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Our top 10 new picture books 2021

So many wonderful picturebooks are published every year. Here is our selection of some of the best new books. These are books we hope you and your children will enjoy sharing again and again which might prompt conversations, creative activities, finding out more or imaginative story play. We hope you enjoy them.

Arlo the Lion who Couldn’t Sleep 

Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Books

Age 3-5

Arlo the lion is exhausted, but he just can’t fall asleep. Owl sees his predicament and has the perfect solution – he sings Arlo a song about relaxing and imagining he is in a lovely place. It works – Arlo sleeps all night and feels so much better when he wakes up, he can’t wait to tell Owl. Unfortunately, now Owl is fast asleep, and Arlo wakes him up!

A beautiful picturebook, perfect for bedtime reading with a simple story and a memorable rhyme to share together. The illustrations are wonderful, textured and appealing. This is a story which might lead to discussions about animals which sleep during the day and during the night.
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Alexis Deacon, illus. Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books
Age 5-7*

Ergo is a chick whose life is about to begin. She is inside an egg and developing awareness of her body – her toes, her wings and her beak. This is her world – albeit a very small one. But then Ergo decides to use her toes, her wings and her beak to escape and find out if there are more like her. She discovers she is part of a much bigger world.

This is a book to prompt lots of thinking and talk about our own known worlds and how we find out more about them.

Another philosophical book for children from the team that created the highly successful I am Henry Finch

Fabulous illustrations and striking layout emphasise the confusion of the little chick and her happiness when she discovers she is not alone, and the world is very exciting indeed.

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The Fire Fox

Alexandra Page, illus. Stef Murphy
Two Hoots
Age 5-7+

A beautiful written and sensitive story about a young girl, Freya and her mother who go to stay in a remote cabin set in a snowy landscape. A sense of sadness lingers in the first few pages sensitively suggesting the loss of Freya’s father. Exploring her new environment Freya discovers a magical white fox and they play together. The fox seems to be creating wonderful colours as he speeds through the snowy landscape with Freya. When he disappears, colours fill the sky around her as if a gift left behind for her.

This story is inspired by legends of the Saami people of Northern Scandinavia about a white fox who scatters sparks which form the Northern Lights. It might inspire children to find out more about the Northern Lights, create artwork in response to the ideas or illustrations or prompt conversations about loss, grief and sharing good memories of loved ones.

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Gloria’s Porridge

Elizabeth Laird, illus. Toby Newsome
Tiny Owl
Age 3-5

When Gloria makes a bowl of porridge her cat wants some, but Gloria doesn’t want to share. This leads to a chain of events upsetting not only the cat, but also a donkey, a hive of bees, a hen and finally Gloria herself. Fox hears the rumpus and helps them sort out the problem.

An engaging picturebook telling a simple and satisfying story of consequences highlighting the importance of thoughtfulness. It is based on a traditional Ethiopian folk tale.

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Watch a trailer

Once Upon a Tune    

James Mayhew
Otter Barry Books
Age 7-9+

This is a stunning book containing six carefully selected stories which have inspired great pieces of music including The Sorceror’s Apprentice and In the Hall of the Mountain King. We meet an array of characters including sorcerers, trolls and sea monsters. Scherherazade introduces the brave girl who persuades a bitter sultan into saving her life by bewitching him with stories.

The text is very well written, stories skillfully unfold with some lovely descriptive passages. The illustrations are wonderful with collaged images depicting the story worlds. The back of the book provides information about the composers and the writers whose stories inspired them. There is also a suggested playlist so that families can explore the music inspired by the stories.

A wonderful blend of music, art and storytelling, this is a perfect gift book likely to be treasured and pored over by adults and children alike. It may ignite interest in the music which inspired the story and also encourage children to have a go at storytelling or at creating their own collaged pictures of story settings.
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See this video for an insight into the music which inspired the book

Saving Mr Hoot 

Helen Stephens
Alison Green Books
Age 3-7

When he says Mr Hoot stole his mitten, they think it is just his imagination. All winter long Ben and Mr Hoot call to each other. In springtime a lady with a chainsaw arrives to cut the tree down, but Ben is determined to stop her.

A story about the frustration of making yourself heard when you are very small. There is a strong environmental theme and sharing this story is likely to lead to talk about animal habitats and the impact of cutting down trees. It may lead to greater awareness as children look at the trees in their local environments.

This is a beautifully illustrated story by the creator of the highly popular How to Hide your Lion series.

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Shu Lin’s Grandpa                                   

Matt Goodfellow, illus. Yu Rong
Otter Barry Books
Age 3-7

A young narrator remembers when Shu Lin first joined his school and wasn’t able to speak English well. She didn’t seem to fit in with playground games and had strange things in her packed lunch box. One day Shu Lin’s Grandpa visits and shows the class his beautiful artwork. He has created fabulous worlds with mountains and dragons. Afterwards the children have a go at painting their own magical landscapes. Shu Lin becomes the teacher sharing her brushwork skills, her classmates are very impressed.

This is a story about understanding what it is like to be a new arrival and the importance of acceptance and inclusion. It is likely to prompt discussions about the main character’s feelings.

The book includes a wonderful fold out landscape complete with dragon perfect for storytelling. After this insight into traditional Chinese artwork be ready to get out brushes and paints and a long strip of paper for children to create their own masterpieces.

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SuperJoe Does NOT do Cuddles                                        

Michael Catchpool, illus. Emma Proctor
Age 5-7

SuperJoe has a busy day ahead of him, there is a tiger on the loose!  Before he sets off on his mission, mum wants a cuddle, but SuperJoe has no time for that, and anyway superheroes do NOT do cuddles.  SuperJoe is successful in his mission and two more daring rescues swiftly follow, involving a runaway train and a collapsing bridge, thwarting an arch enemy in the process. After a busy day it turns out the one thing a superhero really needs is a cuddle after all.

A lovely picturebook packed with imagination and adventure likely to inspire storyplay. The illustrations are very attractive and include lots of extra detail to spot, adding to the storytelling. The vocabulary is ambitious giving plenty to discuss.

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Ten Delicious Teachers

Ross Montgomery, illus. Sarah Warburton
Walker Books
Age 3-7

Ten teachers miss the school bus and decide to take a short cut through a forest. They don’t spot the hungry monsters waiting to pounce. One by one the monsters pick off the teachers on their way through the forest until only Miss Hunter, the nursery teacher remains. However, she is more than a match for monsters and in no time at all takes them in hand teaching them some manners and how to count to ten!

This is a very silly rhyming counting story with humorous text well matched by the illustrations – the monsters are fantastic and might encourage young readers to design their own.

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See the author Ross Montgomery reads from the book in this trailer

We’re Going to Find the Monster                                               

Malorie Blackman, illus. Dapo Adeola
Age 0-5

Charlie and Eddie set off to find the monster. They go over a shimmering ocean and up a huge high mountain encountering a tiger, a hungry wolf and even a whale along the way. They eventually find the monster – their older brother – under his bedclothes ready to pounce and tickle them both.

This story is a celebration of the power of imagination and family fun. The cumulative text is a joy to read aloud, and children will enjoy hearing it again and again. The illustrations are warm and colourful adding to the storytelling. We find out the whale is really a goldfish and the tiger a stripey cat. One of the main characters has vitiligo and there is a link to find out more information about this condition on the inside cover.

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