Staying safe online, an island mystery and dinosaur danger by various authors – children’s book reviews -

Like a Girl by Rebecca Westcott: book reviewLike a Girl by Rebecca Westcott: book review
Like a Girl by Rebecca Westcott: book review
Meet a teenager finding it hard to fit in at school, set sail for some sea-soaked adventures, share fun with a 65million-year-old baby dinosaur, become well versed with a stunning collection of nature poems, and fall in love with a dog who looks after orphaned chimpanzees with a springtime selection of children’s books.

Age 10 plus:

Like a Girl

Rebecca Westcott

You can’t run and you can’t hide when you’re online... so where do you go? Rebecca Westcott, an author and a deputy head working with children and teenagers with autism and social, emotional and mental health problems, addresses some of the most pressing problems facing young people today in this powerful, honest and hard-hitting teen novel.

Like a Girl speaks loudly to teenagers about finding the courage to be yourself in the face of online and in-school peer pressure in this sharp and perceptive, and yet grippingly entertaining and moving story starring a fourteen-year-old who finds it hard to fit in at school.

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Eden McCoy is struggling at Woodford High. All she’s good at is running and she doesn’t even dare join the track team. Her priority is to stay in the shadows and avoid the Glossies, a ruthless clique of girls who use social media to punish and humiliate their targets, led by their queen Bea and her sidekick Mikki. But one day, Eden breaks her vow to stay unnoticed... she beats track star Mikki in a race. This bold move captures the attention of Bea who decides Eden needs to either prove her loyalty and become one of the Glossies... or suffer the consequences. And so The Testing begins. As Eden is challenged to play a cruel prank on another kid or have that same act inflicted on her, her will is pushed to the limit. The only thing keeping her afloat is an unexpected connection with a boy called Riley, a fellow runner who messages her online. But how deep does The Testing run? And how long until Eden breaks?

Inspired by research into real teen opinions about the risks and benefits of social media, Westcott explores the joy to be found in running, sports and exercise... as well as the rewards that come from a sense of community, real friendship and solidarity.

Through the medium of storytelling, readers observe the different ways that girls can be ‘put in boxes’ and the pressures placed on them to act in a way that society or their peers expect of them. Leavened by a touching mother-daughter relationship at its heart, Like a Girl also delivers an empowering message about being true to yourself and seeking true friends.

Top class teen reading...

(Scholastic, paperback, £8.99)

Age 9 plus:

Mysteries at Sea: The Royal Jewel Plot

A.M. Howell

Alice and Sonny investigate a stolen jewel in this instalment of the bestselling Mysteries at Sea series, from award-winning author A.M. Howell.

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It’s 1936 and Alice and Sonny, who are now part of the same family, are excited for their summer trip, sailing on the luxurious steam yacht, the Lady Rose. They’re even more excited when they find out the King of England is going to be on board too with his American friend Mrs Wallis Simpson! There’s also a precious jewel on the boat... a rare opal, kept in a tank protected by a poisonous octopus. Until one morning, Alice discovers that the opal and octopus are both missing. The search is on to retrieve the priceless gem, before the ship reaches its destination, and everyone on board finds themselves in serious trouble. As Alice and Sonny's investigations take them closer to the truth, they realise that everyone on the Lady Rose seems to have a secret, maybe even the King himself...

A mystery at sea, a race against time, and a plot involving the King of England make for a thrilling, sea-salted adventure on the ocean wave in the second book of twisting, turning and heart-pounding maritime series from one of middle-grade’s most exciting authors.

Inspired by her own childhood travels on the ocean waves, including crossing the equator, sailing the Atlantic several times, and inching through the Panama Canal, Howell sets sail in fine fashion with these gripping adventures which unravel mysteries aboard ships crossing the globe in the 1930s.

Set against the alluring backdrop of life at sea, and featuring real ships, historical figures and events, Howell brings the history of the period to vivid life in a wind-lashed story brimming with atmosphere, authentic detail and derring-do.

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With sparkling artwork by Marco Guadalupi, secrets and sabotage, a captivating cast of characters, and Howell’s gift for breathless, fast-paced action, youngsters will be looking forward to the final port of call for this dazzling nautical adventure series.

(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Island at the Edge of Night

Lucy Strange

Who doesn’t love a chilling, thrilling adventure, set on a remote, windswept island, and featuring a load of spooky secrets and menacing mysteries?

The Island at the Edge of Night is the stunning new action novel from highly-acclaimed, Waterstones Prize-shortlisted author Lucy Strange whose gift is to bring us gorgeous but gritty Gothic tales threaded through with magical realism, and fizzing with surprises and suspense.

