Picture book magic adds a sparkle to autumn days - book reviews

Mrs Blackhat by Chlo and Mick Inkpen
Mrs Blackhat by Chlo and Mick Inkpen
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From a bewitching witch and a modern Red Riding Hood to a plague of frogs and a super-fast space train, there are plenty of exciting new picture books this month to keep little ones amused and bemused.

Age 3 plus:

Mrs Blackhat by Chloë and Mick Inkpen

Bewitching word play and extraordinary illustrations steal the limelight – and everyone’s hearts – in a stunning picture book from father and daughter duo Mick and Chloë Inkpen.

Mick has been a bestselling children’s author and illustrator for over 25 years and has won the Children's Book Award and the British Book Award twice. Daughter Chloë has a natural gift for storytelling and together they have formed a unique and exciting picture book partnership

Here they turn their talents to a sparkling Halloween tale featuring a delightfully quirky witch, her annoyingly ginger cat and some wickedly wonderful spells and magic potions.

Over the gate at number 8, round the back, through the flap and onto the lap of Mrs Blackhat! Meet Mrs Blackhat, a witch who just loves the colour black. Everything from her boots, hat, hair and wand to her broomstick, mat and bat is black… except for her cat. Her cat is very, very ginger! So what can she do to fix this problem? There are spells to cast, potions to mix and a mysterious free gift from her favourite store, Shopalot, but will the ginger cat finally turn black?

This fun-filled, rhyming extravaganza is certain to cast a spell over little ones as they enjoy Mrs Blackhat’s increasing frustration when she tries everything she can think of to ‘fix’ her doggedly ginger cat.

With its glossy finish, eye-popping pantone inks and whimsical words and humour, this perfect picture book package is guaranteed to give youngsters and adults a super scary and ferociously funny Halloween treat!

(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Red and the City by Marie Voigt

Exciting new talent Marie Voigt turns the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood into a contemporary fable in her stylish debut picture book.

In this beautifully written and illustrated story about following your dreams, Voigt displays her stunning artwork, featuring a simple but effective palette of black, white and grey punctuated by vivid splashes of red.

And using her original and distinctive voice, Voigt reimagines Little Red Riding Hood as little girl called Red embarking on a solo journey in which the big, bad wolf becomes the busy, bustling city and tries to devour her, raising social issues of consumerism and self-determination.

Red is finally old enough to go into the city on her own. One day, she sets off with her trusty dog Woody to take a cake to Grandma, but the city makes Red feel hungry and she eats the cake. Determined to find a new present for Grandma, Red journeys deeper into the city but she is consumed by a seemingly overwhelming amount of choice. Like all children, Red must find her own path and discover what matters the most...

Voigt subtly introduces wolf-like imagery into her artwork as recognisable pointed ears, furry silhouettes and snapping jaws, expertly integrating them into the shadowy cityscape to create an atmospheric backdrop.

But the story also has a hidden, glowing warmth which illuminates Red’s path to the safe haven of her Grandma’s house and the sunnier prospect of visiting the city again to discover all the wonderful things that are there.

Stylish, wise and cleverly created, this is the perfect book to share and enjoy with your little ones.

(Oxford University Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party by Poppy Bishop and Laura Brenlla

Surely no tea party could ever be normal in Alice’s Wonderland… so why is she insisting that there is strictly no silliness?

Author Poppy Bishop and illustrator Laura Brenlla turn the tables (literally in this madcap adventure!) as the Mad Hatter and his chums become the hilarious party-poopers at Alice’s gathering at Grassy Bank in Up-the-Rabbit-Hole, Oxford.

Little ones will be laughing all the way to the Queen of Hearts’ tarts in this lift-the-flap and peep-through romp that begins with a curious fold-out invitation to a Wonderland tea party promising ‘no growing, shrinking, or silliness of any kind.’

Alice wants her tea party to be perfect, not silly like the Mad Hatter’s. ‘Please bring something sweet to eat. Don’t bring anything silly!’ But wait a minute, the White Rabbit has brought only clocks to eat, the Dodo is carrying an upside down cake and the Cheshire Cat has a disappearing pie? And why is everyone upside down? Will Alice succeed in hosting a perfectly ordinary tea party or will her array of strange guests have ideas of their own?

Bishop provides the witty text and the cast of well-known and loved characters are all captured in a beautifully vintage illustration style from Brenlla.

With large lift-the-flaps, fold-out spreads and clever peep-throughs revealing some rib-tickling surprises, this entertaining and interactive story gets curiouser and curiouser with every turn of the page.

Young readers will delight in finding all the rich detail and amusing asides, including watching the Cheshire cat sneak in and out of sight along the way, in this enchanting new twist on a favourite classic.

(Little Tiger Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Space Train by Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford

Imagine a space train so fast that it makes stars look like streaks in the sky!

Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford take flight in a super picture book brimming with big ideas, futuristic fun, a space-mad boy called Jakob, a granny who can’t sit still, and a robot chicken called Derek.

