Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai review – an enchantingly light touch

The human rights campaigner strikes just the right balance in her first picture book, which relates the story of her childhood with a magical optimism

It must be a tricky business writing for young children about human rights: too heavy-handed and your work has an excessively moralising air, too heartfelt and it sounds schmaltzy. Having captured the world’s attention as a schoolgirl blogger under Taliban rule in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai knows a thing or two about striking the right tone.

Her debut picture book, an autobiographical tale about her childhood and how she became a global campaigner for educational rights, immediately draws the reader in with the opener: “Do you believe in magic?” To an audience well-acquainted with stories featuring magic beans and genies in lamps, Yousafzai explains that as a child she desired a magic pencil that could solve problems large and small, from erasing war to creating a ...

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna review – alive to the power of nature

A ramble in the woods proves transformative in this award-winning celebratory tale

Anyone keen to pass on a love of the great outdoors will welcome the latest picture book from Italian-French talent Beatrice Alemagna, about a child lured away from technology to find fun in a forest. Using a beautiful earthy palette and intricate lines, loops and curls, the author/illustrator evokes a woodland world so full of textures and sights you can almost feel the shafts of sunlight on your back.

It’s a wet day and, in a scene familiar to most parents, a mum (herself glued to a laptop, presumably working) snaps at her offspring to do something other than play computer games all day. The child, whose gender seems ambiguous (great for little readers who can decide for themselves), skulks off into the woods in a neon orange raincoat that dazzles against the foliage – the child is ...

This Zoo Is Not for You by Ross Collins review – an irresistible pleasure

This beautifully illustrated tale of a put-upon platypus is given extra bite by the author’s mischievous sense of humour

Some books seem to carry a memory of the fun their creators must have had conceiving them and the latest from Scottish author/illustrator Ross Collins – about a platypus enduring a series of job interviews with some snooty zoo animals – is shot through with a particular brand of mischief. Told in rhyming couplets with beautifully expressive illustrations, it bounces along, a pleasure to read aloud.

First to grill the platypus is Chi Chi the panda, who resembles a podgy, ageing star, surrounded by his own merchandise: “I’m special, rare/ and famous too/ To get me here/ was quite a coup/ But you don’t even eat bamboo!/ I think, this zoo/ is not for you.” And it’s downhill from there: to the flamingos the platypus looks like “a worn-out ...

Daddy Long Legs by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Aurélie Guillerey review – chicest picture book of the year

Full of quirky detail, this father and son jaunt is satisfyingly sillyA tall tale of fatherly devotion with a dash of Edward Gorey and a lot of mid-century modern style, Daddy Long Legs is surely a frontrunner for the year’s chicest picture book. Created by two established French talents, author Nadine Brun-Cosme and illustrator Aurélie Guillerey, it’s a story told in glorious Technicolor about a dad with an unreliable car and his anxious son wanting reassurance that he’ll be collected from nursery. From the opening page, it’s clear we’re in for a quirky ride: Matty’s dad, a lanky chap with dots for eyes, a pink carrot nose and a drainpipe suit, leans, puzzled, over his old green “hiccuping” car. The pair eventually make it to nursery, but “what if the car doesn’t start again?” worries Matty. There’s always the neighbour’s big red tractor, says Dad, beginning to ...

My Very Own Space by Pippa Goodhart review – a fun bunny tale

This action-packed story of a rabbit craving his own space will resonate with children wanting a bit of hush There’s a telling dedication at the beginning of this new book from Pippa Goodhart, the British author best known for her Winnie the Witch series. “For my own little sister, Jo Eddleston”, it reads, “with whom I used to share a bedroom, with lots of love”. It sweetly encapsulates the spirit of this tale about personal space, featuring little rabbit Jack, who gets cross because he wants some peace, but soon craves the companionship of others. It’s a story light on words yet bustling with action. From the perky rabbits squished like sardines on to the front cover, to the whirligig opening spread of singing, sneezing, strutting bunnies, you can see why Jack’s in pursuit of a quiet corner. “SHUSH!” he cries in the first line, “I want to ...

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault review – the ‘Bloomsberry’ girls

This clever picture book imagines the secret world of the young Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa. And doesn’t shy away from tackling depression The novelist Virginia Woolf once described the bond she shared with her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, as a “close conspiracy”. When she took her own life in 1941 she left two suicide notes behind: one for her husband and one for her beloved Vanessa. Now with beautiful splashes of colour and witty, uplifting text, the Canadian duo Kyo Maclear and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault imagine the secret childhood world the sisters created, while delicately exploring the theme of depression, in this exceptional picture book for ages 4+, finally published in Britain after its acclaimed release in Canada in 2012. Continue reading...

The Everywhere Bear by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb review – tender tale of a runaway bear

The bond between schoolchildren and their teachers is lovingly explored in this story of a boy who loses the class bear Poor little Matt. No sooner has he started at his new school than he’s lost the class bear, after having him home for the weekend. Whoosh, the bear dives out of his bag and straight down a drain. Soon he’s off on a very big adventure, bouncing from boat to crane, skip to seagull beak, and ultimately back into the arms of his friends in Class One. Like its predecessor The Paper Dolls, also for ages 3+, this collaboration between Julia Donaldson and illustrator Rebecca Cobb takes a childlike delight in people’s names and their everyday interests. While The Paper Dolls featured a little girl and her paper chain of friends – “They were Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie and Jim with two noses and Jo ...