Survival skills, engineering superheroes and a wartime mystery by various authors – children’s book reviews -

Ultimate Survival Handbook by Andy McNabUltimate Survival Handbook by Andy McNab
Ultimate Survival Handbook by Andy McNab
Learn how to stay safe in the modern world, discover why engineers are superheroes, join youngsters on the trail of secrets and spies at wartime Bletchley Park, take time out for a chat with the infamous pirate Blackbeard, saddle up for an adventure with a girl and her pony, and discover how to help endangered dolphins with a super springtime selection of children’s books

Age 8 plus:

Ultimate Survival Handbook

Andy McNab

Staying safe in the modern world has never been so important so dive into this smart and savvy children’s survival guide from world-famous ex-SAS author Andy McNab.

As a member of 22 SAS, McNab was at the centre of covert operations across five continents for nine years and was awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal during his military career, and has since become one of the world’s best-selling writers.

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Using his vast experience and wisdom, McNab brings a 360-degree emphasis on survival in three key environments for today’s young readers... crucial skills for the wild, staying safe in the urban world, and protecting your online identity.

Find out the best way to set up a camp, safely start a campfire, find your bearings, search for food and water and stay safe in the great outdoors. There are also important basics for camping and hiking, and readers will discover what to do about more unusual events... including escaping quicksand, tsunamis and wild animal attacks.

In the guide to urban survival, learn how to stay safe in the city, avoid stranger danger, keep clear of crowd crush at a big event, find your way around any urban environment, seek help if you get stuck in a lift, and how to manage any emergency.

With years of military-grade security experience, McNab is also perfectly placed to give crucial tips on staying safe online. Discover how to make an unbreakable password, how to hide your identity from trolls and scammers, and how to banish cyber-bullies.

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Having survived the world’s most gruelling situations, Mc Nab’s invaluable book delivers hard-won advice in clear and simple language, with lots of practical tips, visual references and anecdotes from his own survival experience.

So if you want to be ready for the outdoors, street-smart in the city, and safe online, this fun, simple and authentic real-world survival guide has everything you need!

(Welbeck Children’s Books, Flexibound, £12.99)

Age 12 plus:

Engineers Making a Difference

Dr Shini Somara, Manuel Šumberac and Adam Allsuch Boardman

If you thought being an engineer was simply solving some important contemporary challenges, think again because it turns out they’re actually SUPERHEROES!

In an inspirational collaboration between What on Earth Publishing, Imperial College London, and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, youngsters are gifted an exciting introduction to engineering which showcases forty-six diverse, creative and extraordinary engineers who are actively helping to change our world.

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Two free copies of this extraordinary book – superbly illustrated by Manuel Šumberac and Adam Allsuch Boardman – will be sent to every secondary school in the UK as part of a kit which includes a teacher’s guide, twelve posters covering a hot topic from each chapter, and a full-length laminated timeline.

Written by mechanical engineer and leading broadcaster Dr Shini Somara, who is passionate about making science and technology accessible to all, the fully illustrated book – aimed at 12 to 15-year-olds who are considering their future educational and career choices – comprises role model profiles from across the engineering industry, with chapters ranging from the environment to robots, and from communications to entertainment.

These real-life engineers are using their problem-solving skills on everything from protecting the planet, creating clean energy, designing prosthetic limbs and eliminating food shortages to programming AI and exploring the surface of Mars.

Meet an eclectic cross-section of engineers such as space physicist Professor Michele Dougherty from Imperial College, Pierre Paslier, the co-founder and co-CEO of the sustainable packaging startup Notpla, Jamie Pinnel, a technician working at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research and rollercoaster designer Michelle Hicks.

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From apprentices and lab technicians to university professors and start-up CEOs, discover the broad ranging possibilities of engineering jobs, what problems these engineers are solving and why they love their jobs... and find out if you want to join them in their desire to change the world for the better.

