Wintertime thrills, cosmic comedy and a magical train by various authors - book reviews -

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Enjoy a chill-filled adventure in a snowy land, climb aboard a train to impossible places, share poems about our beautiful planet, and get down on the farm with every child’s favourite scarecrow in an amazing autumn selection of children’s books.

Enjoy a chill-filled adventure in a snowy land, climb aboard a train to impossible places, share poems about our beautiful planet, and get down on the farm with every child’s favourite scarecrow in an amazing autumn selection of children’s books.

Age 9 plus:

Frostheart

Jamie Littler

Wrap up warm and head off to the coldest place on the planet for a chilling, thrilling wintertime adventure from multi-talented author and illustrator Jamie Littler.

Frostheart is the first venture into fiction writing for Littler, whose varied illustration work includes the bestselling Hamish and the Worldstoppers series and Wilf the Mighty Worrier, and it’s a magical, memorable story brimming with all those things that children love best… high-octane adventure, bags of derring-do, brilliant characters, and plenty of giggles.

Add on pages packed with Littler’s distinctive, fun-filled and richly detailed illustrations, and you have reading heaven for all young adventurers!

Way out in the furthest and coldest part of the known world, at the edge of the Snow Sea, is the home of The Fira. Their Stronghold is the safest place for hundreds of miles but no one can ever leave because, under the snow that surrounds them, lurk terrifying monsters.

The Leviathans are lethal… incredibly fast, frighteningly clever and quick to attack whenever they sense movement on the snow above them. Only occasionally does a sleigh manage to make it over the Snow Sea, carrying supplies from far-off Strongholds. But these visits are getting less frequent.

A boy called Ash lives at the Stronghold of The Fira but he has never fitted in and it has never felt like home. He waits for the return of his parents, who were Pathfinders and left to try to trace safe passages to other citadels, but now they are lost and Ash doesn’t know if they are even alive.

Ash sings a forbidden lullaby to remind him of them... and does his best to avoid his very, VERY grumpy yeti guardian, Tobu. But life is about to get a whole lot more crazy and adventurous for Ash. When a brave rescue attempt reveals he has amazing magical powers, he is whisked aboard the Frostheart, a sleigh packed full of daring explorers who could use his help. But can they help him find his family?

Littler lets his imagination – and pen – take flight in this rip-roaring trip to a faraway snowy land that is guaranteed to be the number one destination on dark autumn nights.

(Puffin Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Great Brain Robbery

P.G. Bell and Flavia Sorrentino

Climb aboard and hold on tight… the Impossible Postal Express train is back on track and ready to whisk you away!

Adventure, science and full-throttle fun are never far down the line when the madcap world of magic and mayhem – immaculately created last year by Welsh author P.G. Bell’s in his Waterstones Children’s Book Prize-shortlisted debut The Train to Impossible Places – is up and running, and ready to take youngsters on another thrilling ride.

Bell’s wildly imaginative and entertaining series, richly illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino, was created from his young son’s demand for a new, made-up bedtime story from his dad. Having requested a new instalment every night for a week, the story of science-mad Suzy Smith’s journey on the Impossible Postal Express train began to evolve and Bell started writing it down.

And now it’s time to join Suzy and her adorably bizarre friends for their second all-action adventure, The Great Brain Robbery, which delivers the same irresistible blend of amazing people, fantastical places and steam-loads of laugh-out-loud humour.

Eleven-year-old Suzy can’t believe her luck when a secret invitation magically appears – the Impossible Postal Express is ready to ride again and she has been invited to the relaunch!

Suzy can’t wait to return to the Union of Impossible Places but when she arrives, she overhears a dastardly plan to destroy Trollville from a shadowy and unexpected villain. And the celebrations don’t last long when Trollville is hit by a terrible tremor, putting everyone in danger.

With the city in peril, Suzy and her friends – including a moody brown bear called Ursel, rail engineer Fletch, and Stonker the driver with his enormous moustache – must race from magical cloud-worlds to secret caverns to catch the culprit before Trollville comes crashing down.

From Cloud Forge to the Uncanny Valley, this is a mission seemingly impossible, so will the Impossible Postal Express help Suzy get some answers?

Bell’s imagination takes full flight again for this second helping of extraordinary, exhilarating and inventive adventures which prove that science is never boring, steam trains are a true transport of delight, and magic is never far away when you believe in achieving the impossible!

