Zagazoo by Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape, pounds 9.99). Zagazoo is a gurgling pink baby delivered (gift-wrapped) to George and Bella. Now, Quentin Blake isn't big on babies. Frogs, clowns and eccentric outsiders are more his line. But then the baby changes. And the domesticstory turns in to something very exciting indeed. First Zagazoo becomes a screeching vulture, then an elephant, a warthog, a bad-tempered dragon... and so on, until a young man with perfect manners appears. The illustrations, as ever, say more than words ever could, and the visual metaphors are sublime.
The Lion and the Unicorn by Shirley Hughes (Bodley Head, pounds 12.99). Just why pictures have to get fewer as children get older is a mystery. Perhaps publishers think that pages of Palatino type is just what older children like to look at when reading more sophisticated stories. I'd prefer the sweeping illustrations in this wonderful story of Lenny Levi, a wartime evacuee, who discovers the true meaning of bravery. It's a big book: 58 pages. There are big characters, too: the aloof Lady De Vass; the loathsome Joyce; and enigmatic, one-legged Mick. Shot through with classic Hughes touches, this book is so epic, so cinematic it almost has you reaching for the popcorn.
The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry edited by Brian Patten (Puffin, pounds 12.99). The funky cover and chatty title say it all: poetry can be fun, kids. And if you're in any doubt turn straight to Benjamin Zephaniah's "Talking Turkeys!": "Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas, cos turkeys jus wanna hav fun." There are matey interviews by Patten (he is interviewed by his cat) with each of the listed ten contemporary poets, who include Roger McGough, Alan Ahlberg and Jackie Kay. She is one of only two women included, which isn't brilliant, but everything else about this upbeat collection is. Let's Look at Animals Underground (Moonlight Publishing, pounds 6.99). This absorbing book has a gimmick that works (no, really). The press-out "torch" can be slipped between the plastic pages and the dark pages underneath to light up the subterranean world of animals that lies under your feet. There are rabbit burrows, a nest of moles, grubs and creepy crawlies to discover. …