Bears, bunnies, and an Abominable Snowman in suburbia

Nicholas Tucker gets lost in the best new books for the under-twelves

Nicholas Tucker
Saturday 21 July 2012 19:02

Michael Terry's Who Lives Here? (Bloomsbury, £6.99) is a toughly bound board book with plenty of other flaps to lift should a few get torn along the way by infants over-eager to discover the various hidden wild animals. It is published in conjunction with London Zoo, and some of the royalties will go towards conservation work. More animals are caught lurking behind flaps in Gareth Edwards's The Big Jungle Mix-Up (Hodder, £10.99). Told in rhyme and exuberantly illustrated by Kanako Usui, each page has Little Bear wrongly guessing the next animal to come, with the correction following once the flap is raised. It offers ample early opportunity for laughing at someone else's mistakes.

For proper bears, devoid of clothes and speech and living in the wild, Suzi Eszterhas's Brown Bear (Frances Lincoln, £6.99) has striking colour photographs of a pair of Alaskan cubs playing, feeding, scrapping and learning how to catch salmon. By the end, they are still together at their third birthday, after their mother has walked away. But for an emotional prop that never leaves, go to Tatyana Feeney's quirky Small Bunny's Blue Blanket (inset, far right, Oxford, £11.99). Subtitled "A tale of love and laundry", this illustrated story of a comfort blanket gradually returning to full grubby glory after suffering a maternal wash is one that many parents and infants may quickly recognise.

Penny Dale has a new slant on ever-popular prehistoric animals in her picture book Dinosaur Zoom! (Nosy Crow, £10.99). Whether driving a blue convertible through the desert or reversing a lorry into the woods, these dinosaurs practically leap from the page. So too does the venerable heroine of Val McDermid's My Granny Is a Pirate (right, Orchard, £10.99). Told in verse and superbly illustrated by Arthur Robins, it makes old age seem a lot of fun, as Granny sails the ocean in search of bounty.

Debbie Singleton's The King Who Wouldn't Sleep (inset above, Andersen, £10.99) is quieter fare but equally good. Its final line, "And they all slept peacefully ever after", has a lot going for it, but before that there are clever twists, as well as glorious pictures by Holly Swain.

Giles Andreae's Me, the Queen and Christopher (Orchard, £4.99) shares text with Tony Ross's pictures in equal measure. The story of how young Freya accidentally makes firm friends with our monarch – who is very relaxed and jolly here – represents wish fulfillment at its most enticing. Freya's wheelchair-bound brother, Christopher, also appears in this affectionate little story. But there are no such niceties in Gillian Johnson's The Disastrous Little Dragon (Hodder, £4.99). It starts with a sneeze and ends with a fart – a fairly regular occurrence in junior fiction these days – and the pace never lets up, as four naughty schoolchildren are transported to a hospital for monsters where they are required to cure a dragon suffering from smoke inhalation. Illustrated with scribbly drawings by the author, every page bristles with manic energy.

There is more hectic fun in Katie Davies's The Great Dog Disaster (Simon and Schuster, £5.99). Dreaming of the arrival of a perfect new pet, nine-year-old Suzanne finds herself lumbered with Beatrice, an old Newfoundland with serious stomach issues. But everything finally works out, with Hannah Shaw's scratchy drawings adding to the general good humour. This quality is also found in spades in Charlotte Haptie's Granny Grabbers' Whizz Bang World (Hodder, £5.99). Here, young Delilah is paired off with a childcare robot while her selfish parents get on with their separate ambitions. But this is a robot with a soul, determined to give children a nice time. The parents eventually send for a stricter replacement but Delilah is too much for them all. Artfully told, this is good stuff.

Eva Ibbotson's The Abominables (Scholastic, £10.99) was found in her papers after she died two years ago. By turns amusing and exciting, as well as offering a satisfyingly long read, it describes how a young brother and sister rescue some talking Yetis threatened by increased tourism to their Himalayan home. Transporting them in secret back to Britain, the siblings have many adventures. But it is the characters of the five Yetis, much given to weeping and general sentimentality, that make the biggest impression. This is a charming story from a much-missed author.

Totally different but just as memorable, Michelle Paver's Gods and Warriors (Puffin, £12.99) is the electrifying start to a sequence of five novels set in the Mediterranean Bronze Age. Its hero, the 12-year-old goat herd Hylas, uses contemporary language but thinks in a pre-scientific way. He teams up with Pirra, a girl who is also on her own, and the two set out together into a world of animal allies, warriors, chariots, slaves and living myth. The author, who undertakes gruelling research into every fictional setting she chooses, as always writes a good tale.

Ursula Jones's The Young Stars (Inside Pocket, £6.99) is a melodrama featuring a teenage troupe working for almost nothing on the variety theatre circuit in 1936. Shy, stammering Ollie, bullied by his supposed father who is the boss of the company, runs away after spying another boy who is his exact double. Lots of detail about working on the boards, including a glossary of theatrical terms, lend extra authenticity to an endearingly rollicking tale.

Stage illusions also creep into Lissa Evans's Big Change for Stuart (Doubleday, £10.99). Inheriting his great-uncle's magician's workshop, 10-year-old Stuart discovers within it up to seven gateways to magical adventures. He is both aided and teased by the girl triplets next door, not least in their heavily slanted reporting for the Beech Road Guardian, the exceedingly local newspaper they jointly produce. Receiving no real help from his vague, Latin-quoting father, Stuart still manages to come out on top in a story fluctuating between humour and high drama. The first story about this likeable boy, published last year, came out to universal praise. This second one is just as good.

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