Mischief is afoot in the world of picture books this month. Halloween has cast its wicked spell over some creations but I suspect Monty the cat, from author Susannah Lloyd and illustrator Nici Gregory, is naughty all year round. Asked by his trusting owner to look after a series of showstopper-style cakes, the star of Oh Monty! (Pavilion) attacks the bakes with total abandon and frames fellow cat Tiddles.
With his oversized, ping-pong ball eyes and over-the-top acting, there’s something rather delicious about Monty’s absolute villainy. His owner takes the role of narrator and, only ever visible from the elbows downwards, she’s evidently in possession of more spangly jewellery than powers of deduction: “No you mustn’t blame yourself, dear sweet Monty. I’m sure there was nothing more you could have done to stop her.” Gregory’s illustrations have a brilliant zany energy as the cats hurtle around the pages, clawing at cakes, plates and each other.
Fascinated by old mansions as a child, Oliver Jeffers returns with a haunted house tale like no other. With There’s a Ghost in This House (HarperCollins), the bestselling author pushes the boundaries of the picture book form by having translucent sheets featuring ghosts interspersed with standard pages of illustration so the ghosts only become visible when the reader turns one of these clear pages and it overlaps a drawing. The house itself is depicted using pages from vintage books and furniture catalogues jazzed up with Jeffers’s illustrations, and we’re ushered into his tall, slim hardback by a child in a sherbet lemon striped dress requesting help with ghost-hunting. The giggling ghouls unseen by the girl may have little readers shouting “he’s behind you!” but there’s nothing panto-esque about this smart and inventive book.
More magic comes in the form of The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess (Bonnier), a quirky picture book debut from New Yorker and Guardian cartoonist Tom Gauld that wittily plays with fairytale tropes. Desperate for a child, a king and queen consult an inventor and a witch and are delighted when their wish is granted in the form of both a wooden robot and a log princess (who, unbeknown to them, turns back to wood each night). When disaster strikes one morning and the log is accidentally thrown on to a woodpile bound for the frozen north, the robot sets off on a quest to save his precious sister.
Felicita Sala follows up her successful 2019 debut, Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street, with another celebration of the role food plays in community life. Expanding its focus from the residents of the apartment block to a whole town, A Year in Fleurville (Scribe, 11 Nov) shows the food different people in the neighbourhood are growing during each month of the year and, from cherries in June to squash in October, offers a recipe for each.
Meanwhile, the boy in Richard Jones’s Little Bear (Simon & Schuster, 22 Oct) finds something completely different at the bottom of his garden: a palm-sized polar bear. Immediately devoted to the creature with his “cloud-white fur” and warm little paws, the boy soon realises that the bear is steadily growing and needs returning to his family.
The images of the boy in a straw hat setting sail with his bear recall John Burningham’s 1965 classic, Mr Gumpy’s Outing, but with fewer animals on board and a softer landing. In fact, gentleness is the book’s key ingredient, whether Jones is portraying the kindness shown to the bear or handling the theme of saying goodbye. As the nights draw in, this is a wonderful book for kids to curl up with at bedtime, as cosy as an embrace from a fluffy polar bear.
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