Book reviews: Strange creatures, thrilling fantasy and outdoor fun

The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens by Mark Salisbury
The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens by Mark Salisbury
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The sunshine has brought a new selection of glittering and exciting books to keep youngsters out of mischief this summer.

The sunshine has brought a new selection of glittering and exciting books to keep youngsters out of mischief this summer.

Go behind the scenes of the epic Star Wars films, enjoy outdoor fun and games with Winnie-the-Pooh, enter a world where the lines of reality are blurred by magic, and share some detective work with an enchanting Mistress of Disguise.

Age 8 plus:

The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens by Mark Salisbury

When the original Star Wars first appeared on the silver screen in 1977 it was unlike anything filmgoers had seen before…

With a truly epic story, unforgettable and dramatic music, and special effects that were out-of-this world, it was a groundbreaking and thrilling experience for stunned audiences across the world.

Now the secrets of the magic that brought the Star Wars saga to life is revealed in this equally epic and interactive book which goes behind the scenes of the biggest movie franchise of all time to see how favourite characters like Chewbacca, Yoda and Jabba and more were created from concept to screen.

The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens is an exciting, interactive reading adventure that tells the fascinating inside story of all ten Star Wars films, including the most recent, Solo: A Star Wars Story.

The super collectible book features 20 special interactive elements, including six-page mini booklets, accordion folds and intriguing flaps, all revealing the amazing production techniques behind the films. Marvel at concept sketches, moulds, digital imagery and discover the human forms lurking behind the costumes.

See the creatures and aliens from all ten Star Wars films, from A New Hope to Solo: A Star Wars Story, and watch how detailed sketches became lifelike creatures that breathe, ooze and roar.

Through diagrams and photographs, fans learn about the different kinds of effects, including puppetry and motion capture, which made alien beings seems as real as anything on Earth. And through the words of the creative, hardworking and inspirational production teams, learn how they made the impossible seem possible time and time again.

With interviews, an explanatory text, captions and amazing Force Facts, there could be no better gift book for young and old fans of Jedis, padawans, Ewok hunters, legendary Wookiees, secretive Shistavanens and aliens of any other Star Wars galaxy!

(Abrams Books for Young Readers, hardback, £21.99)

Age 13 plus:

My Box-Shaped Heart by Rachael Lucas

Two young people wading through tough domestic issues find first love in the most unexpected of places in a beautiful and tender novel from Southport author Rachael Lucas.

Lucas, who wrote the highly successful YA novel The State of Grace, has taken up her pen again for this moving and powerfully perceptive exploration of what it means to be a teenager living in a troubled home.

She tackles tough and difficult subjects like domestic abuse and mental health issues with the lightest of touches as we dive in at the deep end with Holly and Ed whose lives collide in a way they least expect when they both seek refuge from home at the local swimming baths.

Holly and Ed are the polar opposite of each other but what they don’t yet realise is that their lives have more in common than they had ever imagined.

Holly’s mum is a hoarder, and Holly is fed up with being picked on at school for being weird, having the wrong clothes and generally sticking out. All she wants is to be invisible. That’s why Holly loves swimming, because in the water everyone is the same.

Ed goes to the swimming pool because everything else in his life has changed. In his old life he had money, he was on the swim team, he knew who he was and he knew what he wanted. But in his old life, his dad hit his mum and now they live in a safe house for women who are victims of domestic violence.

Holly is swimming in one direction and Ed is swimming in the other. As their worlds collide, a tender love blossoms and they find a window into each other’s lives. And, just as importantly, they learn how to meet in the middle.

Romantic, emotional and with an exquisite young love at its centre, My Box-Shaped Heart is a tale of our times told with understanding, warmth and a life-affirming optimism that makes it a joy to read.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 14 plus:

The Family Tree by Mal Peet and Emma Shoard

When much-loved, award-winning writer Mal Peet died in 2015, he left behind a string of young adult fiction books, including Keeper, Tamar, and Exposure.

His novels were nominated for and won several awards including the Carnegie Medal, the Branford Boase Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. In 2017, his final novel Beck was nominated for the Carnegie Medal.