This stunning intergalactic adventure comes packed with knockabout escapades, captivating flaps to lift and a gallery of big, bright, out-of-this world illustrations.

Jakob, who lives in a space station light years from Earth, has found the long-lost Space Train hidden away in Hangar 19, but it’s old, battered and broken and looks like it can never be mended. Granny reveals that the Space Train once criss-crossed the universe on tracks of stardust visiting two thousand, seven hundred and forty seven space stations. With the help of Granny, her Toolbot and Derek the robot chicken, can Jakob fix the train and head off into space to find new friends?

Little ones will love joining Jakob on his space voyage beyond the peek-through pages and hidden flaps. Powell-Tuck imbues her tale with the spirit of fun and adventure, a big helping of imagination and plenty of giggles while Mountford’s rich and intricately detailed illustrations invite us to step through the book’s cut-out cover and into a thrill-packed ride.

Climb aboard for an unforgettable space odyssey!

(Little Tiger Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Itchy, Scritchy, Scratchy Pants by Steve Smallman and Elina Ellis

Cold bottoms, blue bottoms, frozen bottoms and stinky bottoms…

Picture book comedy duo Steve Smallman and Elina Ellis go bottoms up in this raucous, rhyming romp starring a bunch of Vikings struggling to find some warm undies in the bitter chill of a snow storm.

Award-winning author Smallman, who has taken up writing his own stories after illustrating children’s books for over 30 years, serves up a feast of itchy, scritchy, scratchy fun as we follow in the footsteps of Bushy Bigbeard and his madcap gang of Viking warriors.

You would not believe the wacky lengths they are prepared to go to in their search for some warm and cosy undies. In their mission to turn their cold bottoms into toasty warm behinds, they brave the Forest of Despair and the Sea of Death to collect the fur off a yeti’s back… what they hadn’t reckoned on was yeti fleas!

Little ones will be itching to get their hands on this madcap, all-action adventure full of mishaps, giggles and the brilliantly detailed, laugh-out-loud illustrations of the talented Elina Ellis. Irresistibly funny!

(Little Tiger Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

Not Yet a Yeti by Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal

Sometimes you have to make your own way in the world… even if that means going it alone.

Wise storyteller Lou Treleaven brings out both our smiles and our thinking caps in this clever and captivating story from Maverick, an innovative, independent publisher championing new talent in the picture book market.

Starring an adorable little yeti called George, who has a fancy to be something other than a scary yeti, this funny and fresh romp speaks loudly to little ones about courage, acceptance and finding yourself… however difficult that may seem.

All of George’s family are yetis, except for George. George doesn’t really want to spend his days chasing ramblers or luring stray hikers to their doom. What he really wants to be is… a unicorn! And instead of chasing hikers, maybe he could rescue them!

Treleaven’s simple but resonant story – brought to vivid life by Neal’s enchanting and colourful illustrations – focuses on the warmth of family life and the rewards of following your own star.

(Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Froggy Day by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos

Forget the weather raining cats and dogs… there’s a plague of frogs on the way!

Little ones will be hopping with joy when they get their hands on this super soggy story from picture book duo Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos as they have fun with a shower of frantic frogs.

When the weather woman says it’s going to be ‘very froggy’ she really does mean it! There are frogs on the streets, on the bus, in the supermarket and even in school. Everything and everyone has gone hopping mad. How will people live with all these frogs and what will happen tomorrow when the forecaster says it’s going to be ‘very bunny!’

Youngsters will love counting their way through the fantastic array of frogs in this delightful story which encourages an understanding of word play and yet entertains throughout with its comical portrayal of chaos.

Words and pictures in froggy harmony!

(Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Right One by Violeta Noy

Little ghost Roderic doesn’t stand the ghost of a chance of getting noticed when his family all wear the same clothes.

Can he cast off his ghoulish white sheet, throw caution to the wind, and dare to be different?

Talented debut author and illustrator Violeta Noy introduces us a special little spectre in this funny and original picture book story about being yourself and standing out from the crowd.

As you probably know already, all ghosts wear white sheets. That’s just what ghosts do. White sheets are good for haunting people and they make the ghosts feel like part of one big family. But Roderic, the little ghost who worries that his family don’t find him interesting enough to notice, wants to wear something different. He tries all sorts of things… a bag, a rug, a scarf, a boot. Can he find the right one?

Blending vibrant, graphic illustrations in a rainbow array of colours with a funny and appealing story, Spanish-born Noy conveys her life messages with style and whimsy.

The perfect Halloween read for all daring young adventurers!

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

We Are Together by Britta Teckentrup

‘On our own we’re special,

And we can chase our dream.

But when we join up, hand in hand,

Together we’re a team.’

Award-winning illustrator and author Britta Teckentrup celebrates the power of love and friendship in an enchanting picture book brimming with love, discovery and peep-through surprises.

