Epic spaceships, a singing sensation and mermaid frolics by various authors - book reviews -

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As a new year dawns, get ready for a super selection of page-turning children’s books which includes a Star Wars stunner, a date with trailblazing Beyoncé, adventures under the ocean, and some canine crime-fighting capers.

As a new year dawns, get ready for a super selection of page-turning children’s books which includes a Star Wars stunner, a date with trailblazing Beyoncé, adventures under the ocean, and some canine crime-fighting capers.

Age 10 plus:

The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships and Battles

Landry Walker

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 globe.

Now the secrets of how some of the most iconic vehicles in the galaxy – from the Millennium Falcon and X-wings to AT-ATs and the Death Star – were created and used in the Star Wars films are explored in amazing colour and detail.

This fantastic, interactive book goes behind the scenes of the biggest movie franchise of all time to see how these epic vehicles were created in concept sketches, turned into models, and then became lifelike ships in legendary scenes such as the Battles of Endor and Hoth.

Through interviews, archival photographs and original art, readers can see what it takes to create some of the most eye-catching fighters, speeders and space ships in film history, and how they go head-to-head in gripping battle scenes.

This collectable book includes special interactive elements, including six-page booklets, accordion folds, and flaps that reveal the magic behind the movies with sketches, moulds and digital imagery, and there is also a peek at some of the vehicles from the brand new Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker.

The secrets of the universe at your fingertips!

(Abrams Books for Young Readers, hardback, £22.99)

Age 8 plus:

Trailblazers: Beyoncé: Queen of the Spotlight

Ebony Joy Wilkins

Illustrated by Luisa Uribe and Rachel Sanson

In 2010, a sensational young singer became the first woman to win six awards in one night.

Discover the amazing story of the talented Beyoncé Knowles who found fame as the lead singer of the popular girl band Destiny’s Child but went on to be an international superstar and one of history’s greatest trailblazers.

Written by American author, journalist and editor Ebony Joy Wilkins, Trailblazers: Beyoncé is the new title in Stripes Publishing’s fun and factual biography series inspired by the lives of pioneers past and present.

Packed with little-known trivia, fascinating facts and lively illustrations, these books celebrate the lives of forerunners in every sphere, from science and sport and business to activism, politics and the arts.

So how did Beyoncé find her voice and become one of history’s game changers? As a child, she may have been shy in the classroom, but when Beyoncé stepped out on stage she transformed into a powerful performer.

After singing and dancing in local talent shows, Beyoncé went on to front Destiny’s Child before setting out on a solo career that has inspired and empowered millions of people around the world. From movies to Grammy Awards to performing at the Super Bowl halftime show, Beyoncé is now a singer, songwriter, record producer, activist and icon.

With a gallery of interactive illustrations and a compelling text full of facts, real history, and the achievements of one remarkable woman, this is the perfect book to make learning both fascinating and inspirational.

(Stripes, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Letting Go! and Be Positive! Mindful Kids

Dr Sharie Coombes and Ellie O'Shea (illustrator)

In our busy, pressured world, feelings of anxiety, stress and anger have become increasingly prevalent and it’s not just adults who struggle to cope.

Many schools are now introducing mindful techniques to the classroom in an effort to deal with childhood stress, anxiety and bullying, and to complement this project, Studio Press have published two new sensitively created self-care activity books in their Mindful Kids series.

Written by Dr Sharie Coombes, a child and family psychotherapist, and with a helpful introduction and notes for grown-ups, the activity books combine mindful activities with Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Both books feature the charming and quirky illustrations of Ellie O'Shea with the pictures helping to keep young readers entertained and focused as they work through the books, or they can simply dip into the pages for ten minutes of calm colouring.

Letting Go! uses encouraging and simple activities and exercises to tackle the feelings associated with grief, bereavement and family separation. Children will enjoy using their creativity to combat negative feelings and work out how to cope with these emotions through writing, colouring, doodling and drawing.

Be Positive! features encouraging and simple activities and exercises tackle the feelings of low self-esteem, body acceptance and confidence to help children feel more happy, calm and confident.

