Picture books for children – reviews | Picture books

Picture books for children – reviews | Picture books

From Michael Rosen’s joyous ode to chocolate cake to the sumptuous, soporific picnics in the Brambly Hedge series, delicious feasts abound in books for young children. For her moreish debut, Dim Sum Palace (Pushkin, 1 Feb), Taiwanese-American author X Fang takes inspiration from her deep yearning for restaurant dumplings during lockdown, while paying homage to the doughy, dreamy world of Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, one of her childhood favourites.

Excited about a family trip for dim sum the next day, Liddy can’t sleep. After she follows the trail of a tantalising smell out of her bedroom, she slips into a dreamlike palace where two giant chefs are preparing jumbo-size buns, baos and treats. She soon finds herself mistakenly wrapped up in a dumpling about to be served to an empress. A fantastical celebration of eating, Fang’s chunky, outsized illustrations seem to reflect Liddy’s big feelings about food. A gallery of exquisitely drawn dim sum adorns the endpapers, each treat neatly labelled, while Liddy herself is full of childish expressiveness – whether scowling at being squashed under a blanket of dumpling filling or gleefully tucking into lunch.

‘Fresh and witty’: Are You a Sleepy Monster? by Guilherme Karsten
‘Fresh and witty’: Are You a Sleepy Monster? by Guilherme Karsten.

Bedtime is also the starting point for Guilherme Karsten’s Are You a Sleepy Monster? (Quarto), featuring a cute bespectacled creature reminiscent of Danger Mouse’s sidekick Penfold but with green scales and a penchant for slime. Addressing the book’s young readers directly, he invites them to his “sleepover for monsters, like you and me!” and offers them a spidery, rubbish-strewn spot under the bed. “What do you mean, you’re going to sleep ON THE BED?” he cries, before reluctantly giving it a try himself. A fresh and witty take on an endlessly explored side of childhood.

Runaway Cone by Morag Hood (Two Hoots) is the follow-up to last year’s Dig Dig Digger, about an aspirational digger who fancied a change. Now, as more roadworks are about to get under way, Digger and the gang realise Gary the traffic cone is missing. Could he have run away to become a vase, they wonder. So begins a search for Gary that will amuse tiny fans of big diggers and machinery, and with its daft, smiley characters may help us all to see roadworks in a new light.

A promising new series from Magic Cat Publishing titled Picture a Poem aims to provide small children with an introduction to poetry. First up is a version of Emily Dickinson’s 19th-century classic Hope Is the Thing With Feathers (29 Feb), illustrated by Tim Hopgood, whose playful depictions of the natural world helped make his best-known board book, Wow! Said the Owl, a hit. He brings Dickinson’s poem beautifully to life with a brown speckled bird singing against sunrise-blushed pages before it soars over towns and valleys to weather great storms.

‘Stylish’: Miss Cat: The Case of the Curious Canary by Joëlle Jolivet and Jean-Luc Fromenta
‘Stylish’: Miss Cat: The Case of the Curious Canary by Joëlle Jolivet and Jean-Luc Fromenta.

Thames & Hudson’s new star signing is a detective in skinny jeans and a hoodie with cat ears who features in a stylish graphic novel series aimed at six- to 10-year-olds that’s endorsed by none other than Posy Simmonds. In the first instalment, Miss Cat: The Case of the Curious Canary (29 Feb), by Joëlle Jolivet and Jean-Luc Fromental, a missing bird needs tracking down for a mysterious old man called Mr Maximus.

It’s boom time for children’s graphic novels and comic books – data from Nielsen shows 425% volume growth since 2019 – with the likes of Jamie Smart (Bunny vs Monkey, Looshkin) and Dav Pilkey (Dog Man, Cat Kid) regularly featuring on the bestseller lists. Given this, and the enthusiasm for female detectives such as Enola Holmes, Ruby Redfort and the Murder Most Unladylike duo in middle grade novels, young readers ought to lap up Miss Cat’s tightly plotted tale and fun, memorable characters.

To order any of these books for a special price click on the titles or go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery changes may apply

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