Vibrant artwork featuring a diverse cast of children combines with a gentle, rhyming text and peek-through pages as we follow a journey of self-discovery and togetherness which teaches the importance of sharing and co-operation.

Through simple rhyming text and a gradually widening cast of characters, Teckentrup explores the benefits of togetherness. The beautiful collage techniques bring humans, animals and the natural world together in a balance that delivers an unforgettable book and increases youngsters’ awareness of the wider global family.

Teckentrup is a prominent voice in books that promote inclusion and the overwhelming message of unity in this visual and verbal extravaganza will inspire and delight both children and parents.

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

As We Grow by Libby Walden and Richard Jones

‘There’s no escaping growing up, it’s something we all do.’

The theme of ‘growing up’ is now part of the school curriculum and this engaging picture book from author Libby Walden and illustrator Richard Jones is the perfect aid for teaching in schools and sharing at home.

Walden’s warm and wise words about the journey from infancy to old age includes the imaginative play of childhood, the ‘wild and restless’ teen years, the adventures of young adulthood, and the ‘inner peace’ that comes from learning the wisdom of ‘life’s lessons.’

Jones’ enchanting and atmospheric illustrations sensitively depict each stage of life and the transformations that we undergo as we grow up.

As We Grow is a gentle and sensitive introduction to discussions about the whole process of change. The story educates curious minds but works equally well as a story book with its calming palette of muted colours and a lilting and lovely rhyme structure.

With clever peep-through introduction that enhances the appeal to small children, and stunning illustrations, As We Grow is a must-have for schools, nurseries and parents.

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Where Happiness Lives by Barry Timms and Greg Abbott

What child hasn’t coveted their friends’ possessions?

Here’s a clever and charmingly created lift-the-flaps story from top team Barry Timms and Greg Abbott about two little mice who each want to find and a bigger and better house, but discover that home really does lie where the heart is.

Grey Rabbit thinks his cosy, happy home is perfect until he spots white rabbit’s house which has much more space and a balcony to enjoy the view. Grey Rabbit thinks he must be the happiest mouse in the land… but he’s not. From his balcony he can see a huge house with a tower that is simply amazing and now he wants to live there. But the brown mouse who lives there also would like another home… one that is filled with smiles rather than treasures. ‘Whatever your home, It is happy indeed If you love what you have And you have what you need.’

Timms’ thoughtful, rhyming tale about discovering true happiness and appreciating all that you have is filled with warmth, wisdom and discovery, and all brought to life by Abbott’s gallery of richly detailed and endearing illustrations.

With its lyrical rhyming text, intriguing flaps and fold-outs, and peek-through pages, children will love exploring every page of this story while parents and teachers will find it an ideal starting point for discussions about what is precious and the value of happiness over all other things.

Entertaining, reassuring and subtly educational, Where Happiness Lives is the perfect antidote to today’s consumer-led society.

(Little Tiger Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Happy: A Children’s Book of Mindfulness by Nicola Edwards and Katie Hickey

Amidst all the pressures of our busy, modern world, many schools are now incorporating mindfulness techniques into their daily activities in an effort to ease childhood stress and anxiety.

And Nicola Edwards and Katie Hickey have created the perfect soothing read for those quiet times of thoughtful meditation. Happy: A Children’s Book of Mindfulness gently encourages young readers to take a look their emotions and the beautiful world around them, with stunning illustrations and thought-provoking rhymes on every page.

This poetic journey to a place of happiness and calm will inspire and empower youngsters to enjoy the healing practice of mindfulness.

A range of emotions and sensations, which all children have experienced, are explored through the words of Edwards’ tender poetry while Hickey’s atmospheric, evocative illustrations – set mainly in the great outdoors – perfectly conjure up the feelings in focus.

Each double page spread contains a positive message and a gentle prompt for practising mindfulness. ‘We breathe deep and expand like the galaxy, We breathe out many thousands of stars, And if ever we start to feel panicky, This reminds us of just who we are.’

A much-needed and empowering pause in a frantic, non-stop world…

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age one plus:

Aleph by Janik Coat

The simplest of books can sometimes provide a world of ideas…

French author, illustrator, and graphic designer Janik Coat paints pictures that inspire words, thoughts and conversations in this beautiful, quirky and original book with a clever start-to-finish structure for the very youngest readers.

The book’s title, Aleph, is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet… or could it be the nickname for a toy elephant? Through powerful graphic images, contrasting colours and a thoughtful progression, Aleph moves from basic shapes and familiar objects to a wider world, full of stories, character and wonder.

Contemporary, quirky and created in a compelling large format, Coat’s first book of words and pictures is perfect for sharing with babies and toddlers. Through its instantly appealing large, uncluttered graphic images and contrasting vivid colour palette, it takes little ones on a journey of visual discovery.

Full of rich, inspirational and surprising detail and with lots to talk about along the way, the book finishes with a playful first picture dictionary, creating a memorable and entertaining learning experience.

(Gecko Press, hardback, £14.99)