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PICTURE BOOKS

THE DREADFUL FLUFF
By Aaron Blabey
Viking, $24.99

QUEEN VICTORIA'S CHRISTMAS
By Jackie French and Bruce Whatley
Angus & Robertson, $24.99

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CUCKOO!
By Fiona Roberton
Viking, $24.99

ASK any author for young children what their readers are most likely to quiz them on and apart from ''How much money do you make?'' the No.1 question seems to be, ''Where do you get your ideas?'' Look at Aaron Blabey's latest picture book with that in mind and it does seem the author-illustrator may have found inspiration via some, quite literal, navel gazing.

The Dreadful Fluff begins by introducing the perfectly perfect Serenity Strainer - an incredibly accomplished young girl who exists in a world of pretty pink perfection. The story zaps into top gear with the sudden appearance of the title character - a grubby ball of fluff from Serenity's belly button.

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The fluff, who, as well as being dreadful, is downright evil, is the ultimate antithesis of Serenity, in name and in nature, so its entrance changes the tone of the story instantly, as if someone has flicked a radio from classical to heavy metal.

It's the ''odd couple'' scenario taken to the extreme, and this contrast, along with the fluff's hyperbolically horrifying antics, is what makes this story so utterly entertaining. The fact it starts as an ordinary bit of belly button fluff anchors the story in the audience's reality, adding a kind of inclusiveness and making it all the more thrilling.

The images of the fluff itself have a brilliant frenetic energy; all grey-blue-black frizz with big hairy eyebrows, viciously sharp pointy teeth, and creepy, spidery arms and legs. Serenity follows the trail of terror dressed in a tutu, but when the fluff threatens her baby sister she transforms into a warrior to rival Ripley in the Alien movies.

The Dreadful Fluff might be another award-nabbing effort from the author of the Children's Book Council of Australia Award-winning Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley. If it doesn't score any awards, it'll certainly notch up plenty of fans with its dramatic and suitably gross happy ending and the fun it has along the way, undermining the idea of perfection.

Legendary children's author Jackie French took on royalty in a vaguely similar way in Queen Victoria's Underpants, her 2010 book with illustrator Bruce Whatley. That is, she undermined the idea of perfection by putting a character famous for her poise and high standing into a context inviting speculation about something incongruously improper.

Fans of that book - any collaboration between French and Whatley has plenty of those - will be excited to see their new book, Queen Victoria's Christmas. Unsurprisingly, it's timed perfectly for the festive season and so would make a fitting gift from Santa, but in terms of being a sequel, there are only tenuous links between the books.

This new story is told in rhyming verse from the point of view of Queen Victoria's dogs, who featured in the illustrations of the previous book. It's a sweet, fresh-eyed look at Christmas traditions, and the text and pictures work well together, with one posing questions and the other giving clues as to the answers.

A postscript explains it was Queen Victoria's Prince Albert who made the tree a more dominant feature in Christmas celebrations, but without this information in mind, and since it's from the perspective of the dogs, the relevance of the story's royal context is not entirely clear.

While Blabey gets his ideas from ''navel gazing'', and French most assuredly gets hers from history and animals, author-illustrator Fiona Roberton seems to get hers from meditating on the concept of companionship and belonging. And from cute-as-a-button animals, too.

In the same vein as her previous books - Wanted: The Perfect Pet and The Perfect Present - Roberton's new book, Cuckoo!, with its joyous bright-yellow cover, has simple, absolutely adorable, illustrations. In this tale, a newborn bird leaves the nest in search of someone who understands him.

What follows is a lot of read-aloud fun, via animal sounds and absurd images; cows sipping espressos at a bar, for example. There's also an underlying sense of desperation as poor little Cuckoo searches for someone who understands him and an overwhelming feeling of happiness when he finally succeeds.

Readers familiar with Roberton's previous books will be happy to see a little boy and his pet duck incidentally waddling along on one page (just as those in the know will nod their approval at seeing everyone in Queen Victoria's Christmas receive gifts of new underwear). It's a little thing that to some will appear like a personal sign saying ''we understand each other''. And who doesn't want to feel understood?