With an introduction and notes aimed at both children and adults, support organisation contact numbers and websites for children who are being bullied, lots of discussion points, and a fantastic range of activities, these books are ideal for both at home and at school.

This imaginative, important and immensely constructive series also includes No Worries, Hello Happy, Stay Strong, Be Kind, and Be Brave.

(Studio Press, paperback, £9.99 each)

Age 7 plus:

Mermaids Rock: The Coral Kingdom

Linda Chapman and Mirelle Ortega

Welcome to Mermaids Rock, a super, sparkling sea-blue series which is simply rippling with fun and adventure.

These thrilling new illustrated stories about the wonders of the ocean, are brim full of environmental messages and warm friendships, and come from the pen of Linda Chapman, author of the much-loved Star Friends series.

Marina is new in Mermaids Rock, the entrance to the mermaid realm, having travelled the world with her merman scientist dad, and she can’t wait to make friends! When Marina and her pet seahorse Sami meet a group of mermaids who love animals and the environment as much as she does, the new friends soon face their first challenge. The beautiful coral caves nearby have been damaged, causing everyone to panic. Who, or what, could have caused the destruction? And why?

Newly independent readers will love making friends with the underwater mermaids, merboy Kai and a host of adorable sea creatures as they dive deep into the ocean, share exciting adventures, and learn about some of the important ecological issues now facing our planet.

And with all the action in the deep blue ocean brought to life by the enchanting black and white illustrations of Mexican-born artist Mirelle Ortega, this is the perfect way to swish and swirl into a new year of reading.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

McTavish on the Move

Meg Rosoff and David Shephard

It’s a dog’s life at the Peachey household… or, to be more precise, it’s family life with a clever dog as head of the pack!

Welcome back to the fourth brilliant book featuring the madcap world of the hilarious Peacheys and their wonderful canny canine McTavish, the rescue dog whose mission is to rescue his chaotic but lovable adopted family.

Meg Rosoff’s laugh-out-loud tales of an eccentric family, whose lives seem to be constantly enveloped in dramas and dilemmas, have been winning young hearts and minds since the first book in this entertaining series was published.

Pa has just landed a new job, and it’s put an unusual spring in his step. But a new job means a new house in a new part of town, and now the Peacheys are getting ready to move.

Amidst the chaos, nobody seems to notice that Betty is struggling with this big change. Nobody, that is, except McTavish. Will the canny family dog be able to put a smile back on Betty's face?

David Shephard’s gloriously witty and evocative illustrations capture all the quirky originality and offbeat humour of this warm-hearted and captivating story which is brimming with Rosoff’s stylish prose and astute eye for the weird wonders of dog-human dynamics, and brings a touching and witty take to one of life’s most common anxieties.

The McTavish series is part of Barrington Stoke’s Conkers collection which features books that celebrate the very special alchemy that weaves between words and pictures.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Dog Man: Fetch-22

Dav Pilkey

Hold on to your hats, Dav Pilkey is off the leash again and that means only one thing… the danger of death by laughter!

Graphic novels for kids don’t come better than the hilarious adventures of Dog Man, the popular crime-fighting canine created by the ever-inventive Pilkey, best known for his outrageous Captain Underpants.

Half-man and half-dog, Dog Man is the doggedly determined hero of this exciting, full-colour comic book series which is simply bursting with amazing illustrations, brilliant jokes, crazy cartoons and tail-wagging antics that tickle the funny bones of both young and older readers.

In this new outrageous outing, we find Petey the Cat is out of jail while Li’l Petey is struggling to find the good in the world. Can Petey and canine cop Dog Man stop fighting like cats and dogs long enough to put their paws together and work as a team? They need each other now more than ever, because Li’l Petey (and the world) is counting on them!

Pilkey’s wildly popular Dog Man series, starring a lovable cat-and-dog double act, has the enviable gift of appealing to readers of all ages as it explores universally positive themes like empathy, kindness, persistence, and the importance of being true to one’s self.

And with his trademark humour, heart, and riotous sense of fun, Pilkey has the gift to keep us laughing from first page to last!

