Children’s books roundup: the best new picture books and novels | Books

Author-illustrator Bethan Woollvin returns to enthral picture-book fans with a retelling of Rapunzel (Two Hoots) in her characteristic, starkly beguiling graphic black and white. The contrasting waves of Rapunzel’s hair, in over-saturated buttery yellow, light up a heroine every bit as defiant, quick-witted and tough as Woollvin’s award-winning Little Red.

Another strong-willed girl features in Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek’s I Am Actually a Penguin (Templar), in which the narrator dons a seabird persona along with her beloved new costume and refuses to behave in any way unbefitting a penguin. It’s warm, hilarious, with acutely observed behaviour and a delightful twist.

Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin

A beautiful debut from Flying Eye, Sandra Dieckmann’s Leaf features a polar bear who arrives in an animal community suspicious of his motives – until the wise crows ask him what he wants. Though the combination of endangered creature and magical realism overloads the story slightly, the intricate images, filled with polychromatic leaf-patterns and dynamic stillness, are too good to miss.

For those aged five and over, Nosy Crow and the National Trust have produced Out and About Night Explorer, an appealingly sturdy backpack kit containing torch, glow-in-the-dark stars, a constellation guide and a book about nocturnal wildlife and the night sky, with enticing illustrations by Sara Lynn Cramb. The informative text is finely judged – enough detail to satisfy, but not to overwhelm – and the games and activities are winners.

Children who favour short, punchy tales should love Pamela Butchart’s Wigglesbottom Primary: Super Dog!, also from Nosy Crow: three splendid school stories of canine mayhem, ersatz mashed potato and sports day rotten eggs, brightened by Becka Moor’s cheery images.

Kid Normal by Chris Smith and Greg James

Seven-plus readers with greater stamina will devour Ellie Irving’s The Matilda Effect (Corgi),…

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