EGG DROP. By Mini Grey. Random House pound;10.99
NO MORE KISSING. By Emma Chichester Clark. Collins Children's Books pound;4.99
ANIMAL FAIR. By Anthony Browne. Walker Books pound;12.99
THAT PESKY RAT. By Lauren Child. Orchard Books pound;10.99
Oscar is a boy with wistful longings. Inevitably, his parents mislay him on holiday in North Africa. In Oscar and Hoo, the writer, Theo, and the illustrator Michael Dudok de Wit (an Oscar-winning animator), place their whimsical hero in a land of sand dunes where a wee cloud comes to his rescue. This is a story aimed at those who, if they haven't heard of Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, need not bother about what they are missing.
A touch more grit and attractive heartlessness animate Mini Grey's Egg Drop, a flight of fancy involving an egg with ambitions unsuited to its shape and status. Resolving to learn to fly, the egg climbs a tower, falls off and ends up not scrambled but fried.
No More Kissing by Emma Chichester Clark (now in paperback) takes Momo the boy monkey through that difficult phase during which mother expands in girth and eventually produces a baby brother. Momo, having banged on about the awfulness of the kissing habit, suddenly finds himself being soppy with his howling sibling. Clark's style, gentle without being sentimental, quirky without being cute, makes the whole study in manners fresh and entertaining.
Novelty value is rarely a recommendation in a children's picture book. Surprises need to be resilient if they are to survive repeated readings. Anthony Browne pop-up book, Animal Fair, isn't an elaborate example of the paper-engineer's art, and all the better for that. There are flaps to lift and wheels to spin, simple transformations and an excellent extending elephant trunk.
Lauren Child's style, a combination of collage and wayward lettering and edgy, beady-eyed figures, has won her distinctions (among them the Kate Greenaway Medal), and never has it been put to more brilliant use than in That Pesky Rat. Everything in it, from the disarming hero, a rat that aspires to being adopted as a pet, to the sharp observation of the potential owners' character, to clothes and settings and throwaway details, is crisp and apt.
In every respect, Child has the knack. She engages the eye, tickles the fancy, makes jokes that resound and stand repetition. That Pesky Rat is the best new picture book sinceI oh, I don't knowI since Quentin Blake's Mrs Armitage first cycled forth. Brilliant. Completely brilliant.