Picture books for children – reviews

Watch out, there are bugs about! Two very different new releases burst with wiggly, swooping minibeasts in praise of the world’s cleverest little creatures. In Lily Murray’s The Girl Who Loves Bugs (Macmillan, 30 March) Evie, unlike the rest of her household, can’t get enough of creepy crawlies. But when she brings a swarm into her home, they cause havoc at a family meal – cue ladybirds in bagels and ants in her brother’s pants.

Evie braces herself for a telling off but, in a lovely twist, her fearsome great-gran gleefully flings open her fancy jacket to reveal an elaborate bug-collecting kit attached to the lining (this is one of illustrator Jenny Løvlie’s many luminous images: with her coat unfurled great-gran herself appears about to fly off). The pair set about building a minibeast zoo and, at the close of this joyous tale about following your passions, we learn that it’s inspired by the real-life entomologist Lucy Evelyn Cheesman, born 1881, who became London Zoo’s first female insect house curator.

Illustrator Gwen Millward’s circus-like red, green and gold cover design immediately sets the tone for Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular by Polly Owen (Wide Eyed), an entertaining exploration of Charles Darwin’s 40-year-long study of worms. While an excitable Darwin shouts “Boo!” at some worms (to test their hearing), it’s the bespectacled worm who delivers factual nuggets wearing a mortarboard and bow tie who steals the show.

Elsewhere, maths whiz Bobby Seagull has helped create a nonfiction gem of a different sort: Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers About Money (Usborne). Written by Lara Bryan in consultation with Seagull, who has become a regular on TV and radio since his turn on University Challenge in 2017, the book, with illustrations by Marie-Eve Tremblay, condenses key money facts for preteens, including pertinent matters such as fair pay and online purchases.

While TV stars with children’s book deals are two a penny these days, George Webster’s debut is reason to celebrate: as CBeebies’ first ever presenter with Down’s syndrome he’s made history and helped children with learning disabilities feel represented on screen. This Is Me (Scholastic, March), his rallying cry to be yourself, shines brightly like the man himself, with stars and light beams on every page. Developed in collaboration with his CBeebies producer Claire Taylor and illustrated by Tim Budgen, the book urges children to believe that “there’s a glow inside each one of us”.

Mariajo Ilustrajo follows her own 2022 debut, Flooded, with Lost (Frances Lincoln, 9 Feb), about a polar bear disoriented in the big city who, ignored by all the adults because they’re glued to their phones, finally befriends a little girl who takes him in. Ilustrajo has a wonderful eye for angles and colour: her artworks skilfully contrast the unwelcoming greys of the cityscape with the vibrant colours of the girl’s shock of orange hair and cosy home.

French author Élise Fontenaille and illustrator Violeta Lópiz present their own distinctive take on friendship and connection with At the Drop of a Cat (Enchanted Lion Books, translated by Karin Snelson and Emilie Robert Wong), a meditation on the relationship between the book’s six-year-old narrator and his grandpa Luis, a gardener, artist and refugee who fled war in his home country of Spain. Lópiz’s stunning illustrations take readers at child’s eye-level into Luis’s luscious garden, reminiscent of Henri Rousseau’s paintings, with whom Luis’s own art is compared. Luis may be illiterate, but he’s wise and inspiring, and his grandson enjoys his poetically muddled phrases (the book’s title is Luis’s version of “at the drop of a hat”). Nature-themed picture books have flourished in recent times but this is something special: Lópiz’s fluid, overlapping designs really magnify the sense of the pair being at one with the land and each other.

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