Book review: Summer mystery, super science and terrific trains with Usborne

Summer mystery, super science and terrific trains with Usborne
Summer mystery, super science and terrific trains with Usborne
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From ballet stars and teen thrillers to books that inform and entertain, Usborne have a bumper bundle of fun and facts this month.

Usborne Children’s Books is the biggest and most successful independent children’s book publisher in the UK and their May selection is guaranteed to put a shine on early summer reading.

Anne-Marie Conway returns with a compelling new mystery, there’s the tantalising tale of a whirlwind road trip from Welsh storyteller Maggie Harcourt, a drama-packed psychological thriller courtesy of Emma Haughton, a chance to look inside trains, 100 scintillating science facts and Jane Lawes steps up to the barre with her brilliant new series Ballet Stars.

Age 9 plus:

Tangled Secrets by Anne-Marie Conway

Summer just wouldn’t be summer without one of Anne-Marie Conway’s compelling sunshine mysteries.

The author of Phoebe Finds Her Voice and Butterfly Summer plays a trump card with this emotional and resonant story of a young girl whose sense of security is torn apart by her beloved grandmother’s death and a web of secrets at home.

A primary school teacher specialising in drama, Conway has a talent for putting her finger on the concerns of young people and here she addresses issues of grief, domestic uncertainties, friendships and the importance of speaking out.

Twelve-year-old Maddie was with Nan, her grandmother, when she suffered a fatal stroke six months ago. The shocking event is still haunting her dreams and giving her the niggling worry that the rest of her family could also be snatched away at any moment.

Little brother Charlie is nine. He was born three months prematurely and not expected to survive the first night. But against the odds, Charlie lived but he’s small and skinny and Mum is very protective of him, constantly feeding him ‘superfoods’ on her mission to ‘Help Charlie Grow.’ Getting Mum’s attention is a struggle for Maddie.

There are other worries too… her mid-term assessment grades are pretty well all down and her effort marks are ‘rubbish’ so she’s not in a hurry to tell her mum about that. She’s probably too busy worrying about Charlie anyway. And then to top it all, Dad gets a call from a mysterious woman called Sharon and though he claims he doesn’t know her, Maddie is not so sure.

Her life seems to be a tangled mess of secrets but instead of voicing her fears, she keeps everything knotted up inside... until at a special ‘nurture group’ she is paired with Kieran Black, the bad-boy troublemaker in her class, and finds her confidence growing.

But when she is hit by a secret that could bring her whole world crashing down, can Maddie find the strength to face her fears?

Conway’s beautifully written and sensitive novel is as complex as its Tangled title, blending important early adolescent concerns with a captivating, moving story that entertains whilst gently doling out plenty of good advice.

Maddie, the girl who could not find her voice, ultimately speaks loudly to all troubled children who long for a listening ear.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

100 Things to Know About Science

Usborne knows a thing or two about making learning fun… and science is definitely not boring in this engaging exploration of what makes the world around us tick.

Science, we all know, is a huge topic but this child-friendly book breaks it down into bite-sized chunks, making it an accessible and inspiring introduction to one of the most important subjects in the school curriculum.

Packed with colourful illustrations, in a pictorial ‘infographics’ style, the snippets of fascinating information cover all aspects of science, from particle physics to genes and DNA, in a lively and stimulating format.

Amongst the science world gems laid out here, youngsters will be amazed to learn that atoms are not the smallest things that exist, all mechanical devices are based on six simple machines, for every person on Earth there are at least 200 million insects and that 50 billion cells in your body self-destruct every day.

How many will know that Marie Curie, who came up with theory of radioactivity, was killed by her own discovery, that when house flies buzz they always produce the musical note F, that your nose can detect up to a trillion different smells, that butterflies and bees drink crocodile tears and that every year Arctic terns fly from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again?

Each page introduces the science behind something familiar, from the Earth’s magnetic pole to seeds, spider venom and static electricity, making it the ideal book for beginner readers with an interest in science.

And for those hungry to learn more, there are internet links to specially selected websites where children can watch online experiments, answer fun quiz questions and discover more surprising science facts.