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Poems from a Green and Blue Planet

Edited by Sabrina Mahfouz and illustrated by Aaron Cushley

As our beautiful planet becomes more endangered with each passing year, take a poetic world tour to celebrate its beauty and its endless wonders.

Sabrina Mahfouz, a British Egyptian poet, playwright, performer and writer from London, has combed through a wide range of verse to deliver a moving and memorable collection of classic poems from around the world to highlight the diversity of life on our green and blue planet… and the dangers it now faces.

Ideal for sharing with all the family, this stunning anthology includes new poems from Raymond Antrobus, Mona Arshi, Kate Tempest, Hollie McNish, Dean Atta and Mahfouz herself.

Ranging from the changing weather to a host of different landscapes, observations of animal behaviour to the power of the spoken word, each of the one hundred and more poems is different in length and form, and gives a powerful insight into the planet’s rich diversity, with a gentle plea for readers to help in its preservation.

These thoughtful and compelling poems explore all the worlds that make up our world, and hear the voices, past and present, that sing out from it. From haikus to sonnets, from rap to the Romantics, this joyous collection visits life in all corners of our beautiful planet.

With much-loved, classic poets like William Wordsworth, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Christina Rossetti, William Shakespeare and W.B. Yeats sitting comfortably alongside representatives from many cultures and languages, this is truly an international anthology.

Endorsed by Amnesty International because the poems express ‘with great power and beauty why we all need a clean, healthy and sustainable planet,’ and with atmospheric, black and white illustrations by Aaron Cushley, Poems from a Green and Blue Planet is beautiful to look at and inspiring to read.

(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 8 plus:

Alien Superstar

Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler

Get ready for out-of-this world fun in a super-silly new sci-fi series from Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler, the bestselling team behind the popular Hank Zipzer and Here’s Hank series.

Emmy Award-winning actor Winkler, better known to those with long memories as the Fonz in American Seventies and Eighties TV sitcom Happy Days, and writer and TV and film producer Oliver reach for the (Hollywood) stars in a this crazy, cosmic caper perfectly created for middle-grade readers.

When Buddy Berger needs to escape his alien planet after all art and culture is outlawed, he ends up in an even crazier place… Hollywood, California.

You’d think an alien spacecraft crashing into the middle of Hollywood would cause a stir but people think Buddy just has a really amazing alien costume and no one is shocked by the six-eyed alien strolling around the Universal back lot.

The tourists just think he’s part of the show. And it doesn’t take long for Buddy to land a role on a popular TV show, playing (of course) an alien. Soon he is an overnight heart-throb and is suddenly faced with legions of adoring fans, rides in glamorous limos, and appearances at ‘all-the-shrimp-you-can-eat’ red carpet parties. But can Buddy keep his secret identity while in the spotlight?

There’s laughter all the way as Buddy bamboozles the glamorous Hollywood set with his interstellar antics on set, all imaginatively brought to life with Ethan Nicolle’s suitably anarchic and action-packed illustrations.

Cosmic comedy with light years of laughs!

(Amulet Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 8 plus:

Worzel Gummidge

Barbara Euphan Todd and Peter Cottrill

Worzel Gummidge, the turnip-headed scarecrow beloved by generations of children, is making a comeback… both in print and on our television screens.

Just in time for a new adaptation of Barbara Euphan Todd’s classic books – which will be shown in two hour-long films over the Christmas period on BBC1 and star The Detectorists‘ Mackenzie Crook – Oxford University Press have given the magical, talking, walking scarecrow a brand new lease of life in a super, new-look illustrated book.

Todd was born in Yorkshire and began to write from an early age. Worzel Gummidge made his first appearance in 1936 and Todd went on to write many more Worzel stories which have been published in many editions and adapted several times for both radio and TV.

In this first book, John and Susan see the scarecrow standing in the middle of Ten-acre field in the pouring rain at Scatterbrook Farm and he doesn’t look at all remarkable… just like any other scarecrow in fact. But when he turns up at the cottage to warm himself by the fire, the shocked youngsters realise that this actually is a very special scarecrow. His name is Worzel and he’s about to fill the children’s world with fun, adventures galore and magic.

