Book review: A summer of reading with Usborne children’s books

As the school holidays fast approach, Usborne Publishing have plenty of sunshine reading to keep your young ones out of mischief.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 27th June 2013, 10:00 am
A summer of reading with Usborne childrens books
A summer of reading with Usborne childrens books

A leading UK independent publishing company and 2012’s Children’s Publisher of the Year, Usborne produce books for every age from baby to teenager and their line-up this summer ranges from snap cards and sticker books to a sparkling new series about a very special trainee angel and an imaginative story about two friends torn apart by events in the past.

One of the summer’s leading books is Forbidden Friends by author and primary school teacher Anne-Marie Conway who runs her own children’s theatre group, Full Circle.

Some stories linger in the mind long after the last page has turned and Forbidden Friends, her new and hauntingly beautiful novel, is simply unforgettable.

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The author of Butterfly Summer has produced another gem with this perfectly pitched, warm and sensitive tale of a new friendship, a terrible tragedy and a long-buried lie.

Lizzie is fed up of going to the same Spanish hotel and the same beach for the same two weeks every year. The ‘holiday’ is her parents’ way of remembering her brother Luke, who died tragically on their first family holiday when she was three.

Now, her dad controls everything – what she reads, what she does and who she’s friends with. However when she finds out that her dad is strangely absent at the start of their holiday, Lizzie takes the opportunity to befriend Bee.

Bee hates school where everyone teases her and calls her ‘Bookworm Bee’ because she loves to read. So a surprise holiday to Spain with her mum and nan is exactly what she needs. Bee instantly likes Lizzie and they strike up a warm friendship, together exploring the resort and beautiful Spanish coastline.

However, as the girls grow closer, strange questions bubble to the surface – Bee wonders if Lizzie is really an only child? Why have both their dads disappeared? And why, as the holiday comes to an end, are the two girls forbidden from seeing each other again? Could one dark secret from the past hold the answer? Could one fateful night keep Lizzie and Bee apart – forever?

Conway tackles important subjects like bullying, family relationships and the importance of friendship in this moving and compelling story which unfolds through the dual narratives of Bee and Lizzie.

With the added ingredients of suspense and mystery, Forbidden Friends is a wonderfully creative and intelligent story for girls aged ten and over.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

And the best of the rest includes:

Age 6 months plus:

That’s Not My Prince and That’s Not My Princess

Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

To celebrate the forthcoming royal birth, here is a book perfect for your own little prince or princess. As part of the bestselling touchy-feely series, which has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, Usborne have produced two new books, That’s Not My Prince and That’s Not My Princess. The rhythmic text, bold, colourful illustrations and tactile patches will prove irresistible to little children and their parents. Babies and toddlers love turning the pages and touching the ‘feely’ patches, and what better than an up-close look at the new royal baby?

(Usborne, board book, £5.99)

Age 4 plus:

Travel Snap

Jim Field

Make the going easy this summer with the best pocket-sized travel companion around. Youngsters will soon ‘snap out’ of their boredom with an exciting and entertaining new take on the well-known 52-card matching game.

These robust, easy-to-handle snap cards feature famous landmarks from around the world, quirkily illustrated by Jim Field. From Big Ben, the Colosseum and the Eiffel Tower to the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty, this is wonderful round-the-world game that youngsters will want to snap up!

Playing games is a vital part of a child’s early education, as well as teaching important skills such as co-operation with other people, conversation, concentration, how to follow rules and the importance of winning and losing.

And snap is an ideal game for all ages… younger children can simply play with a smaller number of the matching cards.

(Usborne, £4.99)

Age 5 plus:

Sticker Dolly Dressing: Holiday and Travel

Lucy Bowman and Fiona Watt

Hours of fun are guaranteed with the new Sticker Dolly Dressing book, one of Usborne’s best and most popular series for little girls. And this new book is bulging with 700 colourful stickers to dress the dolls as they travel all over the world. Choose their outfits and accessories for diving in tropical oceans, skiing down mountains, going on safari, sightseeing in San Francisco and lots, lots more. There are over sixty dolls to dress and the stickers include travel extras such as special equipment, scenery and even animals. No self-respecting girl should leave home without this wardrobe of wonders in her travel pack!

(Usborne, paperback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Wings and Wishes (Angel Academy)

Janey Louise Jones

Little girls will be on cloud nine with a magical new series from Princess Poppy creator Janey Louise Jones who has a gentle, reassuring touch when it comes to children’s literature.

Here she combines the winning themes of angels, boarding school, blossoming friendships and midnight feasts in an enchanting and inspired story about a special angel training academy.

Gabrielle Divine is a very special trainee angel. An earth angel with a human father and a half-angel mother, she has been invited to join St Celeste’s Angel Academy in the dazzling kingdom of Cloud Nimbus to learn how to be a guardian angel. Although it means leaving home, Gabrielle is very excited. In the turreted, white stone castle, Gabrielle can’t wait to start her training, learning exciting new skills such as flying, vanishing and how to look after her chevalange, an angel horse. But her new classmates already have shimmering wings and sparkling halos while she’s just a girl from earth. When everything at her new school is so completely out of this world, how will Gabrielle ever fit in?

An out-of-this-world story for your young high-flyers…

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Penny Dreadful is Incredibly Contagious

Joanna Nadin

Joanna Nadin returns with her perennially popular Penny Dreadful, the madcap mastermind of mischief-making.

For those not already acquainted with disaster-prone Penny, her name is not actually Penny Dreadful, it’s Penelope Jones. The ‘Dreadful’ bit was her dad’s joke but Penny doesn’t see the funny side. She says it’s not even true that she’s dreadful. It’s just that sometimes her brilliant plans don’t work out completely brilliantly.

