Picture Books

Mammoths and dragons

Reviewed,Sally Williams
Friday 20 July 2007 00:00
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Pre-history gets lift-off in Mega-Beasts, by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart (Walker, £19.99): a pop-up guide to prehistoric beasts that is probably the most wonder-inducing children will ever read. Open the book, and be amazed as a sabre-toothed cat lunges out of the page, gnashing its teeth. There are mega-sloths, a gargantuan rhinoceros, a quetzalcoatlus (sky lizard) with a wingspan so magnificent you can't believe that it is made from paper, and a woolly mammoth that gets too close for comfort. Fully extended, its trunk jabs you in the face. With hundreds of intricate moving parts, rich colours and a wealth of information, this moveable feast does something incredibly difficult, with apparent ease.

Banana by Ed Vere (Puffin, £5.99) asks, what's the magic word? "Please", obviously, but this impressive book crackles with a lot more than a simple lesson in manners. Two monkeys tussle over a banana, accompanied on each page by the word "banana". With masterful graphic simplicity, Vere milks that banana for all it's worth. From envy to joy, the emotional ups and downs any child goes through when somebody else has what they want are distilled into 24 beautifully handled pages. Vere is as clever and entertaining as any writer-illustrator in the game.

Budding wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled to meet Dr K Fisher, agony uncle to the animals, in Ask Dr K Fisher about Animals by Claire Llewellyn, illustrated by Kate Sheppard (Kingfisher, £7.99). Actually, they don't get to meet him, but they do get to read his mail bag. There's a ladybird worried about her spots, a self-conscious giraffe ("I'm so tall, it's embarrassing") and a "freaked out" tadpole whose body is changing in alarming ways. Never fear, Dr K explains what's really going on. Children will warm to its grooved-up readability, but far from dumbing down its readers, this book will wise them up.

From loud noises and creepy crawlies to being sucked down the plughole, the hugely enjoyable Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett (Walker, £10.99) chronicles the lexicon of children's fears with great skill and sensitivity. Big on detail – flaps, cut-outs, even a fold-out map of the Isle of Fright complete with towns such as Fastheart and Great Chatter – this is a witty, stylistically snappy book: a trustworthy companion for anyone fearful of being alone, or in the dark.

Hours can loom long with tinies in tow, which is why 99 Mostly Fun Things I'll Do Today by Jane Kemp and Clare Walters, illustrated by Caroline Uff (Egmont, £10.99) will be very welcome. The sheer quantity of cosy-looking pictures in this point-and-look-at day in the life of a toddler will throw up plenty to talk about, to say nothing of the extraordinary number of ordinary things that get done and the spot-on detail. "I choose my T-shirt," says the small child, "No, not that one – this one!" It brings energy and colour to the mundane.

How the children giggle when poor Miss Tuck gets stuck in a climbing frame in Let's Take Over The Nursery! by Richard Hamilton, illustrated by Sue Heap (Bloomsbury, £5.99). Naughty Gemma locks the door, no more teachers any more. What happens when anarchy hits the classroom – paint everywhere, chocolate sandwiches, cooker down the slide – has all the pace, colour and relish for mischief that makes for a wonderfully entertaining read (even when Miss Tuck is unstuck and order resumed). Funny and offbeat, this fable about control and its absence is more playful than most on the starting-school theme.

Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton, illustrated by Eric Puybaret (Macmillan, £10.99) is an elegantly designed and lavishly illustrated version of the 1960s folk-song classic by Peter, Paul and Mary. The words, of course, remain the same (the poem which became Puff was written by Lenny Lipton), and Jackie and Puff work their magic on a new generation, frolicking in the autumn mist, meeting noble kings and princes in the land of Honalee. But to avoid tears at bedtime – Jackie Paper, remember, grows up, and comes no more – the book closes on a more optimistic note with a girl, and a new friend for Puff. The book includes a sing-a-long CD.

The Gruffalo's creator, Julia Donaldson, has hatched another winner in Tyrannosaurus Drip, illustrated by David Roberts (Macmillan, £10.99). This worlds-colliding story tells what happens when a little veggie dinosaur ends up in a nest of fierce, meat-eating T-Rexes. "Up with hunting!" they yell, surrounded by scattered bones. "Up with war!" But Drip is not as weedy as he looks, and saves his real family with a clever trick. With a dash of the Ugly Duckling, and the Moomintrolls, a fresh and clear rhythm that's great to read aloud, hooting refrains and funny and stylish pictures, this rollicks along very engrossingly. Children will love it; but will it get them to eat their veg?

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