Book reviews: Usborne puts its own brand of magic into storytelling

As this year's National Storytelling Week looms large, children's publisher Usborne is putting the finishing touches to a sparkling collecting of tempting new books.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 20th January 2016, 10:00 am
Usborne puts its own brand of magic into storytelling
Usborne puts its own brand of magic into storytelling

From January 30 to February 6, the nation will celebrate the joys and rewards of reading, and reinforcing the message that children who read outside of class are 13 times more likely to read above the expected level for their age.

So enjoy Usborne’s fabulous compendium of magical ten-minute tales, take an unusual peep at Little Red Riding Hood, join in the fun with a madcap schoolgirl, marvel at the moving story of a girl and her dog, and meet a troubled teen with an identity crisis.

Age 4 plus:

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10 Ten-Minute Stories

Every child loves a bedtime story… but every parent knows that timing is crucial!A ten-minute tale is more than enough at the end of a busy day so Usborne has carefully selected this

beautiful treasury of short and enchanting bedtime stories, all perfectly timed to last no more than ten minutes.

Packed with favourites like Pinocchio, Dick Whittington and Beauty and the Beast, as well as less familiar folk tales from around the world, this beautifully produced and gorgeously illustrated book is destined to become a family favourite.

Meet The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in a magical tale that has been around for almost 2,000 years and enjoy Russian favourite The Firebird, a story that inspired a famous ballet by the composer Igor Stravinsky.

Youngsters can head for the ocean with Why the Sea is Salty, a fabulous fantasy based on a folk tale from Korea, and let their imaginations take flight with The Story of Pegasus, a retelling of the Ancient Greek legend in which Pegasus, an amazing winged horse, overcomes the evil Chimera.

The ten charming stories each have their own unique and lively illustrations and take just ten minutes to read so are ideal for dipping into at bedtime, after dinner or even in the morning before work and school.

And while children will love to listen to these stories being read aloud, they will also be able read them alone as they grow in confidence.

A world of adventure packed into ten minutes of storytelling…

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Peep Inside a Fairy Tale: Little Red Riding Hood by Anna Milbourne and Julia Sarda Portabella

Long before a child learns to read between the lines, here’s the perfect way to let them peep between the pages.

Usborne’s Peep Inside series has become a firm favourite with pre-schoolers and this exciting new story brings to life the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood.

Children can lift the flaps, peer through tiny cutaways and mysterious holes as they journey into the woods with Little Red Riding Hood. Look behind trees, watch Grandma’s cottage emerge with each turn of the page and open the door to get in. But don’t forget to keep an eye out for the Big Bad Wolf!

The delicate cutaways and holes are cleverly layered to create a magical filigree effect which draws youngsters into the woods, deep into the story and to the heart of an irresistible world just waiting to be explored.

With lavish illustrations and plenty to talk about, this ingenious peep inside fairy tale book guarantees storytelling magic… and all the fun of discovery for both children and parents.

(Usborne, board book, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Sticker Dolly Dressing Fashion Designer: London Collection by Fiona Watt and Stella Baggott

No fashion-loving youngster would want to be seen without Harper Beckham’s favourite book… a Sticker Dolly Dressing Fashion Designer collection!

Long before Victoria Beckham famously tweeted that these gorgeous fashion sticker books were a winner with her young daughter, sticker dolly dressing was a must-have accessory for budding fashionistas.

And the latest in this popular series, packed with over 350 reusable stickers inspired by iconic designs, takes its inspiration from London, one of the great fashion capitals of the world.

Using the vast array of stickers, including 150 to colour yourself, creative youngsters can research, plan and design their own fashion collections. There are plenty of hints and tips on how to choose colours, patterns and shapes that work together, and instructions on how to put together your own sketchbook.

Create exciting new outfits for the dolls as they visit London, dress them up for elegant garden parties, visits to Wimbledon and Kew Gardens, and a cycle ride beside the Thames.

From geometric Sixties prints and Eighties punk outfits to military styles and elegant frocks for a Leicester Square film première, there are scores of exciting clothes to choose from and big city sights to explore.

