Book review: Families, friendship and clever creatures with Oxford University Press

The holidays certainly won’t be boring with a selection of sparkling summer titles from Oxford University Press children’s books.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 23rd July 2015, 10:00 am
Families, friendship and clever creatures with Oxford University Press
Families, friendship and clever creatures with Oxford University Press

A teenager faces a family dilemma in a beautiful novel from talented debut author Jess Bright, zoologist Tom Moorhouse works more of his animal magic, a new Puppy Academy series gets off to a winning start and a cat heads off on a rescue mission.

Age 9 plus:

Sister, Sister by Jess Bright

Thirteen-year-old Willow thought she was just an ordinary girl… until her mum is forced to reveal a long-hidden secret that changes everything.

Jess Bright’s first novel, a funny, warm and honest story of family, friendship and facing up to your fears, packs a powerful emotional punch that is guaranteed to win the hearts and minds of her young readers.

Willow’s life has been turned upside down, inside out and totally shaken about. In the past week she has learned that her mum, who admittedly has been seriously weird for a few weeks now, has been keeping a mega secret for Willow’s whole lifetime.

It turns out that her dad is a famous novelist and Willow has a half-sister and half-brother. The other major revelation is that her half-sister Bella is seriously ill and her only chance of survival is to have a bone marrow transplant.

What’s scary for Willow is that she may be a suitable donor and Bella’s last chance to get better. So Willow is trying to pretend to everyone (and even herself) that she is OK with it all, but really, she doesn’t think that she is.

Is Willow brave enough to save the sister she’s never known and who doesn’t even seem to like her, and open up her world to a whole new family? The stakes are high but Willow will discover that, with the help of her friends, the rewards are even greater.

Bright, a born storyteller, uses a light, humorous touch, her natural sensitivity and a cast of very human and recognisable characters to explore the enduring bonds of family relationships and the importance of close friendships.

Difficult topics are approached with a refreshing frankness that will appeal to young readers, and there is a warmth and naturalness to both the portrayal of Willow and how her dilemma is resolved.

A beautiful and thought-provoking story…

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Rising by Tom Moorhouse

Last year, Oxford University zoologist Tom Moorhouse took the world of children’s books by storm with a stunning debut novel charting the trials and tribulations of a group of water voles.

The River Singers, a lyrical, emotion-packed story, paid homage to the fragile beauty of the natural world as well as delivering a thrilling adventure about a species of animal that is classed as seriously endangered.

And now the sequel has arrived, returning Moorhouse’s army of fans – young and old – to the banks of the mesmerising Great River and the vivid animal world where excitement and danger are only ever a heartbeat away.

An incredibly evocative and beautifully detailed gallery of black and white illustrations add life and vigour to Moorhouse’s gripping story which is punctuated by his trademark wry humour, timeless messages about the importance of family and friendship, and an almost ethereal portrayal of the countryside.

What started out as a ‘chilly splatter’ blown in on freshening breeze has become an endless deluge spreading across burrow walls, soaking bedding and turning floors to mud… the adult voles on the Wetted Land believe their river god Sinethis is ‘drinking from the sky.’

Youngsters Kale and Strife are excited by the unexpected arrival of their favourite uncle Sylvan but he has come to warn the vole family before it’s too late to escape.

Little do Kale and Strife realise it but soon they will be running for their lives as a new danger threatens to destroy everything and everyone they care about. They will need all their strength and courage to survive the journey into the unknown. But the shadows are full of enemies, and still more surprises lie in wait… will they ever make it back home again?

The Rising shows us nature in its stark ‘red in tooth and claw’ reality, a place where staying alive is a constant battle and where animals must work together to build homes, protect their young and evade their many predators.

But above all, it delivers a beautiful, uplifting story full of excitement, lyricism and peril, and allows children a glimpse of Britain’s amazing but ever-shrinking colony of water voles whose future survival constantly hangs in the balance.

An exceptional series from an exceptional author…

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5-7:

Puppy Academy: Scout and the Sausage Thief by Gill Lewis

Welcome to Sausage Dreams Puppy Academy where four hard-working dogs are getting ready to tell us their amazing stories.

This simply irresistible new Puppy Academy series, packed with fun and adventure, comes from the pen of Gill Lewis, a vet and animal lover turned children’s author who brings us stories based on her own experiences.

These gorgeous, collectable books, packed with Sarah Horne’s charismatic illustrations, feature the stories of four puppies training to be professional working dogs, including Scout, a German shepherd puppy training to be a police dog, sheepdog Star, water rescue Border collie Murphy and Pip the Labrador training to be a helper for a wheelchair-bound girl.

Lewis works her animal magic in these must-have reads for young animal lovers who will find the books easy to read, entertaining and brimming with fascinating facts about working dogs.

The next best thing to having a puppy of your own!

(OUP, paperback, £4.99)

Age 5-7:

Dr KittyCat is Ready to Rescue: Daisy the Kitten by Jane Clarke

They’re on the road again… the cat and mouse team for whom medicine is not just a game!

Jump on the ‘vanbulance’ and join Jane Clarke’s cool, calm, meowing medic Dr KittyCat and her trusty helper, Peanut the mouse, as they drive off on another mercy mission to rescue furry friends in need.

The popular Dr KittyCat series features simple medical dramas set in a community of cute animals and follows the medics’ adventures as they chase round the countryside to dispense help and advice.

In Daisy the Kitten the little animals are taking part in a bake-off when Daisy suddenly complains of a sore mouth and paws. Dr KittyCat and Peanut are there in a whisker and have to keep their cool to solve the problem of Daisy’s painful mouth. There’s a race against time to make Daisy better so that she can put the finishing touches to her cupcakes and be in with a chance of winning the competition.

Combining fun, familiar contexts, lovable characters, distinctive, two-tone illustrations which mix photography and hand-drawn elements and fascinating first aid facts, all verified by a qualified paramedic, these gentle, nurturing stories have instant appeal to little children who love animal stories.

Proof that learning can be fun!

(OUP, paperback, £4.99)