Life & Culture

Treasure trails and furry tails

Angela Kiverstein picks children’s books celebrating friends, courage, magic and silliness


You may have heard an echo. But have you ever seen one? Al Rodin’s Little Echo (Penguin Random House, £12.99) is furry and golden, with huge, super-expressive ears — but she is painfully shy. One day, a boy called Max arrives, to seek treasure. Little Echo spots right away that his map is upside down — and that he has marched into danger. But will she pluck up the courage to save him?

Rodin’s warm and funny tale is given added intimacy by the mainly-underground illustrations, touched with a golden glow. Through colour, he conveys beautifully how feelings of loneliness transmute into a treasured friendship, in a way that will speak to readers age three to eight — and beyond.

“The initial idea for a story about an echo came after visiting a beautiful cave in the Lake District during a great walk,” says Rodin. “The specific character of Little Echo and her journey to finding her voice (and using it) was inspired by quite a few different events and people in my life, who in their own ways have taken brave steps to use and be proud of their own voices. The core of the story feels very personal and I can see quite a lot of my journey in there, too!

“The art in Little Echo developed from a starting point of wanting to create a sort of magical, colourful cave-world for Little Echo that also felt drippy and rocky and textured enough to relate to that real-life cave in the Lake District.

“The art was mostly made with acrylic paint, watercolour and collage, although the cross section spread is a dry point etching with some ink drawing on top. I think my approach to making Little Echo was particularly influenced by a Lee Krasner exhibition I saw at the Barbican — she was so playful and open with the directions her work took and I tried to take that approach with the art for Little Echo, too.”

Friendship and courage are also centre stage in Lenny and Benny by Naama Benziman (Green Bean Books, £11.99). We all know how problematic a broiges can be at a simcha. Even for rabbits. Lenny and Benny are great pals. They drink cocoa, eat cookies and have the best time — until Benny beats Lenny at jumping.

Cue accusations of cheating and adorable rabbit tantrums — escalating when Lenny is humiliated at Benny’s birthday party. Benziman deftly conveys the rabbits’ emotions, illustrating an enchanting forest world with incredible intricacy, purely in red and blue on white.

After the touching (and instructive) denouement, a parallel is drawn with the dispute of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza in 70 CE, said to have caused the destruction of Jerusalem. Age three up.

Bubbe is shopping for Shabbat. She tours the shuk and at each stall she collects an item from her list — challah, candles and edible treats — plus an unintended cat companion. By the end of Alyssa Satin Capucilli’s And a Cat from Carmel Market (Kar Ben, £7.99), the feline family have invited themselves for Shabbat dinner — and there’s fun to be had by spotting the furry guests in Rotem Teplow’s colourful illustrations — a tail dangling from a kitchen cupboard, a cheeky moggy checking out the chicken soup… The refrain “and a cat from Carmel market” encourages audience participation when reading aloud. Age three to eight.

Unexpected hair-growth, colour-changing transformations and flying out of the bedroom window — just some of the extraordinary events in The Fantastical Adventure of Magic Mazik by Ian Joseph (YPS Books,, £6.99, in aid of Blood Cancer UK). Following a visit from an extra-terrestrial, Mazik discovers how to harness the superpowers of space poo (as you do). With his adorable Yorkshire grandfather, Obadiah Spark, Mazik struggles to control the surprising side effects.

Illustrated by Amy Levene, this is a heartwarming and pleasingly ridiculous read, for age five to 11.

Patience and a robust sense of humour are essential for anyone sharing a home with readers of Matt Lucas’s My Very Very Very Very Very Very Silly Book of Pranks (Farshore, £6.99, illustrated by Sarah Horne). Instructions on how to make fake milk splats and pretend poo biscuits are among the more appealing prac Instructions on how to make fake milk splats and pretend poo biscuits are among the more practical suggestions, while a chapter devoted to classic pranks such as the Panorama spaghetti on trees hoax gives relief from onslaughts of fart-cushions and phoney phone-alerts. Plenty of laughs for age eight up — but read it for entertainment, not as a how-to guide.

This week saw the real-life return of the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, running until Sunday, with guests including Maz Evans, Lauren Child and Dame Jacqueline Wilson, as well as Lego workshops and Very Hungry Caterpillar yoga. It’s a fun-filled start to a summer of reading.

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