Friday 8 March 2024

What's new in picture books?

With the youngest reader in our house turning 9 this year, you'd think we were well past the picture book stage. Wrong! In between everything else that we're reading, we love nothing more than curling up with a picture book for five precious minutes and delighting in the words, pictures and characters. From bouncy rhyming texts to stories that are more quiet and gentle - there's so much variety, it's impossible to get bored. Here are some upcoming releases that are really worth looking out for. 

 Brian the Lion who Learned by Frances Stickley and Chris Chatterton

Link to publisher

Published by: Simon and Schuster, April 11th 2024

If it's an upbeat rhyming text you're after, then look no further than Brian the Lion Who Learned by Frances Stickley and Chris Chatterton. Frances Stickley is a hugely versatile picture book author who writes lyrical rhyme, cautionary tales and fun texts that play with the power of illustration. This text, however, is perfect for fans of Lu Fraser 's Mavis the Bravest, illustrated by Sarah Warburton, and Catherine Emmett's The Dodo Who Dreamed She Could Fly, illustrated by Claire Powell - both of which are also published by Simon and Schuster. 

Brian is the king of the jungle and loves spending each day playing with his friends. But when he finds out that his friends don't feel the same way, Brian is confused. As he sets out to learn what he has been doing wrong, he begins to understand how he can consider the feelings of others as well as his own. 

This is a fun text with great characters and a strong message. It centres around themes of appropriateness and consent but is told in a very child-friendly way. Frances Stickley uses animal characters to explore the topic and Brian the lion feels like the perfect choice for an 'in-your-face' main character. The catchiness of the title reflects the exact style of the story within the pages and it is the characters and the language that will make this story memorable, as well as the bold and brilliant illustrations.

As well as being a fantastic book to have on your shelf at home, this is also an excellent story for PSHE lessons. Through the exploration of Brian's behaviour, it encourages self-awareness, empathy and reflection, as well as the skill of speaking out. We've seen lots of picture books about fear and bravery and about overcoming shyness, but a picture book that centres around an overpowering character feels more unique. Brian is wonderfully endearing and loveable but it's great to see the other animals finding their voice too. 

Help! Ralfy Rabbit and the Great Library Rescue by Emily MacKensie

Published by: Bloomsbury, 25th April 2024 

This is the latest in a series of stories about Ralfy Rabbit and although we have to admit to not reading the others, we definitely will now. With a loveable character on a noble mission, this is a gentle story which champions the power and importance of libraries.

Ralfy Rabbit and his brother, Rodney, are horrified to learn that their local library is closing. The librarian tells them that only a magic dragon can save the library now...and so Ralfy and Rodney immediately set out to find one. But there doesn't seem to be a magic dragon anywhere! Is there anything else that can save the library?

The plot of this story is really clever and we really liked how Ralfy's mission stemmed from a humorous misunderstanding and a throwaway comment about a magic dragon. This made the journey of the story more interesting and the resolution more satisfying, as well as adding a lovely touch of humour. We loved the themes of community and were reminded of how important it is to appreciate each other and also the special things we have on our doorstep. 

As well as the library, there's a variety of other settings in the story too. This allows the reader to enjoy a great range of illustrations, which are just as adorable as Ralfy and Rodney. It's a relatable story that encapsulates the small world of a child, promotes a love of reading and will make you want to visit your library straight away...probably for more Ralfy Rabbit books. 

The Hoys by Kes Grey and Mark Chambers

Link to publisher

Published by: Quarto, 2nd April 2024

We love Kes Grey and Jim Field's Oi! series and this picture book is another fun idea based on a play of words. Perfect for pirate fans, it follows the character of Pirate Jake, who is more than a bit confused...

Pirate Jake is desperate to be a proper pirate. But how can he be when he doesn't know what a hoy is? Every pirate he meets talks about 'a hoy' so why he see or understand what they are on about? It's time for Pirate Jake to go on a search for a hoy!

This text, with its bold, bright and brilliant illustrations by Mark Chambers, is fun, fun, fun and takes young readers on an exciting quest. Will Pirate Jake find a hoy or will he realise his mistake? Things may turn out quite differently to what you expect!

As always, Kes Grey's genius use of language not only creates laugh-out-loud comedy but also encourages children to be creative and imaginative. However, there's a lovely tender undercurrent to this book too, which added depth to the narrative and increased our enjoyment of it. If you're looking for something uniquely different, then this is the book to pick. 

Penelope Snoop, Super Sleuth by Pamela Butchart and Christine Roussey

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 9th May 2024

Pamela Butchart is a comedy genius and this picture book series has her trademark humour in bucketloads as well as a brilliantly memorable character. With World Book Day happening on Thursday, we wonder how many Penelope Snoops there'll be skulking around schools and solving mysteries such as who stole the pencil sharpener and which teacher ate all the staffroom biscuits..?

Penelope Snoop has solved mysteries before but this one has her stumped. Sidney the Smelly Sock Snake has disappeared and Penelope wants him back. Can she, along with her pet dog, Carlos, find out what's happened to him?

This character led story is full of imagination and captures the world of a young child perfectly. With clues and suspicious things all around the house and garden, can Penelope work her detective magic - oh and throw in a trip to the moon as well. There's tons of extra humour lurking in the fantastic illustrations by Christine Roussey - just look at Carlos' expression - and the colour palette is incredibly effective. With sock snakes, mud monsters, frog fountains and super transporters, this is a mystery story you do not want to miss. 

Wowzers! by Lou Carter and Magda Brol

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 9th May 2024

Surprisingly, we've not come across many picture books about vehicles and so this text, with its dynamic title, instantly appealed. The front cover successfully delivers a taste of what lies within the pages - a fun rhyming text with bright, action-packed illustrations and lots of different types of transport!

Rabbit has saved up his coins to buy a flashy new car. But as he drives around town, everyone else's vehicle feels more special than his. Rabbit quickly adapts his car so he can show off all its special features. But is showing off more important than helping someone in need? Rabbit needs to decide quickly...

In the first instance, this story feels like its more about the vehicles than Rabbit. Little ones will delight in all the different types of transport and enjoy pointing out their special features. (The fire engine was a particular favourite.) What's even more entertaining is that Rabbit uses his initiative and lots of household items to make his car do what the other vehicles do. This not only adds a layer of humour but also encourages imagination, creativity and role-play.

Secondly, however, comes the story of Rabbit. Rabbit is so pleased with his new purchase that he can't help showing it off and comparing it to what everyone else has got - something that might resonate with both older and younger readers. Yet Rabbit has a lesson to learn, albeit in a gentle and joyful way. What is the point in your car having all these special features if you're not going to use them for good? And are material things more important than helping those who need it? Although these themes might sound quite heavy for a picture book, they are tackled in an engaging, child-friendly way that is light in touch.

 Funny and thought-provoking!

A big thanks to NetGalley and to all the publishers for allowing us a review copy. All the above books are available to pre-order. 

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