Surrealism and satire in colour

7th July 2006 at 01:00
Jane Doonan finds fun, games and exciting adventures that will captivate young minds and subvert the search for easy answers

Summer's here: time to have some fun with the playful picture books in this selection. The first two are based on the structure of the children's game of hunt the thimble, and the rest stretch the rules of storytelling.

In Where's Wally? The Great Picture Hunt, Martin Handford challenges key stage 2 children (and anyone else with well developed visual literacy skills) to play detective. The first new Wally story for eight years, it is based around a gallery owned by Wally's arch-enemy, Odlaw, and a collection of peculiar portraits.

The game operates on many levels: matching large images in frames with smaller versions hidden in the seething scenes and marking their locations with stickers; finding five characters, also hidden in every scene, plus their missing possessions; solving intertextual teasers relating to adventures in the earlier Wally books; and making something meaningful from the minutely detailed actions. Sherlock, after you with the magnifying glass, please.

Find Anthony Ant, by Lorna and Graham Philpot, is the same game for younger children, who may learn to count as well as search every picture for the hidden hero. Every double-page spread shows a cut-away view of Anthony's intriguing subterranean world, with its houses, shops, doctor's surgery, air-ant port, restaurant, and All Ants' church, linked by roads, lanes and alleys. We meet his neighbours, and there's even a dinosaur fossil and a maze. Add on clues, deceptive details, and amusing wordplay.

John Burningham has some tongue-in-cheek fun with the idea of "the hero" in Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World. Edwardo is given to kicking, making a noise, bullying, and generally being a pain. The more he is criticised the worse he becomes. Until a wise bystander, seeing Edwardo break a flowerpot, praises him for his attempt to start a garden: after more approval, Edwardo becomes the loveliest boy in the world (most of the time). Burningham's minimalist illustrations in pen, crayon, and paint delineate the essence of action and attitudes.

Ted Dewan shapes satire for six-year-olds in Crispin and the Best Birthday Surprise Ever, which celebrates the return of the humanised little pig who has it all, especially at his lavish birthday parties. This year Crispin's friends are invited to the Birthday Surprise Centre just off the motorway, but plans go awry. As well as offering genuine child appeal, Dewan portrays a bleak picture of contemporary urban life, strewn with litter.

Mr And Mrs God in the Creation Kitchen, Nancy Wood's contemporary creation myth, is illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering in ethereal gray-blue hazes perforated by points of light. Set deep in space and outside time, a pair of celestial chefs have an oven big enough to roast a star. In goes something large and round and out comes the Sun. Another mighty lump of dough becomes the Earth. Mrs God whips together the clouds. Creatures great and small are made, including a pair of figures set down on Earth by Mr God; he wonders how they'll turn out. As well as prompting discussion, this boundary-breaking story - which folds in mighty matters with a light touch - would work well in a project on creation myths.

The Cow on the Roof, a European folk tale retold by Eric Maddern, poses the question of how far it is possible to go in terms of narrative excess. A discontented farmer who thinks he does all the work exchanges places with his wife. By the end of the day, thanks to his cack-handedness, the house is in chaos, there is no food on the table, the farmer is stuck upside down in the chimney, and the cow falls off the roof where he put her to graze.

Paul Hess's characteristically rounded horizon lines destabilise events wonderfully effectively.

Alex Higlett's Egg and Bird is a brilliant introduction to surreal humour which breaks the rules of storytelling by proceeding in fragments of information; the text is spare, the graphics simple. Egg is egg and bird is bird. They like different games, friends, lifestyles and reading material, and yet what is an egg if not a bird? Reception and Year 1 classes, please discuss.

Tiger on a Tree, by Anushka Ravishankar and Pulak Biswas, is a beautiful object as well as an excursion into unusual territory. Tiger goes out adventuring and is captured by men with nets. Now what? The book is hand-made, with blockprinted, stylised illustrations in black and coral red, on textured paper in pale lemon.

Where's Wally? The Great Picture Hunt

By Martin Handford

Walker Books pound;9.99

Find Anthony Ant

By Lorna and Graham Philpot

Boxer Books pound;5.99

Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World

By John Burningham

Jonathan Cape pound;10.99

Crispin and the Best Birthday Surprise Ever

By Ted Dewan

Doubleday pound;10.99

The Cow on the Roof

By Eric Maddern

Illustrated by Paul Hess

Frances Lincoln Children's Books pound;10.99

Mr and Mrs God in the Creation Kitchen

By Nancy Wood

Illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering

Candlewick Press pound;10.99

Egg and Bird

By Alex Higlett

Macmillan pound;7.99

Tiger on a Tree

By Anushka Ravishankar and Pulak Biswas

Tara Publishing pound;11.99

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