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Digging for dinosaurs, a wolf in the city and funny name games - book reviews

The Great Sea Dragon Discovery by Pippa Goodhart
The Great Sea Dragon Discovery by Pippa Goodhart
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As the long school holidays stretch ahead, take time out with some brilliant summer reads to keep the kids out of trouble.

Meet a boy who discovers an amazing sea dragon, a quirky grandma with a parrot on her head, a tongue-twisting Tasselled Wobbegong (yes, really!) and a naughty skunk with a bottom that’s dangerously toxic.

Age 9 plus:

The Great Sea Dragon Discovery by Pippa Goodhart

Real history is the inspiration behind a thrilling new adventure story set in the turbulent era when the world was coming to terms with the concept of evolution.

Pippa Goodhart, author of over thirty children’s books including the Winnie the Witch young fiction series, brings to life a pivotal moment in history when Charles Darwin’s theories and the discovery of dinosaurs challenged everyone’s long-held beliefs.

Ideal for youngsters fascinated by natural history and inspired by real people, including Mary Anning, the famous English fossil hunter, The Great Sea Dragon Discovery is a fun companion to subjects covered in school and will add extra spark to visits to natural history museums.

Readers are transported back to Cambridge in 1860 where we meet the curious young Bill Ellwood who is forever asking questions… much to the annoyance of his teacher, Miss Snelling, who likes to drone on like a trapped bluebottle.

Would a plant drink ink as happily as it would drink water? Is there anything that eats a cat? How do spiders know how to make such a perfect sticky net for catching flies?

Bill’s head is full of questions and it always seems to get him into trouble, especially when one of his experiments causes his father to lose his job. Determined to do the right thing and help his family through a difficult time, Bill gets a bit of money for his family selling interesting fossils he has found at the local coprolite dig.

But the money is not much until someone else needs his help… and fast. Now it just so happens that Bill has discovered something – a gigantic fossilised sea dragon hidden underground! Bill and his friend Alf think this amazing fossil could change their lives forever but for the rest of the world, it is something that questions everything.

Can Bill finally prove himself and make everything right?

The Great Sea Dragon Discovery is a compelling story that intersects with the real events of the time when dinosaur fossils were being unearthed.

Packed with daring exploits, fascinating dinosaur facts and featuring a captivating cast which includes real people who lived in this part of Cambridgeshire in the mid-19th century, The Great Sea Dragon Discovery is the perfect way to make history entertaining whilst delivering an exhilarating adventure story.

(Catnip Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Grandpa Bert and the Ghost Snatchers by Malorie Blackman and Melanie Demmer

Former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman has added her name to the list of top-notch authors penning brilliant stories for Barrington Stoke’s much-loved Little Gems series which goes from strength to strength.

The books bring together leading authors and illustrators, and a host of clever design and finishing techniques, to create super readable books in a chunky format ideal for little hands, and with some extra reading, jokes and activity fun hiding inside the jacket flaps.

And there is plenty of spooky fun to enjoy as Blackman introduces us to the wonderfully extrovert Grandma Gertie. Gertie really is rather strange and Anna and Kasper aren’t too happy that she is coming to stay. With her big square glasses and a parrot on her hat, Anna and Kasper don’t know what to make of her. But Grandma has got an exciting secret... Grandpa Bert is a ghost and he has travelled all the way from Barbados squashed inside her handbag! But unfortunately, they are being followed by Ghost Snatchers and Grandpa Bert could be in very grave danger. Can Anna, Kasper and Grandma Gertie keep Grandpa Bertie safe at all costs? It’s time to put a stop to these crooks before it’s too late!

Grandpa Bert and the Ghost Snatchers is the perfect first chapter book for new or struggling readers with a super readable and entertaining story filled with Melanie Demmer’s vibrant illustrations and surprises hidden inside the flaps.

Giggles galore guaranteed with these ghostly goings-on!

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Run Wild by Gill Lewis

And making her debut with Barrington Stoke is award-winning author Gill Lewis whose work as a vet has inspired a string of acclaimed books focused on the natural world, including Sky Hawk and Gorilla Dawn.

Run Wild – in which she reclaims nature in an inner city environment – has been specially created in a super readable format 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 dyslexia-friendly method reduces the contrast between text and paper.

And the story is stunning… it’s a thought-provoking tale about the joys of friendship and of the wild that hides within us all, and a celebration of the unique bond between children and nature.

Izzy and Asha live in the middle of London and they need a space to call their own where they can practise their skateboarding away from the Skull brothers, Luke and Scott, who have been labelled ‘trouble’ by everyone.

Izzy also wants to escape from unhappiness at home since Dad lost his job six months ago. The derelict gasworks which used to burn coal would seem to be the perfect place to practice but when they sneak inside to stake their claim, they find it already belongs to something else – a wilderness.

And in that wilderness are other things they never expected to find… a cormorant, and an injured wolf that desperately needs their help. Can they reconnect to the wild and save the wolf, or is their pack too weak to fight much stronger powers?

This is a thrilling outdoor adventure centred firmly in the middle of the city, a story that reminds us all of the joys of running wild in the woods and connecting with nature wherever we live. ‘We only need to look to find it.’

Working in conjunction with the charity, Rewilding Britain, Barrington Stoke are running discussion guides and events in the autumn to reinforce the important messages hidden between the pages of Run Wild.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

You’re Called What? by Kes Gray and Nikki Dyson

A Bone-Eating Snot Flower Worm… now there’s a name to conjure with!

And that is just what the master of comedy and tongue-twisting titan, Kes Gray, does with a parade of the funniest, most outrageous and most hilarious real-life creatures in a new picture book that by any other name would still sound very, very silly.

