seen the picture on the cover, she'd had enough.
"I liked the puzzle story books best," was the clear verdict of James, 8. These join-in mystery stories "with fun flaps" from Walker Books were also a big hit with his brother Nicholas, 5. Space Chase on Planet Zog by Karen King had some good mazes and puzzles to solve, but they much preferred the storyline in Ghost Hunt at Trembly Towers, by Molly Williams, pounds 8.99. For sheer excitement, James preferred Scoop Hudson and the Deadly Germ by Tony Wilkinson, Walker pounds 9.99, a comic-strip adventure. Pictures, puzzles and not too many words make all these titles thoroughly enticing for children to get on with on their own.
The most promising-looking of the Walker Books crop, however, turned out to be the least successful. The Iliad and the Odyssey (pounds 5.99), rewritten as a comic strip by Marcia Williams, ought to have been just the thing for children in search of fantasy and adventure, but the humour, the vocabulary and the style are all too adult for it to keep their attention. Finally, Cheer Up Chicken! by Bob Hartman (Lion, pounds 7.99) is a more conventional anthropomorphic saga of an unhappy chicken. My five-year-old enjoyed it, but his elder brother clearly thought it was rather wet.
8 Thanks to all the children who took part: Francis Pilgrim, Lucia Victor, Jack and Tom Clarke, James and Nicholas Hartston, Harriette and Thomas Hulme, Jackson Ferris-Choi, Billy Ross Scott, Mary Wigglesworth, Daisy and Harry Blackhurst (overleaf), and Barney Blackhurst (5), for his review of Dick King-Smith's `Smasher' (Puffin pounds 3.99): `Smasher is a nice dog. It is a good book.'