Picture books for children – reviews

From a giggly desert island to the humble hero of the Titanic, these illustrated tales will buoy up young minds

Nobody tells silly stories quite like bestselling picture book duo Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet. With characters ranging from Supertato, the sworn enemy of Evil Pea, to Bernard “No-Bot”, the robot who can’t find his bottom, the Brighton-based pair consistently deliver hilarious and fantastical tales spun out of everyday things. Their latest, I Spy Island (Simon & Schuster), the first in a new series, stars a giggly island and its residents, Bottle, Glove, Bird and Banana.

This happy bunch enjoy the simple things: playing games and splashing about in the sea. Then one day a rather haughty treasure chest washes up and starts demanding they all make Help! signs to attract potential rescuers: “I’m far too important to stay here! I’ve got places to be!”

Before long, Treasure Chest is won over by island life and a heartwarming tale of friendship unfolds as the chest proves kind and indispensable when a storm threatens to blow its pals away. It’s a blast of sunshine in book form.

‘Heartwarming’: I Spy Island by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
‘Heartwarming’: I Spy Island by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet. Illustration: Sue Hendra, Paul Linnet

Two young siblings are also off on a madcap adventure, one sporting a flying hat, the other a saucepan helmet, in We’re Going to Find the Monster (Puffin, 2 Sept) from Noughts & Crosses author Malorie Blackman and Look Up! illustrator Dapo Adeola.

There are echoes of Michael Rosen’s seminal We’re Going on a Bear Hunt as the pair journey over make-believe oceans and jungles in their house chanting “We’re going to find the monster!”. This quest has a zanier energy, though, and a deeper colour palette: one lovely image shows the shrunken siblings inside bubbles tumbling over their mum’s bath. As Mum soaks obliviously in her daisy print shower cap, cucumber slices on her eyes, the pair imagine they’re above a lake trying not to disturb a “foamy fiend”.

In Bird’s Eye View (Templar, 5 Aug), Frann Preston-Gannon also conjures lakes, forests and cities to create a portrait of the world as seen through the eyes of an inquisitive white fledgling. The bird soars over the pages, witnessing how humans can be kind and cruel, messy and clean, quiet and noisy, making this a thoughtful consideration of the complexity of human behaviour.

Picture books exploring emotions have multiplied since the pandemic began, but Britta Teckentrup’s When I See Red (Prestel, 7 Sept) is notable for its artful approach to the theme of anger. As a young girl declares “I am furious”, the imagery recalls Mark Rothko’s red-and-black paintings of the late 1950s, all dark and brooding. This is less a story, more a poetic meditation on moods, and its earthy language suggests that it’s natural to experience strong feelings: “I am hurricane, whirlwind, twister, typhoon. Thunderstorm, lightning, tornado, monsoon.”

The ‘thoughtful’ Bird’s Eye View by Frann Preston-Gannon
The ‘thoughtful’ Bird’s Eye View by Frann Preston-Gannon. Illustration: Templar Publishing

There are plenty of contenders, but of the current batch of picture books Flora Delargy’s Rescuing Titanic (Quarto, 7 Sept) is probably the greatest visual feast. A sideways look at the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, it marries history and graphic novel-style illustrations to recount how the little ship Carpathia saved 705 passengers from the “unsinkable” liner after racing to its rescue.

Delargy brilliantly condenses the history of both vessels and the key characters involved for a junior-age audience. She also covers the origins of maps, morse code and more. But it’s her exquisite artwork – her depictions of light hitting water, each ship’s tiny details – combined with the filmic way she shows the story from multiple angles, that truly bring the past to life. Delargy’s grandfather and great-grandfather both worked in the Belfast shipyard where the Titanic was built and her emotional connection to the story shines through. A triumphant debut – Delargy’s style is as clear and confident as any of the major names simultaneously hitting the shelves.

To order any of these books click on the titles or go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Contributor

Imogen Carter

The GuardianTramp

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