The science of learning at your fingertips…

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 8 plus:

Ballet Stars: Perfect Pirouette by Jane Lawes

It’s just tutu good to be true… this exciting new ballet school series will have little girls dancing for joy!

Jane Lawes, who began ballet and tap dancing classes when she was three, has turned her talents to writing and after the success of her super Gym Star series, takes a leap into the wonderful world of ballet.

Tash has always wanted to be a ballerina… dancing makes her feel like everything else in the whole world just stops, so she is thrilled to be starting her first term at Aurora House, the school where dancing dreams come true.

Part of the fun will be living with other girls who love ballet too but when she starts worrying that she doesn’t dance as well as her new friends, Tash decides to take a big risk. Will her plan lead to a perfect pirouette...or a perfect disaster?

The ups and downs of new friendships, the realities of working hard to follow your dreams and the importance of never giving up are just some of the themes covered in a sparkling, action-packed story with dancing at its heart.

With a checklist of basic ballet positions to try for yourself, a glossary of ballet words and links to websites where you can watch videos of ballet dancers and find out more about ballet, this series is dancing heaven for budding prima ballerinas!

(Usborne, paperback, £4.99)

Age 5 plus:

Look Inside Trains by Alex Frith and Colin King

All aboard for a train ride of discovery! This ingenious lift-the-flaps book will keep all young train lovers on track as they get an inside look at everything from traditional steam trains to super-fast bullet trains.

With easy-to-understand facts and over 50 flaps to lift, Look Inside Trains is both fun and informative, letting children peep inside locomotives, find out how they work and learn about the history of train travel. They can also discover where in the world the trains go, find out more about the most famous trains and learn the workings of trams and funicular railways.

The perfect gift for your little train buffs!

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)


The Last Summer of Us by Maggie Harcourt

Who can resist a gorgeous coming-of-age story, a slow-burn romance that lingers in the mind long after the last page has turned?

Maggie Harcourt strikes teen gold in this beautifully sensitive tale of three young friends who set off in a clapped-out rust bucket of a car on a whirlwind road trip to forget their troubles and see out the end of the summer.

A moving exploration of the joys of friendship, the pains of growing up and the harsh realities of coping with grief, The Last Summer of Us will strike a chord with anyone who found their adolescence tough going.

Sixteen-year-old Limpet’s mother has died and her dad is understandably struggling with his grief so when her best friend Steffan and another close friend Jared suggest they all head off on a summer road trip, she jumps at the chance.

Limpet isn’t her real name – it’s just a nickname – but like the shellfish that attaches itself to something and holds on for dear life, the name has stuck.

The three inseparable friends are also bound closely together, three sides of a triangle even if in any number of ways they are always ‘two-and-one. Never quite three.’

But no matter how far they drive, they can’t escape the regrets, hidden secrets and slow-burning romance that could upset the balance of their friendship – perhaps forever. This is a journey they will never forget, and it’s one that will change their lives.

Harcourt writes with charm, humour and enormous empathy as she whisks us away on a summer holiday treat packed with acute observations about the realities of leaving childhood behind, and the dawning realisation that sometimes we have to let go of the past.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)


Better Left Buried by Emma Haughton

Freelance journalist Emma Haughton certainly made her mark last year with debut novel Now You See Me, a stunning psychological thriller with a real-life story at its heart.

And now she’s back with a gripping and intriguing tale that will raise goosebumps, put nerves on edge and set your pulse racing.

It’s only six weeks since Sarah’s brother Max died suddenly in Sweden and her family is struggling. Her mum simply can’t cope with the grief, her father is working away from home and now her friend Lizzie, normally so full of energy and sparkle, has turned moody and listless.

When Lizzie goes missing, Sarah’s home is ransacked, a stranger starts stalking her and then she is attacked in the street, but she doesn’t know why. Sarah had no idea that her brother was hiding a dark secret when he died. But now his actions have led the wolves to her door, and the only way out is to run…

Haughton’s spare, intelligent writing creates both atmosphere and tension while dramatic plot twists and some moments of high emotion will leave readers gasping for breath.

A terrific story… for the young and not-so-young!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)