Little ones (and their parents!) will be laughing out loud as they meet the outlandish cast of characters in Kes Gray and top-class illustrator Nikki Dyson’s eye-catching romp starring real animals with very unusual names.

It’s just an ordinary day in the Ministry of Silly Animal Names office where all of their clients have one thing in common… they all desperately want to change their names. Waiting in line, this parade of delightfully bizarre creatures have nothing to do but bemoan their unfortunate names until they meet other creatures whose names are even sillier than theirs.

From the Blue-Footed Booby and the Fried Egg Jellyfish to the Tasselled Wobbegong and the Monkeyface Prickleback, all the family will delight at the line-up of brilliantly offbeat real-life animals which each take a turn at the name-changing counter.

Kes Gray, a bestselling and award-winning author, is on rip-roaring form in this original and immensely clever story which celebrates words in the most entertaining way and is brought to vivid life by the charming and witty illustrations of dazzling new talent, Nikki Dyson.

And at the back of the book are even some photos and facts about the weird and wonderful creatures featured in the story because some of them really do sound too weird to be true!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Night Watch Ninjas by Lily Roscoe and Lisa and Damien Barlow

A bottom of toxic destruction! Little ones certainly won’t be turning their noses up when they get on the scent of this hilariously mischievous new picture book from author Lily Roscoe and husband and wife illustration team Lisa and Damien Barlow.

Words and pictures combine in a glorious riot of naughty fun, colourful characters and gales of laughter as we join a shift with the night watch ninjas, the brave gang that keeps your towns safe from evil night-time mischief.

Their most wanted is Stinker the Stink-Meister Smellykins Skunk… he might look cute but underneath his bushy tail is the bottom of toxic destruction! When the ninjas’ midnight snack is interrupted by some shocking news that the Stink-Meister has escaped from prison, they don’t hang about! Their new mission is to protect everyone from this numero uno bad guy who is as sneaky as he is stinky.

The ninjas are going to need all their skills to foil his devious plans… but with lots of stink bombs and smelly cheese throwing them off the scent (literally), things don’t always go to plan!

Get ready for madcap antics, all-action adventure, plenty of mishaps and a skunk-o-mart packed with yes, you’ve guessed it, skunks, as Roscoe’s imagination moves into hair-raising overdrive and the Barlows bring the madness and mayhem to glorious life.

A picture book not to be sniffed at…

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

We Are Family by Claire Freedman and Judi Abbot

Families are the bedrock of human life… a message that comes across loud and clear in an enchanting and endearing picture book from an inspired collaboration between the queen of rhyme Claire Freedman and the internationally successful illustrator Judi Abbot.

The award-winning author of the hugely popular Aliens Love Underpants series, Freedman’s celebration of what makes sibling love so special is guaranteed to warm the hearts of readers both young and old.

From slurping milkshakes with a big crowd of siblings and cuddling each other when we are sad to the all too familiar difficulty of sharing a favourite toy and making each other giggle, this beautiful picture book explores the love between siblings in all its forms, whatever the size or make-up of a family.

There is real affection and joyful delight in this gorgeously illustrated rhyming story as we enjoy experiencing the ups and downs of sharing, caring – and occasionally falling out – with our brothers and sisters.

Freedman cleverly picks up on the humour and strong bonds of loyalty that are the hallmarks of family life while Abbot’s vividly colourful and warmly imaginative cast of cuddly characters add extra emotional depth to a story overflowing with love.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

How to Nab a Rabbit by Claire Freedman and Monika Filipina

The Big Bad Wolf has a cunning plan to nab a rabbit… nothing could possibly go wrong. Or could it!

Author Claire Freedman is on her funniest and finest form in this laugh-out-loud, rhyming picture book which pits one of the most famous story book baddies against the might of a few quick-thinking bunnies and a scary Mr Bear.

‘For hungry wolves, this book is a winner. It shows you how to catch your dinner. Love bunny pie and rabbit stew? They’ll soon become your dream come true.’

Full of foolproof tips and written by the Big Bad Wolf himself, How to Nab a Rabbit is the essential guide for anyone having problems catching pesky rabbits. But make sure you keep an eye out for bears, springs with too much bounce, extra smart bunnies and, of course, your own traps...

Putting the hapless wolf’s madcap antics in the picture is Polish artist Monika Filipina with a gallery of gloriously anarchic, bold and eye-catching illustrations which capture perfectly all the fun of the story.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Lunch on a Pirate Ship by Caryl Hart and Kristina Stephenson

What’s the perfect lunch? Certainly not soggy old chips and crunchy baked beans!

Author Caryl Hart and illustrator Kristina Stephenson combine their talents on a scrumptious story about a little boy on a quest for the perfect lunch and discovering that mum’s home cooking definitely tastes best.

Jack doesn’t want to eat his boring old lunch which has gone rather soggy because he was too busy playing outside to head indoors on time. Lunch on a pirate ship sounds much more fun but what do pirates actually eat? Pickled crabs and rotten fish stew – yuck! And so begins a rollicking, imaginative adventure over the sea, through caves full of giants and into the lair of a nasty troll before Jack decides that actually mum’s cooking is pretty good after all.

Stephenson, creator of the best-selling Sir Charlie Stinky Socks series, provides the charismatic illustrations – bursting with colour, crisp lines and adorable characters – to complement Caryl Hart’s addictively energetic, sing-song rhyming text.

Ideal for your own fussy eaters, little ones who are too busy playing to come in for tea, and anyone who likes to know exactly what they are eating!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)