The Family Tree, his stunning, powerful and unforgettable novella exploring families, fathers and the fall-out from a marriage break-up, has been republished in a beautiful new edition illustrated in rising star Emma Shoard’s stunning painterly style.

When a man returns to his childhood home and visits the derelict tree house in which his father once chose to live, he recalls the past unravelling of his family, the unspoken strangeness of their lives, and the impact on his own adult life.

Published by Barrington Stoke in a format ideal for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers, this haunting, moving tale is written in incisive but elegant prose and highlights Peet’s gift for acutely observant storytelling.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Hippo at the End of the Hall by Helen Cooper

Get ready for witches, magical transformations, dreams, stuffed animals, fantasy and adventure in this stunning story from Cumbria born and raised Helen Cooper.

Filled with her own exquisite pencil drawings, The Hippo at the End of the Hall is Cooper’s debut novel. She is already the twice award-winning CLIP Kate Greenaway author and illustrator for two beautiful picture books, The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go To Bed and Pumpkin Soup.

The invitation was delivered by bees. It wasn’t addressed to anyone at all, but 11-year-old Ben knew it was for him. It would lead him to an old, shambolic museum, full of strange and bewitching creatures, a peculiar world of hidden mysteries and curious family secrets… and some really dangerous magic.

But most importantly, Ben discovers a connection to his lost explorer father and the family he never knew he had. And now he has something to fight for… the survival of the Gee museum, and the promise of finding out who he really is.

This is a true classic in the making, a gorgeously illustrated invitation into a charming – and exhilarating – world where the lines of reality are blurred by magic.

An enchanting and thrilling fantasy for all young adventure lovers!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Dork Diaries: Crush Catastrophe by Rachel Renée Russell

Nikki Maxwell, Queen of the Dorks, is back in the twelfth instalment of the blockbuster bestselling Dork Diaries series.

Nikki and her BFFs Zoey and Chloe are the giggling, gossiping stars of Rachel Renée Russell’s much-loved Dork Diaries series which chronicles the daily dramas of the 14-year-old’s life in (and outside!) school.

Russell, a US lawyer who prefers writing children’s books to legal briefs, also illustrates the fabulous Dork Diaries, filling Nikki’s entertaining meanderings with drawings, doodles and comic strips.

This perfectly pitched series was inspired by Russell’s own middle school experiences as well as those of her two daughters, Erin and Nikki. Elder daughter Erin helps with writing and Nikki helps with the illustrations.

In Nikki Maxwell’s newest diary, it’s the countdown to the end of the school year and Nikki is juggling some big questions about how she will spend her summer. She is also facing an unexpected crush catastrophe… there’s a new kid interested in Nikki but the last thing she wants to do is accidentally hurt Brandon. It all comes down to the very big decision Nikki has to make, and drama like she has never faced before!

Friendship, fun and boyfriend gossip… what more could a teenage girl want?

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Just Jack by Kate Scott

Fitting in at a new school isn’t easy… but when you have moved house five times in a few years, it’s even harder.

Since her popular and fun-filled Spies in Disguise children’s series, author and poet Kate Scott has set about writing winsome novels starring children facing problems ‘fitting in.’ And after the success of Giant, a refreshingly funny and honest story about a small boy in a family of very tall people, we meet Jack who tries hard to be what he isn’t.

‘Moving is what Mum and I do.’ Jack knows lots about starting a new school. Since Dad left, he and his mum have moved house five times. He also knows all about fitting in. The trick is to act exactly like everyone else and make sure no one ever notices him.

Jack is two people… the boy you see when he is outside his house, and the person he is when he is inside the house with his mum.

But it’s hard work constantly trying to be something he isn’t and Jack doesn’t have any good friends. That is, until Tyler comes along. Tyler is funny and different. He loves inventions and he might be the key to getting Jack to realise that although he is brilliant at pretending to be other people, the very best thing he can be is… just Jack.

There is such a genuine empathy and warmth in Scott’s writing that it is difficult not to fall for the wonderfully likeable and identifiable Jack whose defensive mechanisms hide a young boy hopelessly adrift after his parents split up.