(Scholastic, hardback, £10.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Mystery Kitten

Holly Webb and Sophy Williams

Much-loved author Holly Webb is back to enchant her young readers with another heartwarming adventure in her adorable and hugely popular Animal Stories series which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since the first book hit the shelves in 2006.

Webb is one of the UK’s best-loved children’s authors and has written over 100 books for children, including the Animal Stories, My Naughty Little Puppy and a sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic 1911 book, The Secret Garden.

In this new book we meet a cute little black kitten whose story was inspired by a news report that black cats were more likely to be abandoned because of long-held superstitions, and the more modern issue of their fur not showing up on Instagram.

Elsa is finding it difficult to make new friends after her family moves house. Then she hears strange, scratching noises at night and discovers a kitten living in the attic! The little cat has gorgeous black, shiny fur and so Elsa names him Pepper. Elsa is desperate to keep her lovely new kitten friend. Dad thinks Pepper belonged to the previous owner, but who would leave behind such a beautiful kitten?

Sophy Williams provides the gorgeous black and white illustrations for this beautifully created and gentle series which has captured the hearts of every animal-loving child. And don’t forget to look out for the free app on App Store and Google Play. It’s jam-packed with exciting activities from fantastic games and puzzles to creative colouring and sticker fun.

Perfect for children just starting to read alone, youngsters who love to share a book with mum or dad, and any child who can’t resist the sheer magic of animals.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Little Bird Lost (Colour Fiction)

Patricia Hegarty and Sebastiaan Van Doninck

When picture books are too babyish and middle grade books too hard, just what can a young in-betweenie read?

The answer is a wonderfully illustrated, full-colour fiction series from the ever-inventive book boffins at Little Tiger Press.

These beautifully produced books, with their sturdy hardbacks, enchanting stories and highly illustrated glossy pages, are ideal for bridging the gap between picture books and chapter books for newly independent young readers.

This inspiring and charming new story about helping others to overcome obstacles comes from the top team of children’s author Patricia Hegarty and Flemish illustrator Sebastiaan Van Doninck whose work has been described as ‘colourful with a dark twist.’

Deer is grazing in the forest, minding his own business, when he hears someone calling out for help. Little Bird has injured his wing in a fall and has been separated from his flock which is flying away to another, warmer land.

Deer is keen to help Little Bird and introduces him to his forest friends who tell them that Little Bird needs to follow the sun in order to find his flock. But how can he do that when he can no longer fly? Deer offers to journey with him and they set off on an adventure through the forest and the seasons...

Hegarty’s wise and wonderfully imaginative story, featuring a supportive friendship fostered during difficult times, is filled with warmth and adventure, and all brought to life by Van Doninck’s use of vibrant and emotive illustrations.

An uplifting story for all the family to enjoy!

(Stripes, hardback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

When I Grow Up: I Want to Drive and When I Grow Up: I Want To Be…

Rosamund Lloyd and Richard Merritt

Welcome to a brand new board book series that will drive forward your little ones’ ambitions… and help them to reach for the stars!

When I Grow Up is an informative and entertaining early-learning series packed full of fascinating facts and aspirational topics, and featuring over 30 intriguing flaps to lift and learn, and help develop children’s hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills.

In I Want to Drive, youngsters can discover some of the most exciting vehicles, including a tractor, an ambulance, a cement mixer and an aeroplane. With amazing action flaps and a super-contemporary art style designed by Richard Merritt, this clever book puts youngsters straight into the driving seat.

And in I Want To Be, little ones can lift the flaps to learn about all types of amazing careers, from astronauts and teachers to athletes and firefighters. With lots of captivating flaps and simple facts, this is the perfect book for young and curious minds.

Fun and discovery on every page!

(Little Tiger Press, board books, £6.99 each)

Age 3 plus:

The Kiss

Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle

The power of love – and kisses and hugs – is brought exquisitely to life in an enchanting picture book from the talented duo of Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle.

The Kiss is a clever, contemporary fairy tale which asks just how far a small act of kindness can travel as we follow a kiss shared between a grandmother and her grandson, and witness how its warmth can work to transform the lives of others for the better.