In this stunning new adventure, inspired by the wild, otherworldly magic of the remote islands of Scotland, we meet Faye Fitzgerald who has been abandoned at a boarding school on a bleak, treeless and remote Scottish island. Faye soon discovers that she and the six other pupils are the first to attend Auk Island School and have been sent there for doing something wicked. It’s a desolate and battered place, seemingly at the world’s end, but what is it that Faye has done? She remembers so little of the night everything changed, the night that robbed her of being able to speak. Faye might be bold enough to explore the sinister mysteries of the prison-like island but has she the courage to face the secrets deep within herself?

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Strange is a master of atmospherics and this dazzling magical realist tale simmers and shimmers, and twists and turns against a truly spine-tingling and irresistible backdrop. With messages about family, friendship, love, facing your fears, and the healing power of nature, this green-themed odyssey is a must for middle-grade readers.

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Alex Neptune, Zombie Fighter

David Owen and George Ermos

Indiana Jones meets Pirates of the Caribbean in another ultimate treasure-hunting, puzzle-solving ocean adventure from David Owen, the exciting author whose YA debut novel, Panther, was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Zombie Fighter is the spooky new adventure in Owen’s thrilling, all-action and fun-filled Alex Neptune series which was inspired by his self-confessed love for nail-biting heists, fantastical monsters and heartfelt friendships. At its core is Alex, the boy born with the power of the ocean in his hands and here we find that a creepy fog has rolled into Haven Bay which leads to Alex, and his friends Zoey and Anil, being ambushed by terrifying crab-riding zombies. The zombies are controlled by the evil spirit of Brineblood the pirate and the only weapon that can stop Brineblood’s zombie army is a powerful trident... but it has been broken into three pieces. Alex, Zoey and Anil must enter three deadly worlds, which have been magically trapped in bottles to retrieve the hidden pieces, all before the zombies can catch them. But with some penguins, an octopus and a frozen dragon on their side, how can they go wrong? With the power of the sea at the centre of a fast-flowing story, the weirdest cast of characters this side of the tide, eco themes that speak as loudly as the crashing of the waves in Haven Bay and the fantastic illustrations of George Ermos, this sparkling maritime odyssey is must reading for all adventure lovers!

(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Me and Aaron Ramsey

Manon Steffan Ros

When an accident shatters a family’s footballing dreams, picking up the pieces proves to be harder than schoolboy Sam could ever have imagined. Welsh novelist, playwright and screenwriter, Manon Steffan Ros, Carnegie-winning author of The Blue Book of Nebo, pulls on our heartstrings again with this moving middle-grade story about family, misfortune and football. Sam and his dad both love football, which is always there for them however tough real life becomes. But when Dad’s dreams of football stardom go horribly wrong, Sam’s love for the Welsh footballing legend Aaron Ramsey becomes tangled with his troubled relationship with his father. With the one interest they share taken away from them, what will emerge from the complicated relationship between father and son? Ros’s insightful novel explores themes of family relationships, football, friendship, physical disability and illiteracy with warmth and understanding. An emotive story with hope at its heart.

(Firefly Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Mission: Microraptor

Philip Kavvadias and Euan Cook

What happens when you bring back a microraptor from extinction? The answer lies in this brilliantly funny new series from exciting debut author Philip Kavvadias who is not just passionate about getting kids reading, but actually knows how to do it!

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Billed as Jurassic Park meets Wimpy Kid, Mission: Microraptor is packed full of humour, action and adventure, and stars two twelve-year-old boys, a tiny flying dinosaur, and a seemingly mission impossible to keep her safe.

Falling behind their classmates on a school trip to the Alps, Finn and Milo stumble on an egg buried in ice. Later that night, they are amazed when it hatches and a 65million-year-old baby is born! Artemis (Arty) is a microraptor, a small, winged dinosaur brought back from extinction. She’s amazing, what could possibly go wrong? But keeping her safe proves hard because wicked scientists will do anything to get their hands on her, and soon Finn and Milo must run for their lives in a dark, mysterious forest and with a squad of army-trained mercenaries searching for them...

There are giggles and guffaws galore to enjoy from first page to last in this high-tech, fast-paced, eco-themed adventure which has a secret dinosaur at its heart, explores some real-life survival skills, and is brought to life by the atmospheric illustrations of Euan Cook.

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Outside In: Nature Poems

Daniel Thompson and Julia Murray

As Spring starts to finally spring, encourage your children to connect with the joys of nature and the great outdoors with this stunning collection of nature poems.

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Outside In: Nature Poems is written by poet, storyteller, film maker and musician, Daniel Thompson, author of Being You: Poems of Positivity which was the 2023 City Kids Green Awards Winner and selected for the Reading Agency’s 2023 summer reading challenge.

Thompson has been an Amazon bestseller in both humorous poetry for children and children’s philosophy, and is passionate about encouraging children to explore the philosophical principles behind self-belief and inner positivity.