Scott tackles difficult but important themes like divorce, self-identity, loneliness and struggling to fit in with gentleness, understanding and her trademark wry humour which transforms a sensitive story into a fun and entertaining tale of family and friendship.

With illustrations by Alex Gunn to bring Jack and Tyler’s adventures to life, this is a clever and tenderly told tale of growing up… and wising up.

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 8 plus:

Ade’s Amazing Ade-ventures: Battle of the Cyborg Cat by Ade Adepitan

Wheelchair basketball star, Paralympian and popular broadcaster Ade Adepitan turns author for this sparkling new adventure series which speaks volumes to a new generation of children.

Adepitan contracted polio as a child and lost the use of his left leg. After arriving in London from Nigeria in the Eighties when he was a young boy, he initially he found his new environment daunting and encountered some hurtful and cruel prejudice.

But despite being handicapped by an iron leg caliper, he quickly adapted and made friends, and together they formed the Parsons Road Gang. With friendship firmly at the heart of this all-action series, Ade learns that you can overcome all the obstacles thrown at you when you have good friends.

In this charming new series, he introduces us to the early years of his life in England and the warmth and solace he found in sharing, caring and playing with his gang of loyal friends.

Ade is the new kid on Parsons Road. He knows he should make an effort and make some friends but it’s not easy when you look different to everyone else and wear a leg caliper. It’s only when Ade sees off some bullies that Dexter, Brian and Shed realise who Ade really is… their new friend, part cyborg (‘a human with mechanical enhancements that give them super strength’), part footballing genius and all hero. Over the summer, the boys’ days are filled with adventure and laughter but the first day of school is not far away and things are about to change forever.

Filled with the lively black and white illustrations of David M.Buisán and with a quirky Eighties retro backdrop, this moving new series has heartwarming messages about the importance of friendship, acceptance and inclusion, and will delight all adventure-loving youngsters.

(Studio Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Bella’s Den by Berlie Doherty

Escape into an adventure set in the great outdoors in this beautiful, dyslexia-friendly book from award-winning author Berlie Doherty.

Bella has a secret, one that she is very good at keeping. That secret is a den hidden on a little muddy hill, a wild place amid the trees and nestled beside some foxes with a den of their own. But when the secret is betrayed, the foxes’ lives are put in danger… and so is a special friendship.

Beautifully illustrated by Ellie Snowdon and written by Doherty, an English novelist, poet, playwright and screenwriter, Bella’s Den is another super readable book from Barrington Stoke and ideal for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers.

Printed on heavy paper in two colours – black for the text and yellow Pantone® for the page background – this combination reduces the contrast between text and paper, and hides the ‘ghost’ of the words printed on the other side of the page. The book also uses a unique typeface that is more legible to dyslexics.

A touching and inspirational story of trust, loss and friendship, Bella’s Den is perfect for young explorers and any child who longs to find adventure in the great outdoors.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Ottoline and the Purple Fox by Chris Riddell

The ever-inventive author and illustrator Chris Riddell makes a welcome return with his quirky, inquisitive heroine Miss Ottoline Brown.

Ottoline, a Mistress of Disguise with a fine line in detective work, fun and dark humour, is making a comeback and her adventures just get better and better.

Ottoline lives in a stylish apartment in Big City with her partner in crime, Mr Munroe, a small, hairy creature that came from a bog in Norway. Together they look after the Brown family’s eclectic collection of oddments, and dabble in a spot of detective work. In fact, no puzzle or mystery is ever too tricky for the two of them to solve.

In Ottoline and the Purple Fox, the fourth book in this magical series, the intrepid sleuths meet an enigmatic and dashing purple fox who offers to take them on a night-time urban safari across Big City. The fox shows them all the hidden animals of the city and Ottoline is soon busy making notes on them in her field notebook. Mr Munroe, meanwhile, is making notes too… on the anonymous love poems he finds stuck to lamp-posts on their journey. Who is the secretive, melancholy poet, and how can Mr Munroe and Ottoline help mend his broken heart?