This new edition features a colourful, contemporary cover and Liverpool-born Peter Cottrill provides a gallery of high-energy, black and white illustrations to bring all Worzel’s madcap escapades to life.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Trailblazers: Harriet Tubman

Sandra A. Agard

Illustrated by Luisa Uribe, George Urmos and Manhar Chauban

In 1849, a brave runaway woman travelled through woodland in search of freedom and a better life for America’s slaves.

Discover the story of Harriet Tubman, amazing abolitionist and inspirational activist, and find out how she overcame every obstacle in the fight for freedom.

Written by Sandra A. Agard, a storyteller, writer, literary consultant and cultural historian, Trailblazers: Harriet Tubman is the new title in a 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 Harriet Tubman help hundreds of enslaved people reach freedom? Born into slavery on a Maryland plantation in America’s Deep South, Harriet’s life was full of hardship. In 1849, she took a huge risk and made the brave decision to run away, journeying north into the free states on the Underground Railroad. Despite the dangers, she returned to the South again and again, leading many others to safety.

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

(Stripes, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Great Clown Conundrum

Alexander McCall Smith and Sam Usher

Roll up, roll up for a dazzling new ‘stars and sawdust’ adventure series from the dream team pairing of Alexander McCall Smith and Sam Usher.

The Great Clown Conundrum is the second exciting book in the Big-Top Mysteries series from multi-award-winning author McCall Smith, one of the world’s most prolific and popular writers, and star illustrator Usher who has won accolades for his technical drawing skill and prowess with watercolour.

The quirky stars of this funny, high-energy series are the Shortbread family and their spectacular circus as they travel the country performing tricks while still finding time to solve intriguing mysteries.

Billy, Fern and Joe Shortbread are the stars of their family circus, but they also have another talent ... they are experts at solving mysteries.

And now a new season is about to begin at the Shortbread family’s circus. The big-top is ready and everyone is excited to get started. But the show’s chief clown, Mr Birdcage, is in a bit of a pickle… none of his hilarious props seem to be working!

When budding detectives Billy, Fern and Joe get on the case to investigate, they soon discover that the props have been tampered with. But who would want to sabotage Mr Birdcage… and why?

Brimming with McCall Smith’s trademark wit, wisdom and larger-than-life characters, this is an exhilarating and clever story for youngsters as well as a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the realities of being part of a circus family… living in a caravan, travelling around the country, putting up a giant tent in every town, and rehearsing all the amazing acts.

Throw in a few hilarious clowns, some gravity-defying tricks, all the thrills and spills of performing for an audience, and a baffling mystery, and you have the perfect big-top adventure story.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Incredible Jobs You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

Natalie Labarre

If your little ones think the grown-up world of work is boring, then introduce them to some weird and wonderful jobs that make the nine-to-five look like child’s play!

Many children start to meditate from an early age on the old conundrum of what they want to do when they grow up. Could they yearn to do something creative, perhaps, or maybe a job that is mysterious and dangerous?

Let them discover all kinds of weird and wonderful jobs they never knew existed in this incredible, large-format picture book, brimming with wit and wow-factor, and the work of exciting new Franco-American author-illustrator Natalie Labarre.

Watch your children’s eyes light up as they discover jobs that doesn’t seem like a job at all… a waterslide tester, someone employed to push people on to crowded trains or simply stand in a queue, and how about being a mattress jumper?

And if your youngsters like animals, they could work as a babysitter for sloths or become a tortoise walker on the streets of New York. Being a farmer of real corpses used in crime scene recreations might not appeal to everyone but there would probably be a lot of interested applicants to be someone who gets paid to actually sleep on the job for scientific research!

From taste testers to dinosaur dusters, some of these jobs sound simply too strange to be true but they actually do exist. Children (and adults!) will be astonished to learn about all the crazy jobs out there and it might even inspire young readers to think outside the box when it comes to their own dreams and ambitions.

The detailed, exuberant and fun-filled illustrations provide hours of exploration in this gloriously unique and entertaining gift book which will encourage the younger generation to look beyond traditional working roles... and maybe aim for a job that nobody has even heard of!

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £14.99)

Age 7 plus:

Humanimal

Christopher Lloyd and Mark Ruffle

If you thought humans are completely different to animals, then take a look inside this brilliant book and prepare to be amazed.

Christopher Lloyd, author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Absolutely Everything!, encourages us all to think again about humankind being extra special as he delivers Humanimal, a fascinating new book uncovering the curious connections between humans and other animals.