When Edwyn blows a kiss to his Grandma, she catches it and puts in in her pocket. As she journeys home, she meets some lonely and troubled people but when she shares the kiss with them, it brings smiles, laughter and dancing. But a rich man wants the kiss all to himself, and he will do anything to get it. What he doesn’t yet know is that kindness makes the kiss thrive… without it, the kiss will only wither.

Author Linda Sunderland, who was a primary school teacher for 28 years, reveals that she wanted her story to embody the idea that ‘some things are just beyond price’ and this gorgeous cautionary tale, filled with Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s endearing, warm and expressive illustrations, speaks straight to the heart of readers young and old.

Rich in colour, atmosphere and detail, and brimming with wisdom and emotional truth, this is a book to share and to treasure with every generation of the family.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Let’s Find the Mermaid and Let’s Find the Dinosaur

Illustrated by Alex Willmore

Join the hunt… and have fun with a playful mermaid and a dinosaur with a toothy grin!

The youngest members of the family will love setting out on learning adventures in two stylish and inventive touch-and-feel board books from Little Tiger Press. With peep-through pages and sturdy felt flaps, Let’s Find the Mermaid and Let’s Find the Dinosaur are the latest board books in a series that is perfect for curious little adventurers.

In Let’s Find the Mermaid, there are lots of sea creatures and fish under the sea but could any of them be Mermaid? Is she hiding in the treasure chest or playing behind the sunken ship? Peek through the pages, lift the touchy-feely felt flaps and discover the glittery-tailed mermaid on the last page!

And in Let’s Find the Dinosaur, T-Rex is hiding. There are a lot of dinosaurs playing in the valley, but could any of them be T-Rex? Lift the felt flaps and look through the peep-through pages to find him!

Youngsters will love getting to grips with these bright and beautiful tactile board books with their wonderfully colourful illustrations by Alex Willmore, enchanting interactive format, and an addictive spirit of discovery and adventure.

Hands-on winners!

(Little Tiger Press, board books, £6.99 each)

Age one plus:

I Love You More and More

Nicky Benson and Jonny Lambert

A very special relationship deserves a very special book…

Author Nicky Benson and illustrator Jonny Lambert work an endearing brand of creative magic in this touching celebration of the love between a parent and child.

I Love You More and More puts love and caring at the gentle heart of a gorgeous board book which has a soothing, lyrical, rhyming text and Jonny Lambert’s stunning illustrations.

Cuddle up with your little ones and join a bear as he leads his cub on a breathtaking journey through sparkling starlit nights, past swirling blue rivers and gushing waterfalls to show the little one just how special and loved it is.

With its warm and cuddly story and seductive pictures, this is the perfect book for sharing and bonding, and an ideal gift for new parents or any young child in need of reassurance.

(Little Tiger, board book, £4.99)

Age from birth:

Baby 101: Touch and Trace

Build a House and Plant and Grow

Patricia Hegarty and Thomas Elliott

It’s never too early to learn how to build a house… and discover the wonder of nature!

Baby 101, a fun and playful board book series from the inventive Little Tiger group, introduces a wide array of educational, non-fiction subjects to babies and toddlers to give them an exciting first experience of learning.

And these new Touch and Trace books, perfectly created to provide extra interaction for curious toddlers, offer a read, touch and trace format that helps to make learning come to life.

In Build a House, little ones will love learning all about how to construct a house through the interactive touch and trace pages. Creatively written by Patricia Hegarty, and featuring the bright and bold illustrations of Thomas Elliott, this appealing and subtly educational book presents essential information about picking a plot, using building bricks, choosing windows and tiling the roof through easy-to-understand facts and bright, bold images.

The talented duo also work their magic on Plant and Grow which introduces babies and toddlers to using the land to grow things, from digging into the earth to plant seeds, harnessing the sun and rain to encourage growth, and harvesting the crops, vegetables and fruits.

Delivered in a clever format full of colour, tactile interest, and eye-catching design, the workings of house building and nature are explained with whimsical humour, bite-sized facts and appealing images. And to make learning even more fun, there is a brilliant lift-the-flap surprise at the end of each book!

(Caterpillar Books, board books, £5.99 each)