Full of Riddell’s richly detailed and intricate black and white illustrations, this heartwarming, comical story is a seductive blend of friendship, fun and imagination, and includes instructions on how to make a fancy-dress fortune teller out of paper.

A brilliantly imaginative and exciting book from start to finish!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Winnie-the-Pooh’s 50 things to do before you’re 5¾ by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard

Have you ever made mud pies, built a secret den, or built a nest for a bird family?

If you haven’t, you’re missing out on lots of fun! So why not join Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, Eeyore and their friends as they come up with 50 inspirational outdoor activities which they think everyone should enjoy before their sixth birthday.

Based on the books by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard, this exciting activity book is ideal for holiday time and the perfect way to encourage children to get into the great outdoors and start exploring.

The easy-to-use guide is packed with ideas, including arts and crafts, intriguing games and the possibility of creating your own adventures. Build your own den, make a worm farm, create a forest in a bottle and woodland crafts, host your own teddy bears’ picnic, and who could resist playing the classic game of Poohsticks?

There are helpful hints and spaces for your records and photographs, and activities range from the quick and simple to slightly more challenging adventures to share with adults and make the most of time spent together.

Brimming with Milne’s wit and warmth, and illustrated throughout with Shepard’s timeless drawings, Winnie-the-Pooh’s 50 things to do before you’re 5¾ offers the key messages from the original stories but with the added bonus of creativity, learning and friendship.

Whether you want to spot animal babies, make your own tree monster or simply gaze up at the stars, this inventive activity book is a breath of fresh air for all little outdoor adventurers.

(Egmont Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Creature Features by Natasha Durley

Animals come in all shapes and sizes… big and small, fast and slow, scaly and furry, stripy and spotty.

And here’s a bright and beautiful interactive board book to teach little ones the wonder of diversity in the animal world. Creature Features is packed with a menagerie of weird and wonderful creatures, all grouped by their unusual features, from bright beaks to long tongues and fantastic fur.

Animals are mostly grouped into big families, like birds which have feathers, and fish which swim in the water. But there are other ways of grouping them too… like big noses and giant antlers! Turn the pages of this gorgeously illustrated book to discover some of the surprising features linking animals from all round the world.

Vibrantly illustrated with both colour and texture by new talent Natasha Durley, this really is an animal book with a difference. From enormous ears to humongous horns, and from elephants to earwigs, this eclectic collection of animals celebrates the diversity of the animal kingdom. And with something to look for on every page, it’s guaranteed to inspire and fascinate young animal lovers.

Discover how having big eyes is helpful for seeing in the dark, how long noses and snouts are great for sniffing out smells, how big ears give animals sharp hearing, how tails help animals to balance, and long bendy necks are ideal for reaching food in high trees or on low ground.

Creature Features is a glorious riot of colour, creatures and amazing facts, all presented in a lively and eye-catching format that will have youngsters turning the pages in wonder and delight.

(Big Picture Press, board book, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

Gary’s Banana Drama by Jane Massey

Meet a big, hungry gorilla going completely bananas… for some bananas!

Author and illustrator Jane Massey moves into her best madcap mode for this comical and colourful picture book starring Gary the gorilla who sees bananas but finds he can’t eat any of them!

Gary is desperate for a banana and it’s driving him to a delightfully dizzy distraction. Could that be one singing in the tree? No, it’s just a bird’s beak. Is that a banana whizzing through the air? Ouch, no, it’s a boomerang from Billy’s show! Where are the real bananas? Alone and hungry, Gary is about to give up until… wait! Could it be… the biggest banana in the world?

Featuring banana dogs, banana moustaches, banana space rockets and an adorable, banana-mad gorilla, Massey’s vibrant, quirky and whimsical picture book will make children hoot with laughter and fall in love with the gormless Gary.

Massey uses an eye-catching palette of bright colours and a gallery of warm and witty illustrations as Gary and his mind-bending bananas steal the show. And there’s a fruity twist in the tail that will have little ones chuckling and chomping on their own bananas!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)