And what could be better than three ‘Penny’ adventures in one book? The three hilarious new short stories include Penny Dreadful and the Best Friend, in which Penny finds herself getting on unusually well with her arch-enemy Bridget Grimes; Penny Dreadful is Incredibly Contagious, in which a case of chicken pox and the ensuing time off school mean that Penny is forced to make her own entertainment; and Penny Dreadful Becomes a Tycoon, in which Penny and pal Cosmo devise a helmet that can expand your brain, in order to win a TV game show.

With strong storylines and quirky characters, these fast-flowing tales, brought to life by fun and funky illustrations, are great to read aloud and perfect for the seven plus reader to get stuck into on their own.

(Usborne, paperback, £4.99)

The KnowHow Book of Spycraft

Falcon Travis, Judy Hindley and Colin King

Reissued for the 40th anniversary of Usborne Publishing this year and one of their first ever books, The KnowHow Book of Spycraft has lost none of its ability to enthral and entertain.

In fact, it is still the favourite book of Peter Usborne, founder and managing director of Usborne Publishing, who regards it as ‘wonderful to look at, wonderful to read, inventive, funny, colourful and stylish.’ What better endorsement could a book have?

The KnowHow Book of Spycraft is all about keeping secrets. It shows you how to set up secret meeting places and a secret post office and how to disguise your messages and maps. It shows you lots of codes and signals and includes everything you need to be a top spy from code machines, spy maps, invisible writing and quick disguises to semaphore signals, Morse code, silent signals and spotting clues. On the first page you will meet the Black Hat Spy. Watch out for the tricks he plays in Spy Trick – these are things real spies have done. There are messages in code all through the book and the challenge is to see if you can work them out.

A feast of fun, facts and fiendish spycraft skulduggery!

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 12 plus:

Blood Tracks

Paula Rawsthorne

Paula Rawsthorne’s impressive young adult debut novel, The Truth about Celia Frost, proved she is a talented writer not afraid to confront controversial issues and her electrifying follow-up takes us deep into the heart of a dark and dangerous criminal world.

Gina Wilson is a runner, a gifted young athlete. With her feet pounding the ground and her dad watching, she feels as though she can fly. But when her dad dies in dramatic and mysterious circumstances, Gina refuses to accept the explanations she is given and becomes convinced that something isn’t right. Struggling to find the truth, Gina finds herself plunged into a world far removed from the one she has known – a world of lies, crime and betrayal, a world that will make her question everyone and everything around her. And a world she can’t run from…

Blood Tracks is a fast-paced and exciting thriller which tackles harrowing themes head-on and confirms Paula Rawsthorne as one of the UK’s best young adult authors.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 14 plus:

The Lucy Variations

Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr touches a raw nerve in this moving coming-of-age story about a young concert pianist who loses the will to play when her beloved grandmother dies and must rediscover the beauty that make life worth living.

Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. She spent her young life practising, travelling the world and competing against the best. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.

That was all before she turned fourteen. Now, at sixteen, it’s over. The sudden death of her grandmother and the incessant pressure from her pushy grandfather led her to walk away from it all, leaving her talented ten-year-old brother Gus to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family’s expectations.

Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, handsome, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of the piano – but this time, on her own terms. Lucy is reluctant. When you are used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself, and for the sheer joy of it?

Lucy’s turbulent journey from fame to the realities of everyday, normal life is beautifully and sensitively drawn, opening up wider themes of coping with adversity, finding acceptance for who and what you are, and discovering the hidden joys of the world around us.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

One Moment

Kristina McBride

Kristina McBride’s UK debut novel, a cracking psychological thriller-cum-romance, is bristling with energy and mystery.

It was supposed to be the best summer of Maggie’s life. Now it has turned into the one she would do anything to forget. Maggie remembers hanging out at the gorge with her closest friends after a party the night before. She remembers climbing the path hand in hand with her perfect boyfriend, Joey. She remembers that last kiss – soft, lingering, safe. So why can’t she remember what happened next? All it takes is one second for everything to change. One moment to realise that it’s the people you love who hurt you the most.

Compelling, heart-breaking and unforgettable, Kristina McBride paints a compelling and gritty portrait of the American Dream ripped apart…

(Usborne, paperback, 6.99)

Age 15 plus:

The Killing Street

Chris Ould

Chris Ould’s slick and compelling young adult crime fiction series, which brings to life the gritty world of policing, returns with a compelling new case for trainee policewoman Holly Blades.

Ould is a BAFTA-winning screenwriter and has written for a number of television dramas including The Bill, Casualty, Solider Soldier and Hornblower. His Street Duty series stars 16-year-old Holly Blades, a new type of policewoman, a TPO or Trainee Police Officer, one of a team of teenagers recruited early and fast-tracked into the police force.

It’s is a brilliant, down-to-earth crime drama which brings the unforgiving and harsh world of street policing into fresh focus for the younger generation and features hard-hitting, challenging and explicit stories suitable for older teens.

Here we meet Gemma who loves Dean even though he’s making her do things that she doesn’t want to do. Ryan did a deal to join up with the Kaddy Boys but now he’s in, there’s no getting out. Taz is being paid to be an informant for the cops, but is she getting too close to the targets? And when Holly attends her first suspicious death, is she really ready for the impact that being a copper can have on your family, your friends and your life? Especially when you know one of the suspects...

Real life, real crime and real drama collide in Ould’s second, gripping instalment of Holly’s trial by fire. The Killing Street is unmissable and thrilling fiction for teenagers grown up enough for a tough-talking, brutally honest lesson in the harsh realities of youth crime.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)