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Picture books for children – reviews

Picture books for children – reviews

Whether slinky and serious or delightfully daft, cats tend to make great picture book stars. They may often excel as witches’ sidekicks, but sometimes simple is best, as with Eva Eland’s Where Is the Cat? (Andersen Press), in which little Suzy goes to visit her Auntie and wants to play with the very reluctant Cat.

An eye-popping palette of neon-pink, green and yellow matches the high energy of Suzy, who greets Auntie on her doorstep, arms flung open, hollering “Where is the cat?”. So begins a familiar yet funny game of hide and seek between the pair – with little readers able to join in too – as Cat tries everything to avoid her: squishing himself pancake-like under chairs, teetering on top of wardrobes and peeking through plants, each page a spotting opportunity. By nap time Suzy is in tears and a sorry-looking Cat gazes on from a shelf looking poised to curl up with her for a doze. But will Suzy get her way?

‘Charming’: We Are the Wibbly! by Sarah Tagholm and Jane McGuinnessView image in fullscreen

More laughs come courtesy of Sarah Tagholm’s We Are the Wibbly! (Bloomsbury), a hilarious look at the life cycle of frogs. Narrated by one egg happily enjoying a peaceful life with his friends in “the wibbly” (frogspawn to us humans) until “Oh my crikeys!”, as he puts it, they all start transforming: first it’s tails, then they’re swimming and before long, they’re actual frogs. Jane McGuinness’s charming illustrations evoke a splashy underwater setting for the cute, astonished-looking tadpoles. Language purists may balk at Tagholm’s zany use of words but you’ll be hard pushed to find a more joyfully engaging insight into animal biology for the very young.

Terrible Horses (Walker) considers sibling rivalry from the perspective of a small boy who envies his older sister’s cool friends and belongings. When the pair fight and push each other he retreats into his room to draw terrible horses, galloping and kicking up dust while he stands to the side, portrayed as a lonely pony. Rhythmical text by the poet Raymond Antrobus flows over the pages, sometimes stopping abruptly at single words such as “hurt” and “hide” as the siblings’ clashes come to a climax. Ken Wilson-Max’s illustrations artfully combine depictions of the children in their home alongside the inner world of the young boy’s feelings and imagination, with the horses rendered in brightly coloured pencil marks. Fittingly, the siblings’ moving reconciliation at the end finds them drawing together. The follow-up to Antrobus’s acclaimed picture book debut, Can Bears Ski?, which was inspired by the poet’s own experiences of being deaf, Terrible Horses finds the young boy also wearing hearing aids.

‘Eye-popping’: Where Is the Cat? By Eva ElandView image in fullscreen

Emotions continue to be a major theme in picture books. Celebrated children’s book creators Lauren Child and Laura Dockrill have teamed up for Grey (Walker, 2 May), which explores feelings through colours, while Storm-Cat by Magenta Fox (Puffin) uses the weather as a metaphor. A handsome hardback book with cut-out pages showcasing Child’s expressive drawings, the narration in Grey flips from that of a young child explaining their grey state (not “sunshine yellow, or balloon orange bright”) to an adult whose narrative voice soothes and reassures the child.

As if to prove the versatility of felines in children’s literature, it’s a kind granny cat in a red waistcoat and yellow wellies who saves her grandson from being overwhelmed by a “storm-cat” of feelings in Fox’s sweet tale. “We can’t choose our weather,” she says, “but we can choose what we make of it.”

Source: theguardian.com