(What on Earth Books, hardback, £16.99)

Age 9 plus:

I, Spy: A Bletchley Park Mystery

Rhian Tracey

It’s wartime, there’s an enemy operating undercover, and it’s up to three intrepid youngsters to solve a perilous mystery!

Inspired by trips to Bletchley Park – one of the most secret places in Britain during the Second World War – and her own family’s link to the code-breaking centre, Welsh author Rhian Tracey brings us a ripping yarn of secrets, spies and subterfuge.

I, Spy: A Bletchley Park Mystery is based on true events and explores not just the nationally important work of the Bletchley Park staff but how three plucky youngsters form close friendships during the adversities of wartime and dare to dig deep to unearth a plot that puts the country in deadly danger.

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Twelve-year-old Robyn has grown up in Bletchley Park where her father works as a driver. When she's not at school, there's nothing she likes more than helping her dad in the garages. Then the war begins in September of 1939 and everything at Bletchley changes for Robyn... no more climbing trees and no more swimming in the lake. She’s stuck in a place full of grown-ups and rules and secrets.

But then Robyn is assigned to help with the carrier pigeons that take messages to the Allies. It means she must sign the Official Secrets Act and is ordered not to leave the grounds of the park. While Bletchley is buzzing with people recruited for the war effort and all eyes are on the skies, Robyn becomes convinced that there’s something sinister going on within Bletchley Park itself. Together with her friends Mary and Ned, Robyn resolves to uncover the enemy in their midst...

Packed with intrigue, mystery, excitement and a host of feathered friends, this heartwarming and inspirational story packs a real punch as the children embark on a race against time to track down an elusive traitor.

Add on the dramatic and authentic wartime backdrop, some clever red herrings and an old-fashioned, addictive sense of adventure and you have the perfect history/mystery for young thrill-seekers!

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere

Jaclyn Moriarty and Karl James Mountford

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The Aussie queen of fantasy novels Jaclyn Moriarty is back to cast a spell with another thrilling tale of friendship, magic and dastardly dangers!

The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere is the fourth whimsical and witty middle-grade novel from Moriarty and illustrator Karl James Mountford in their highly acclaimed Bronte Mettlestone series.

In another mesmerising blend of fun and fast-paced adventure, Moriarty gives readers a fresh perspective on her richly imagined fantasy land through the eyes of new character Oscar Banetti who is just skipping school and hanging out at the local skate park on Monday morning when he suddenly finds himself transported into a very different world where witches and water sprites really exist and there are no aeroplanes, Netflix or even pizza. In the company of Bronte Mettlestone, her cousins Imogen and Esther Mettlestone-Staranise, and their pirate-cum-prince friend Alejandro, ordinary Oscar finds himself on a quest to locate nine separate pieces of a key, held by nine separate people, in order to unlock a complicated spell that has trapped the Elven city of Dun-sorey-lo-vay-lo-hey. If they don’t succeed in their quest, on Friday at noon the spell becomes permanent, the Elves will be crushed to death and Oscar will be trapped in this magical world forever.

Moriarty’s vivid imagination and storytelling skills unleash a thrilling and epic adventure as we follow the quest to find the nine keys, share a breathtaking adventure full of cryptic challenges, and a witness a battle to the very end.

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Add on an addictive brand of wickedly clever wordplay, the welcome reappearance of the irrepressible Mettlestone clan, and the stage is set for another outrageously entertaining performance!

