Poor Harold Snipperpot is about to turn seven and longing for his first proper birthday party. Normally too uptight for parties, his parents relent and call up Mr Ponzio, the local problem solver, who promises something “absolutely extraordinary” to mark the day.
Into the family’s pristine palace, all art deco antiques and potted plants, marches a mob of wild animals. All is fine at first: Dad snaps a selfie with a camel, a penguin gazes out of a stained glass window, but there’s a smirking alligator climbing the stairs followed by a hippo with a bottom so big and ripe for destruction that calamity is surely imminent.
The latest from Beatrice Alemagna, Harold Snipperpot’s Best Disaster Ever(Thames & Hudson, translated by Edward Gauvin), is further evidence of Alemagna’s brilliant eye for the absurd. Her earth-toned, intricately patterned illustrations show animals gobbling chandeliers, donning tutus and gleefully destroying the house, and kids will love the wild spirit of the crescendo where the animals play at a fountain with the whole neighbourhood. But all the chaos also provokes a proper happy ending, reminding Harold’s parents of their natural instincts. Now they kiss, howl and hug Harold. “How funny that the animals made us feel more human,” his mum says.
Sabina Radeva’s remarkable debut also explores animal behaviour but her focus is no less than Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species – and she uses that title (Puffin). Billed as the first ever picture book retelling of Darwin’s seminal study, it’s an exquisite marriage of factual information with the art and emotion of storytelling.
Having trained as a molecular biologist, Radeva decided to study illustration and this combined expertise ensures a work that never patronises young readers, clearly explaining Darwin’s quotes and findings while the pages teem with beautiful, detailed creatures (her style has echoes of Emily Sutton’s artwork for Nicola Davies’s natural history picture books). The inclusion in every scene of colourful beetles and butterflies to identify via charts on the start and end pages is also a neat touch for little nature-spotters.
It’s birds you’ll find squawking through the neon-splashed pages of Pippa Curnick’s tale of Chatterbox Bear (Hodder Children’s), after Gary the bear leaves his own kind in search of others who will appreciate his constant “raaar”. The trouble is that the birds on the tropical isle he discovers don’t “speak” bear. But they eventually learn to communicate via Gary’s very expressive bushy monobrow. The illustration of the birds parading their makeshift seaweed and prawn eyebrows is delightful.
Tired parents will recognise the wide-eyed stare of the daddy fox in Marta Altes’s Five More Minutes (Macmillan). Reminiscent in its title and theme of Jill Murphy’s classic Five Minutes’ Peace, here the narrator is a young fox explaining time to his lovely but frantic father: “Dad often says: ‘we have no time’, but that makes no sense. We always have time! Time for puddles…” It’s a witty, big-hearted book and, though never specified, seems to be about a single dad. From the messiness of the house to Dad falling asleep over bedtime stories, the themes will be familiar but the tone is refreshing.
With the same unblinking, expressive eyes as his friends Triangle and Square, Circle (Walker) rolls into bookshops this month, the final part of Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett’s much-loved shape trilogy. This time Circle and Triangle dare to venture into the depths of a cave behind a waterfall and, once there, find a shape that can’t be identified in the shadows. There’s an air of mystery and darkness hanging over this instalment, and some little kids might find it scary. Others will relish its invitation to fire up their imaginations.
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