1. All About… Bugs and Beetles
By Louisa Somerville, Dhs52. Ages 7-10.
With a contents page more jam-packed than a particularly good Victoria sponge, we knew we were in for a treat as soon as we opened this creepy crawly extravaganza. The book manages to combine education and fun brilliantly, with fascinating insect facts (did you know butterflies can tell what sort of leaf they’re on by tasting it through their feet?) interspersed with all manner of word games, colouring-in pages and grid-based drawing exercises. The detailed illustrations allow kids to get a good idea of what each creature looks like up close, and the text, while not overly complex, isn’t patronising. A section at the back lets young readers keep their very own bug diary, and there are even stickers which they can add once they’ve seen each insect. Our only quibble is that a guide on how to pronounce unusual anatomical parts would have been useful, as would some idea of how big each insect is and where it can be found.
By Victoria Roberts and Lee Wildish, Dhs60. Ages 7-5.
Aimed at children who are starting to learn how to use the loo, this book has good intentions but isn’t terribly useful. The illustrations are nice, with friendly-looking hamster types who walk around on two feet, and the book follows a simple rhyming pattern – but, and it’s a big ‘but’, there’s one insurmountable flaw. No, we’re not talking about the flushing sound the plastic toilet makes when you press the button, although that is mightily irritating. The general consensus in our office was that it simply isn’t graphic enough. Granted, there’s nothing terribly pleasant about poo, wee or, dare we say, wiping, but it is a pretty basic prerequisite for a toilet training book. And, ironically, that is where I’ve Finished! falls flat on its… well, bottom.
3.Draglins in Danger!
By Vivian French, Dhs63. Ages 6-9.
With its talk of ‘chats’, ‘dawgs’ and ‘human beanies’, this book will have your nippers in stitches about how silly its main subjects, the draglins, are. The story follows a family of the small, long-snouted creatures who live under a shed. One day, the young mischief-makers get themselves into terrible trouble when a cat chases them and takes away one of the brothers. The story moves along at an agreeable pace and French evokes sibling squabbling and grumpy parental chastising perfectly, while the illustrations, by Chris Fisher, do a good job of conveying the emotions on each draglin’s face.
4. Ugenia Lavender: The One and Only
By Geri Halliwell, Dhs53. Ages 7-10.
Considering she is famous, not for her skills as an author, but for fluctuating weight levels and a Union Jack dress, it’s not surprising that Halliwell’s attempt at children’s literature isn’t great. In fact, it’s proof of the oft-cited, but seldom believed fact that it’s actually pretty difficult writing for children. There’s a confusing mixture of very simple kiddie language and random sentences that will mean little to young readers. Having said that, the storylines aren’t too bad: the first centres around Ugenia and her school friends having to come up with projects to save the planet; the second is about an alien coming to earth. There are a few token word games at the back, but they feel like an afterthought, especially because they were actually contributed by someone else.
5. Jonadab and Rita
By Shirley Hughes, Dhs83. Ages 0-5.
Hughes, the ever-popular British author behind Dogger and the Alfie series, returns with yet another lovely children’s book that youngsters will want to be read over and over again. The tale is about two soft toys, a donkey named Jonadab and a mouse called Rita, who have been relegated by their owner, Minnie, to the dreaded status of old and much loved, but ultimately less popular than the newer, less dusty teddies. What Minnie doesn’t know is that Jonadab can fly, and one night he decides to go and have an adventure – but he ends up in a right old pickle. Hughes’ trademark old-fashioned, pretty illustrations are the icing on this particularly yummy cake.
6. Fishcakes and Jelly
By Una Rawlinson, Dhs45. Ages 3-6.
Written by local author Una Rawlinson, this book tells the tale of a little girl who has an adventure under the sea. The best thing about it is the illustrations, also provided by Rawlinson, which are vivid and detailed. Although we couldn’t help but cringe slightly at the frequent pictorial references to Dubai’s tourist spots – Wild Wadi, the Burj Al Arab and Atlantis all make appearances – but having said that, it will probably delight kids as they’ll recognise the landmarks they see in their day-to-day lives. The story itself is conveyed through rhyme which, though a nice concept, jars slightly because little attention has been paid to the rhythm. A couple of typos also imply that the book has not undergone a thorough editing process. These, however, are adult criticisms and there’s nothing to say that Fishcakes and Jelly won’t go down a storm with the kids.
7. Fire Djinn
By Linda Davies, Dhs56. Ages 8+
Another local yarn and the second in Linda Davies’ Djinn series, Fire Djinn reunites readers with schoolboy hero Finn Kennedy and friends. Described as Dubai’s Harry Potter, the book initially pales in comparison to the deep mysticism of Hogwarts, but stick with it. Fire Djinn develops into a rollicking fantasy that, thanks to good writing and local references, is entirely believable. The characters attend the familiar-sounding Jumeirah Academy of Music (JAM), go quad-biking in the desert and even buy their djinn-busting supplies in Park ‘n’ Shop, so your average Dubai expat kid will easily picture themselves in Finn’s shoes. The short chapters are ideal for bedtime stories too.
All books are available from Magrudys, Deira City Centre (04 295 7744)