(Guppy Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Weather Weaver: Winter’s Keep

Tamsin Mori

Imagine having a cloud for a friend and being able to choose the weather… would it bring sunshine-filled happiness, or storms of darkness and discontent? Always at ease in the stunning scenery of her mother’s Shetland homeland, where she whispered spells into sea shells and sang to the selkies, author Tamsin Mori has harnessed the islands’ fabulous myths and legends for this mesmerising Weather Weaver debut series filled with magic, danger… and weather of every kind. These thrilling, original and action-packed adventures celebrate the rich, mysterious and unpredictable moods of the elements whilst gently exploring universal themes like gaining independence, the meaning of home, handling grief, and discovering the fallibility of adults. Taking centre stage is Stella who grew up on a tiny Shetland island but left five years ago and has now returned to stay with her widowed Grandpa. When she first arrived, Stella felt lonely but then she met an old woman named Tamar, a Weather Weaver who can spin rainbows and call hurricanes. And now, with the help of Nimbus, a feisty young storm cloud, Stella is learning the craft of weather weaving. In this third adventure, we find that with Velda overthrown and the Storm Laws abolished, hundreds of young Storm Weavers are set to be reunited with their stolen clouds. The very first cloud taken belonged to Tamar’s last apprentice, the sea witch, and when Heather returns, seeking to lay the past to rest, the first person she turns to is Stella. But how far can you trust a sea witch? Is she seeking redemption, or plotting her final revenge? With the Teran rising from the deep and the island in his icy grip, Stella and her friends will have to fight to save weather as we know it. Drawing on the elements, island myths, and the natural world, A Gathering Storm is an enchanting and inspirational tale which blends the thrills and spills of magic with a beautifully portrayed and authentic young girl who is firmly rooted in reality. Add on the wild beauty of Shetland and some fascinating insights into weather systems, and you have a wonderful, windblown reminder that looking for the end of the rainbow isn’t always an impossible dream!

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Interview with Blackbeard & Other Vicious Villains

Andy Seed and Gareth Conway

Just imagine if you could go back in time and talk to plundering pirates and famous villains from the past... what would you ask? Blue Peter Award-winning author Andy Seed and illustrator Gareth Conway have fun with their entertaining history series which features ‘interviews’ with ten big names from the past. So join former teacher Seed on his amazing time-travelling machine as he interviews ten famous villains who take a quick break from dastardly deeds to answer all sorts of (very nosy) questions about their actions and unique perspectives. Get to know villains like the pirate Blackbeard, Ivan the Terrible, Gunpowder Plot conspirator Guy Fawkes, Vlad the Impaler, highwayman Ned Kelly and the Roman Emperor Nero. Are these villains as wicked as we’ve been led to believe, and will intrepid Andy make it out alive? Discover the good, the bad, and the unexpected as each baddie reveals the truth about their lives... and attempts to find out about the future! This super, fun and fact-filled book offers a bite-sized text in a question-and-answer format and is paired with Conway’s lively and entertaining illustrations, perfect for reluctant readers and comedy-seeking history fans. With bonus facts about key events in each ruler’s life, and a fun quiz at the end, the book is ideal for Horrible Histories fans… and any reader who enjoys a fresh and captivating take on historical figures from across the world.

(Welbeck Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Meg and Merlin

Tanya Landman and Sònia Albert

Saddle up for an action-packed new instalment of award-winning author Tanya Landman’s captivating Meg and Merlin series which is proving a dream read for pony lovers. Packed with action, fun and friendships, these warmhearted stories celebrate the close bond between horse and rider, and this gripping new adventure will have youngsters cantering through the pages. Meg and her new friend Sam Houseman meet up to take out their ponies, Merlin and Alfred, but after a long picnic ride and a lovely day in the countryside, Meg takes a wrong turn and gets lost while making her way home. And things take a dangerous turn when Merlin gets spooked and takes off, galloping straight towards the deadly danger of a main road... can Meg get him back under control before disaster strikes? Brought to life by the lively illustrations of Sònia Albert, and published in Barrington Stoke’s trademark dyslexia-friendly format, this drama-filled adventure about a ride that spirals out of control is a sure-fire winner for young readers.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

Can We Really help the Dolphins?

Katie Daynes and Róisín Hahessy

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The wonders of the oceans – and the threats that they face – spring to colourful and inspirational life in a charming new book in Usborne Publishing’s resonant Can we really help… series.