This entertaining and informative exploration of animal and human links comes from What on Earth Publishing which specialises in the art of telling stories which engage children’s natural curiosity and passion for learning.

And this clever, imaginatively produced book, featuring Mark Ruffle’s rainbow coloured, richly detailed illustrations, lets youngsters discover how similar they are to a surprising variety of creatures, and puts paid to the notion that just because people have built giant cities, invented pop-up toasters and put a person on the Moon that they are somehow different from other living things.

Discover how slime moulds can solve how to navigate through a maze, how whales communicate with each other, how rats tickle and laugh out loud, how damselfish run their own farms, how elephants have funerals for their lost loved ones, how bees vote in elections to decide where to locate their nests, how crows use cars to crack nuts, how bonobos share food with the hungry and a whole lot more!

The super-sized, richly illustrated book reveals the complex patterns of behaviour that humans share with a variety of different animals, and demonstrates the inextricable interconnections of the human and animal worlds in ways you could never have imagined.

Brimming with Lloyd’s energy and enthusiasm, and with fun and learning on every page, this is a glorious celebration of our enduring relationship with all creatures great and small.

(What on Earth Publishing, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Darwin’s Voyage of Discovery

Written and illustrated by Jake Williams

Set sail with Charles Darwin on his famous ship, The Beagle, and watch as he makes discoveries that changed the world!

Darwin’s Voyage of Discovery is a wonderful visual and verbal celebration of one of history’s most remarkable journeys, published to celebrate 160 years of Darwin’s ground-breaking text on the theory of evolution, On The Origin of Species.

The book is the work of Jake Williams, an exciting Plymouth-based illustrator, designer, and occasional animator. He creates shape-based vector (graphic) illustrations with bold and vibrant colours and was awarded BDC’s New Designer of The Year 2017.

Youngsters will love following the remarkable journey from England to Cape Verde, Brazil to the Galapagos, Tahiti to Australia, and to join Darwin as he makes the discoveries which laid a platform for our knowledge of the natural world.

Marvel at the wildlife Darwin encounters as he does scientific research… giant sloths, platypus, tarantulas, fireflies and swallow-tailed hummingbirds. As well as gorgeous artwork and fascinating information on the remarkable voyage itself, this book also looks at the crew and the equipment, and includes cross-sections of the famed ship.

Full of fascinating and accessible facts, beautiful illustrations and created in an imaginative format, this is the perfect gift book for all young adventurers and explorers!

(Pavilion Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Invasion of the Living Ted

Barry Hutchison and Lee Cosgrove

A King-Kong-sized teddy bear, a dastardly plot, and lots of furry foes… it can only mean one thing!

Comedy king Barry Hutchison and Lee Cosgrove, his illustrator partner in not-so-cuddly crime, are back with another rip-roaring romp starring Grizz, the world’s most evil teddy bear, who will stop at nothing to take his revenge.

Invasion of the Living Ted is the third book in this hilarious series in which belly laughs and lethal teddies are the order of the day as Hutchison, an award-winning children’s author and screenwriter, gives free rein to a cast of grizzly, gangster-style bears and a plot stuffed full of fast-paced action and adventure.

It’s been three days since Grizz almost took over the world…again. Lisa Marie and her step-brother Vernon have been interrogated by the police, and Bearvis and the Duds have been taken away to be studied. But things are far from over. Grizz has found a way to infiltrate the wireless networks and he’s planning his revenge. As all teddy bears come to life, Lisa Marie and Vernon must battle a King-Kong-sized teddy bear with a mind for evil. It looks like they’re going to need their furry friends back!

The versatile Hutchison is ably aided and abetted on his mission to make kids giggle by the wonderfully zany illustrations of Cosgrove as together they pack their outrageous teddy drama with an exhilarating brand of visual and verbal virtuosity.

Once again, leading lady Lisa Marie raises the loudest laughs with her endearing (and secretly educational) penchant for ‘big words’ which opens up a fascinating new vocabulary for discombobulated young readers.

Fun and fur all the way…

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Level Up: Block and Roll

Tom Nicoll and Anjan Sarkar

Imagine being trapped inside your favourite video game!

Popular children’s author Tom Nicoll returns with his brilliant high-octane adventure series, Level Up, which delivers an exciting technological twist with every action-packed story.