This new warm-hearted and endearing collection of 50 poems aims to spark a love of nature, bring calm and happiness and let the outside in. Beautifully illustrated by New Zealand artist Julia Murray, the poems are ideal for children to read alone or enjoy with the whole family. And with enchanting verse about the seasons, senses, wildlife, weather and the joys of mud, it’s the perfect gift book for children to treasure.

(Collins, hardback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Jack-Jack, A Dog in Africa

Ben Garrod and Charli Vince

Enjoy a dog’s eye view of his amazing world in the first book of delightfully cute and funny new fiction series written by Ben Garrod, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Science Engagement at the University of East Anglia. Garrod was inspired to pen The Adventures of a Dog Called Jack-Jack after filming the hit BBC2 series, Baby Chimp Rescue in Africa, falling in love with Jack, and bringing him back to the UK where the two are now inseparable. So meet Jack-Jack who is not just any old dog... he’s the world’s coolest dog, looks after orphaned chimpanzees in Africa and he’s about to embark on his biggest adventure ever! Jack-Jack spends his days playing with baby chimps but when he meets Ben, he suddenly has more baths than ever (after previously none), waves goodbye to his pet fleas, and prepares to fly thousands of miles. I’ve never been on a lead or in a car, so what will an aeroplane be like? With the richly detailed and fun-filled black and white illustrations of Charli Vince on every page, Jack-Jack’s adventures as a snack-loving, exercise-shy hound like no other are set to win the hearts of all young (and old!) animal lovers!

(Zephyr, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Island Vet: Pirates and Sea Monsters

Gill Lewis and Irina Avgustinovich

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A new school and a new island home far away from the big city may sound daunting but when your mum’s a vet anything can happen! Acclaimed, award-winning children’s author and former vet Gill Lewis works her special brand of animal magic on the first book of an illustrated Island Vet series following Tia and her mum’s exciting new life on Gull Haven Island. Tia’s mum finds there are a lot of animals who need her help on the island and when she’s called away to help a sickly cow on a nearby island and gets trapped there in a storm, Tia has to step up and care for the animals staying in the surgery. It’s a big responsibility and then she has to deal with a mysterious creature that washes up on the shore after the storm. Their new life on the Haven Islands is clearly going to be full of adventures! Teamed with the beautifully emotive illustrations of Irina Avgustinovich, and published in Barrington Stoke’s trademark dyslexia-friendly format, this series is ideal for young animal lovers and is sure to delight readers of every age.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

Porky Pies

Ross Montgomery and Marisa Morea

The pig who cried wolf finally gets his comeuppance in a hilarious twist on two classic fairy tales from bestselling children’s author and master of comedy Ross Montgomery. Filled with Marisa Morea’s colourful and characterful illustrations, an addictive sense of fun, and messages about the consequences of getting caught in a lie, Porky Pies is the latest book in publisher Barrington Stoke’s super-readable Little Gems series which brings together leading authors and illustrators. Porky Pies is always telling lies, trying to terrify his brothers and sisters into believing that the Big Bad Wolf is back. But when the biggest fibber in the litter tries to plan his most daring prank yet, the joke is on him this time. So who will have the last laugh? This action-packed adventure, which delivers a witty and wonderful twist on The Three Little Pigs and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, includes some extra giggles inside the cover and comes with a host of clever design and finishing techniques, like dyslexia-friendly fonts, to create easy-to-read, first chapter books in a format ideal for little hands. A fun-filled escapade which – without needing to tell a lie – guarantees readers will have the last laugh!

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

A Midsummer Night’s Drama: A book at bedtime for little bards!

Louie Stowell and Isobel Lundie

Welcome to a drama like no other at The Glade Theatre... a special place where budding bards can hone their skills and discover that all the world’s a stage! A Midsummer Night’s Drama is the first picture book in a brilliantly creative Shakesbearean Tales series from the top team of children’s author Louie Stowell and talented illustrator Isobel Lundie. These charming books, based on Shakespeare’s plays, introduce a cast of lovable animal characters and offer an endearing introduction to the world of theatre. So meet star of the show Bill Bear who loves staging plays with his friends in their woodland theatre. Bill writes brilliant plays for The Glade Theatre and his latest play is a huge success, but then the problems start... Bill’s brain is so busy that he just can’t sleep! Can his animal friends come up with a plan to get him off to sleep? Stowell’s comical and clever story encapsulates the ups and downs of dealing with drama of every kind while Lundie’s atmospheric and richly detailed illustrations bring The Glade Theatre to life. Parents everywhere will recognise the drama of getting an over-excited little bear off to dreamland while the funny and reassuring story addresses some of the big emotions felt by little ones. The second act can’t come soon enough!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