Can We Really help the Dolphins? is the fourth title and offers young readers a positive and empowering introduction to protecting our seas... and the creatures that live in them. It has been written by non-fiction author Katie Daynes who thinks the best thing we can do is encourage children to play their own part in protecting their future from climate change.

Brought to life by Róisín Hahessy’s beautiful illustrations and lovable characters, children learn about the many important roles our seas and oceans play, and the practical and helpful solutions available for positive action to help stop climate change.

With a cast of children taking starring roles, the story reveals how a message in a bottle turns a seaside holiday into a worldwide campaign to save the ocean. The sea creatures are having a rough ride at the moment, navigating plastic litter, chemical spills, warming oceans and fishing supertrawlers. The dolphins, turtles, penguins and other creatures share their predicament with six sparky, beach-loving children... and together they make an exciting plan to save the world's seas and oceans.

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Young readers cannot help but be inspired and energised when they discover what’s really going on under the sea, and are empowered to play a small but important part in helping sea creatures and shaping the future.

(Usborne Publishing, hardback, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

Call the Puffins

Cath Howe and Ella Okstad

When a rescue is needed, call in team puffin! Author, teacher and self-confessed puffin enthusiast Cath Howe works her word magic on the first book of a sparkling new series starring a stellar group of young puffins in training for a search and rescue team. So head off to the island of Egg where a brave and bold puffin rescue team are in training. The puffins must work together to rescue birds and eggs wherever they are in danger. Eager to get started are Muffin, who is following in her dad’s footsteps and anxious not to let him down, Tiny whose eyesight is a challenge but is determined it won’t stop him for long, and Forti who seems so over-confident but is really desperate to impress. Along with their fellow recruits, these plucky and unflappable little puffins must work together to help all the birds on the island! Brought to life by the enchanting artwork of illustrator Ella Okstad, this gorgeous new series celebrates teamwork, belonging and resilience as the new puffin team get in the swim for their exciting rescue roles. Add on an irresistible helping of fluttery fun and mischief and youngsters are in for the perfect puffin fest!

(Welbeck Flame, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Madeline Finn and the Rescue Dog

Lisa Papp

The healing power of books, and the joys of shared reading, are guaranteed to tug at everyone’s heartstrings in a beautiful and inspirational picture book from American author and illustrator Lisa Papp. Madeline Finn and the Rescue Dog is the follow-up to the much-loved Madeline Finn and the Library Dog and both books were inspired by the Read-to-Dogs programme at Papp’s local library where she spent the better part of a year following the wonderful dogs and their dedicated owners. And in this new adventure, we join Madeline Finn who has lots of responsibilities with her new adopted puppy Star. She has to walk and feed him, and make sure he has a safe place to sleep. But, she learns, the most important thing is love. So when Madeline visits an animal shelter, she has lots of questions about the dogs who live there. Do they get to play outside? Do they get to sleep under blankets? Does anyone read to them? Does anyone tell them they love them? Madeline is determined to help the shelter dogs but can she find a way to make each one of them feel special? With the help of some friends and a few good books, she just may discover that even small people can make a big difference. Love and caring shine out from every page of this adorable and gentle story which comes with a gallery of Papp’s soft focus illustrations in a palette of exquisite, retro-style watercolour tones.

(Old Barn Books, paperback, £8.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Big Bad Bug

Kate Read

A greedy bug with a penchant for bullying gets his comeuppance in a big, bold and beautiful picture book from talented author and illustrator Kate Read whose debut, One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller, won both awards and plaudits. Read, who paints, dyes, prints, draws on and cuts up paper to create collage illustrations, has fun with a magnificent minibeast mini-drama in which little ones enjoy a richly colourful bug’s eye view of the world. The Big Bad Bug, a self-proclaimed ‘very rare species’ is used to getting his own way, but claiming a giant berry all for himself is a step too far. Will he ever learn to share, and mend his bullying ways? From the bottom of the garden to the inside of a jar of blackberries, this picture perfect story about a self-important beetle is a humorous reminder for young children that you can’t always get your own way, and that kindness and community are worth far more than selfishness and bullying. Bursting with Read’s richly detailed illustrations in a palette of rich and vibrant colours, and all accompanied by gentle, life-enhancing messages, this is a story to share and enjoy.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