Young gamers are downing their consoles to follow the escapades of daredevil video-game obsessed Flo who has discovered that virtual reality isn’t as much fun when it’s not so virtual. And this time, Flo and her best friend, Max get more than they bargained for when they find themselves INSIDE their favourite games!

Having successfully battled spaceships, Max and Flo are excited to return home. But when they wake up, they’re in Max’s favourite game, Blocktopia. The friends are accepted into a city, where they are protected from the dangerous monsters that attack daily. Max is in his element – creating increasingly elaborate buildings – but Flo just wants to go home. Then she uncovers a secret. A secret which might just be the key to escaping the game…

There are laughs, mishaps and all-out action on every page of this exhilarating story which has all the much-loved hallmarks of Nicoll’s eye for comedy and energetic storytelling.

Anjan Sarkar brings to life fearless Flo and long-suffering Max, her partner in virtual adventure, and all the weird and wonderful characters they meet along the way.

The perfect book to get reluctant readers on game with the joys of real-time reading!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Jasper and Scruff: Hunt for the Golden Bone

Nicola Colton

You’d have to be barking mad to miss the antics of Jasper and Scruff, a cat and dog double act full of magic, mayhem and muck!

This purrfectly delightful puss and puppy partnership – featuring cool, smart cat Jasper and endlessly enthusiastic but muddy mutt Scruff – comes to young readers courtesy of talented Irish author and illustrator Nicola Colton.

As Jasper and Scruff prepare for a day in their new bookshop, a mysterious package is delivered, containing a rare book written by the great seafaring cat herself, Black Whiskers. Inside, they discover a treasure map, and together the friends set out on a quest to find the legendary golden bone. But little do they realise that their old enemies, the Sophisticats, might have a paw in things…

Illustrated throughout with Colton’s stylish and fun illustrations in an eye-catching two-tone palette, the crazy adventures and misadventures of Jasper and Scruff are ideal for youngsters bridging the gap between picture books and reading books.

With mischief on every page, a colourful cast of animal characters and an easy-to-read, madcap story which explores what friendship really means, this doggedly delightful cat-and-dog comedy duo are guaranteed to win the hearts of all young readers.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Itchy, Scritchy, Scratchy Pants

Steve Smallman and Elina Ellis

Cold bottoms, blue bottoms, frozen bottoms and stinky bottoms…

Picture book comedy duo Steve Smallman and Elina Ellis go bottoms up in this raucous, rhyming romp starring a bunch of Vikings struggling to find some warm undies in the bitter chill of a snow storm.

Award-winning author Smallman, who has taken up writing his own stories after illustrating children’s books for over 30 years, serves up a feast of itchy, scritchy, scratchy fun as we follow in the footsteps of Bushy Bigbeard and his madcap gang of Viking warriors.

You would not believe the wacky lengths they are prepared to go to in their search for some warm and cosy undies. In their mission to turn their cold bottoms into toasty warm behinds, they brave the Forest of Despair and the Sea of Death to collect the fur off a yeti’s back… what they hadn’t reckoned on was yeti fleas!

Little ones will be itching to get their hands on this madcap, all-action adventure full of mishaps, giggles and the brilliantly detailed, laugh-out-loud illustrations of the talented Ellis. Irresistibly funny… and that’s the bottom line!

(Little Tiger Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Little Explorers: Goodnight Forest and Goodnight Ocean

Becky Davies and Carmen Saldaña

Watch your little ones’ eyes start to close as creatures of land and sea settle down for their night-time slumbers.

Sleepy babies and toddlers can’t help but pick up on the gentle rhythms of two gorgeous new board books which combine facts, fun and a beautiful verse with cut-out, peep-through pages… perfect to share at bedtime wind-down.

Explore the forest as you peek through the pages to watch sleepy animals settle down to bed or dive into the depths of the ocean and see sleepy sea creatures take a well-earned rest. Little ones will love learning about animal habitats in the forest as they explore burrows, tiptoe along riverbanks and climb to treetops, and they can observe sleeping sea creatures as they swim over carpets of coral in the depths of the ocean.

Produced in a chunky format, these beautiful books have extra facts on every page about animal and ocean habitats, and end with a twinkling and foiled, double-page spread.

An interactive lullaby of soothing words and pictures…

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99 each)