Fashion heaven for your own little Harpers!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Completely Cassidy: Drama Queen by Tamsyn Murray

She’s fun, frantic and totally fabulous! Welcome back to the madcap world of would-be celebrity and disaster-prone diva Cassidy Bond.

This super, sparkling series, ideal for girls wedged into the notoriously difficult ‘in-betweeny’ 10-14 age group, has caught the imaginations and tickled the funny bone of many a truculent early teen.

With its sprinkling of quirky but recognisable top ten lists, doodles, letters and emails, and lots of laugh-out-loud moments and excruciating escapades, there is plenty here to make Cassidy an irresistible heroine.

In Drama Queen, we find Cassidy chomping at the bit to enrol at the Eton Dorney Dance and Drama Academy summer school. She has always dreamed of discovering her hidden talent so could this be her big chance to prove she is a star in the making? But with auditions looming, Cassidy is gripped by stage fright and, as big brother Liam keeps reminding her, she does have a knack for embarrassing herself. What if Cassidy’s stage debut turns out to be an all-singing, all-dancing disaster?

Cassidy’s creator Tamsyn Murray, author of the supernatural young adult romance series My So-Called Afterlife, has her finger firmly on the pulse of teenage hopes and fears in these clever, comical and addictive stories.

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

How to Look for a Lost Dog by Ann M. Martin

Hands up those who know what a homonym is? Don’t worry if you have never heard the word before, but rest assured that you’ll fully understand its meaning by the close of this moving, thought-provoking and beautifully crafted novel.

A homonym is a word that sounds like another word, such as rain and rein, or weigh and way, and Ann M. Martin’s eleven-year-old narrator Rose loves them.

Rose also has a passion for rules and numbers, especially prime numbers, but she is often lonely and finds it difficult to communicate with her classmates at school.

Welcome to the confusing world of Rose Howard, an autistic youngster from New York State who struggles to make sense of the world until a stray dog brings new meaning to her life.

Her journey from lonely outsider to some form of understanding and self-recognition will capture the hearts of readers young and old.

Eleven-year-old Rose’s autism has left her unable to comprehend many of life’s unwritten social rules. She says what she sees and relies on her beloved word play to bring some much-needed fun and order into her dull days.

Her mother left years ago and her frequently unemployed, drunk and moody father can offer little in the way of stimulation for his daughter, but kind Uncle Weldon tries to fill the parental gaps.

When her father finds a stray Labrador-cross in a downpour, Rose calls him Rain and the dog becomes her best friend, her anchor in an alien world. But when Rain goes missing during a storm, Rose refuses to stop looking for him and uses her own mental compass to find him…

Rose’s first-person account of her relationship with Rain is told with the simple, straightforward honesty of a child on the autism spectrum, throwing up moments of unexpected humour and exquisite tenderness, and ensuring there won’t be a dry eye in the house when the last page has turned.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)


More of Me by Kathryn Evans

‘Hi, I’m Teva Webb, Freak of Nature… roughly every birthday, a new me forces its way out of the old one. I don’t know exactly how it works. I know it hurts.’

Steep yourself in the strange, unsettling mind of troubled teenager Teva, the brooding young star of an impressive and original debut teen novel from exciting writer Kathryn Evans who doubles as a Sussex fruit farmer.

This gripping, thought-provoking and seductively baffling thriller about identity, growing pains and acceptance is set to be the young adult must-read this year.

Imagine all your friends growing up, moving on, and you being stuck in one year of your life. Teva might seem normal to her friend and boyfriend but at home with her single mother, she hides an impossible secret… eleven other Tevas.

Because once a year, Teva splits into two, leaving a younger version of herself stuck at the same age, forced to watch the new Teva taking over her life. ‘Once it’s started,’ she tells us, ‘we pull apart like Velcro. That makes it sound easy. It’s not.’

But as her seventeenth birthday approaches, Teva has had enough. ‘I need to be ready to stop her. She’s not taking my life. She’s not.’ Teva is going to fight for her future, even if that means fighting herself…

Evans blends mystery, romance and a soupçon of sci-fi in this tense and extraordinarily clever story which speaks in often strange tongues about love, sacrifice, family, friendship and discovering who we really are.

A brilliant page-turner from a talented new writer…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)