All the Wonderful Ways to Read

Laura Baker and Sandra de la Prada

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If you want to discover the transporting wonders of reading, take a thrilling, rollercoaster journey through the pages of an inspirational picture book! The perfectly titled All the Wonderful Ways to Read is a joyful rhyming romp which opens up a whole world of books and encourages youngsters to read whatever, however and wherever they choose. ‘Books take us on journeys that we can all share, And give us the power to go anywhere! So no matter just how, or what book, or your speed, what I wish for NOW.... is that YOU love to read!’ Fly to the moon, sail out to sea, sneak into dragon worlds, laugh, gasp, cheer and read stories that you wish could go on forever. Carefully and imaginatively written by Laura Baker and illustrated with warmth and wit by Sandra de la Prada, the book is a glorious celebration of reading in all its forms... ideal as inspiration for reluctant readers and a joy for little bookworms.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Radzi’s Move Like a Cub

Radzi Chinyanganya and Aimee Wright

Well-known children’s TV presenter and TikTok sensation Radzi Chinyanganya gets kids rolling, waddling, prowling and swinging in a colourful board book full of fun, action and extra cute baby animals! Radzi’s Move Like a Cub is the perfect pre-school introduction to the joys of moving as little ones are invited to copy their favourite baby animals. From puppies and kittens to baby elephants and lion cubs, this eye-catching book includes a range of simple animal movements carefully selected to engage, energise, and then relax little ones. And as they learn to move like animals, children develop important early learning skills and have fun naming the animals and objects that go with each movement. Aimee Wright’s adorable illustrations bring the baby animals to life and the simple text helps to broaden their vocabulary. Created in a sturdy board format, the book is tailor-made for little children to enjoy with parents, or hold by themselves, and as getting moving has many health benefits, such as balance, co-ordination and mindfulness, this feast of fun and action is a must for your own little cubs!

(DK, board book, £7.99)

Age plus:

Meet the Weather

Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin

Head for the skies and prepare for all weathers with an exciting, multi-coloured and action-packed picture book from the top team that brought us the acclaimed Meet the Planets and Meet the Oceans. Join in the fun of an exciting hot-air balloon adventure with Caryl Hart’s romping rhyme and the gorgeous, eye-catching neon illustrations of Bethan Woollvin, and get ready to meet everything from whooshing wind and feathery, fluffy snow to bright rainbows and shimmering sunshine. Little ones will love being swept away into the adventures of a girl and her dog as they say hello to all the different kinds of weather that make up our amazing world. Visit rainy rainforests, snowy mountains and stormy seas, and enjoy the ride as science learning blends perfectly with Hart’s rhyming story and Woollvin’s brightly coloured and high-energy artwork. So what are you waiting for? 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... come rain or shine, let’s take off on an unforgettable journey!

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age six months plus:

Don't Tickle the Gorilla!

Sam Taplin and Ana Martin Larranaga

Don’t tickle the gorilla... because it might roar if you do! Little ones will be well and truly tickled when they get their hands on this fabulously fun and ‘feely’ sound book. There’s a gigglesome gorilla, a squawky crane, a grunting hog and a squeaky mongoose just waiting to entertain when toddlers give them a tickle! Tiny tots will love pressing the fluffy, touchy-feely patches to hear the different animal sounds in this delightful novelty board book. At the end of the story, all the animals get noisy at the same time in a musical finale guaranteed to get everyone dancing. With Sam Taplin’s fun narrative and the wonderfully vivid artwork of Ana Martin Larranaga bringing the animals to life, expect loads of laughs and tons of touchy-feely, singalong encores! Perfect for babies’ tummy time, sensory play, or simply snuggling up at story time.

(Usborne, board book, £12.99)