High Top: Sole Mates

Tom Lacey

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Kids will be laughing their socks off when they get their hands on the new adventure in a simply shoeper comedy series! The High Top books are the brainchild of Tom Lacey, the pseudonym of a group of creative ‘sole’ mates who, between them, have written and illustrated numerous bestselling books on both sides of the Atlantic. So welcome to Shoe Town where the residents are all footloose, and meet High Top, the sneaker who is everybody’s friend. High Top just LOVES love and he knows how to show it... in increasingly creative ways! But when the irrepressible young sneaker embarks on a plan to ensure his friends are left in no doubt of his feelings for them, will the course of true love run smooth? Or will High Top be left with his laces in a knot? Giggles and guffaws are guaranteed as High Top’s hilarious antics land him in a knot with his footwear friends. With an irrepressibly energetic hero striding out on a series of madcap adventures, and a gallery of colourful shoes, pumps and boots keeping young readers on their toes, this series is destined to run and run!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Heavy Metal Badger

Duncan Beedie

Sometimes you just have to let the music out! Creative author and illustrator Duncan Beedie has fun with a rock-and-roll-loving badger in this strumming, thrumming, thumping good picture book which is alive with the sound of music. Badger is ready to ROCK! The music inside him is ready to burst out. He just needs to find a band. But a recorder class isn’t right and neither is the church choir. And as for the marching band, he has to beat a hasty retreat. Will Badger ever find his musical tribe? Maybe, just maybe, it’s been there all along! With Beedie’s funny and playful illustrations keeping perfectly in tune with the beat of his rhyming story, all the laugh-out-loud chaos to enjoy as Badger looks for a musical home, and tons of rock-themed references, puns and visual jokes, this empowering rock anthem is the perfect celebration of identity, self-expression... and the sheer joy of music!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Addie Ant Goes on an Adventure

Maren Morris, Karina Argow and Kelly Anne Dalton

Join an adventurous Ant as she leaves her cosy home in the Tomato Bed and steps out into the brave new world beyond the garden shed in a beautiful picture book that celebrates the glories of nature. Addie Ant Goes on an Adventure is co-authored by acclaimed US singer-songwriter Maren Morris and her best friend, former schoolteacher Karina Argow, and lavishly illustrated by Kelly Anne Dalton. Set in a vast and magical garden full of insect friends, vegetables, blooming flowers and the abundance of nature, this delightful story charts one little ant’s journey for independence and all the while learning when to ask for help. Addie Ant travels from one garden bed to another on her first solo adventure. But as she forges her own path, she gets lost along the way and finds help and advice from her trusted garden pals, Lewis Ladybug, Beatrix Butterfly, and Cleo Cricket, in finding her way back home. A visual and verbal celebration of friendship, this imaginative and entertaining book is a stunning collaboration between Morris and Argow, combining clever wordplay alongside themes of independence, friendship and inclusivity, and all brought to life by Dalton’s enchanting, full-colour illustrations. A dazzling book that does exactly what the authors aimed for... instils in children ‘a deep love for the world around them.’

(Chronicle Books, hardback, £13.99)

Age 2 plus:

How Many Dinosaurs is Too Many?

Lou Peacock and Nicola Slater

‘One day, I got a dinosaur, but very soon I knew one dinosaur was not enough and so I wanted... two!’ Meet a riotous bunch of cheeky dinosaurs in an adorable cautionary tale about friendship, fun and counting to ten! Author Lou Peacock and illustrator Nicola Slater work their special magic on this colourful and comical picture book which comes with a jaunty rhyming text and bright, stylish artwork full of zingy neon detail. When a dinosaur comes to play, you’re sure to have lots of fun. But wouldn’t 2...3...4 ...or even 10 dinosaurs be better still? Or would they be too big, too messy and just a little bit too naughty? Perhaps one very special dinosaur is just perfect after all! Little ones will love watching the increasing chaos as each favourite dinosaur joins the party and with giggles galore guaranteed right through to the last page, and a free Stories Aloud QR code audio recording to enjoy, this is a dinosaur get-together your youngsters won’t want to miss!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Jane Foster’s I Love Yellow

Jane Foster

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I love yellow! Yellow is the best! I have yellow shorts and a matching yellow vest! Add colour to your child’s life – and maybe even your own! – with this stylish and humorous board book celebration of all things yellow. Perfect for teaching little ones about colours, I Love Yellow is the creation of acclaimed artist and leading textile designer Jane Foster and with a rhyming text, adorable characters and sunshine-bright artwork, this eye-catching book is guaranteed to appeal to readers of all ages... whatever their favourite colour. Early learning fun that is perfect for sharing, and a stylish alternative to traditional first board books.

(Templar Publishing, board book, £7.99)

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