Amazing structures, special hugs and a royal rebel - book reviews

Set the new year in motion with a fantastic selection of children's books that will keep your youngsters amused, entertained, informed and inspired.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 7th January 2019, 1:52 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 12:15 pm
See Inside Bridges, Towers and Tunnels by Struan Reid and Annie Carbo
See Inside Bridges, Towers and Tunnels by Struan Reid and Annie Carbo

Age 7 plus:

See Inside Bridges, Towers and Tunnels by Struan Reid and Annie Carbo

The world is full of amazing structures… from bridges over land and sea to soaring towers and tunnels that run for miles underground.

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As we go about our daily lives, there are often few chances to really look and admire these architectural feats… so here’s a brilliant book that lets youngsters cross magnificent bridges, climb to the top of the tallest towers, and look down into some of the longest tunnels.

Packed with stunning, intricately detailed illustrations by talented artist Annie Carbo and lots of intriguing flaps to lift, Usborne’s beautifully crafted and creative new book reveals how bridges, towers and tunnels are built, and visits some of the most famous examples from across the world, including the Channel Tunnel and the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai.

Struan Reid provides the fascinating facts and figures as children lift the flaps to learn the rudiments of structural mechanics and engineering. Learn how bridges work in different ways and explore some of the many types, from the simplest beam bridges to ingenious arch bridges and spectacular suspension bridges.

People have been building towers for centuries but with new materials and technologies, architects can design much taller ones than ever before. Explore the movable sections of the iconic Tower Bridge in London which was built over 100 years ago, and take a close-up look at the stunning Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay.

Tunnels are hidden underground but there is lots to see below the surface. Find out about some of the different types and the methods that are used to build them today. Marvel at the longest road tunnel in the world… the Laerdel Tunnel in Norway which runs for over 15 miles.

With the added bonus of links to websites which let you see views from the top of the Shard and CN tower, and travel through tunnels and view the enormous machines used to create them, this is a wonderful ‘building block’ book to inspire and enthuse engineers of the future.

(Usborne, board book, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

Look Inside a Hospital by Katie Daynes and Stefano Tognetti

Hospitals are big, busy, noisy places… and can be very frightening for young children making their first visit.

So whether they are visiting a relative or attending the hospital for treatment or an operation, here is the perfect lift-the-flaps book to reassure and inform your youngsters about what really goes on behind that bustling façade.

Look Inside a Hospital – packed with interesting facts and Stefano Tognetti’s superbly detailed illustrations – takes children gently by the hand and leads them through the wards, waiting rooms and different departments to see the work and treatments that are carried out, and to meet some of the many friendly people who work there.

This fascinating and informative book allows youngsters to lift the flaps and explore the emergency and maternity units, learn how X-rays and scans work, and see inside an operating theatre.

The book sensitively and engagingly explains how hospitals are places where ill or injured people go to get better. From outpatient departments and emergency departments to what happens when you stay overnight and the scans and tests that help doctors to find out what is going on inside our bodies, this is a reassuring and helpful guide for both children and parents.

There are over 50 flaps to lift and links to websites where you can take hospital tours and meet the patients. And when young readers reach the end of the book, they can go back through the pages to spot some of the hospital workers they have met along the way.

Hospitals don’t have to be scary!

(Usborne, board book, £9.99)

All ages:

100 Hugs by Chris Riddell

Share the love! Yes, you’re never too young – or too old – to enjoy a hug.

So everyone will embrace this endearing and imaginative collection of illustrated hugs from former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, an accomplished artist and political cartoonist for The Observer.

100 Hugs is a gorgeous keepsake book, the perfect gift for a loved one, or simply the place to turn to for cheer and to lift the spirits on the darkest of days. These charismatic, cuddly clinches convey affection, humour and love, and every one of them is guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart.

From animals and aliens to families and friends, and from Alice in Wonderland and the White Rabbit to the Three Little Pigs and Pinocchio, and with words of loving wisdom from famous names, poets, writers and philosophers, this cornucopia of cuddles is a real work of art… and heart.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage

The famous, real-life sighting of what many would claim to be a UFO at a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, over 70 years ago forms the intriguing backdrop to a beautiful, heartwarming story from Melissa Savage.

Savage knows more than a thing or two about kids. As a children’s therapist, she is fully aware of their hopes and fears, and it was this knowledge – and a keen interest in cryptozoology – that inspired her to write Bigfoot, Tobin and Me, a beautiful, perceptive novel about adventure, friendship and overcoming grief.

Here, she turns her talents to a thought-provoking adventure rooted in the past but exploring universal concerns like coping with loss and grief, and the healing powers of love, family bonds and friendship.

It’s 1947 and we see the world through the eyes of Mylo who tells us he has never really believed in Martians, unless they had a starring role in one of his comic books. But then a flying saucer crash-lands next to his ranch in Roswell, New Mexico, and he starts to hear voices… like someone is trying to communicate with him, asking for help.

Desperate to be as brave as his older brother Obie, who died over a year ago, Mylo is determined to investigate the crash. With his best friend Dibs and crush Gracie by his side, and his Cracker Jack superhero membership card, a slingshot, and a small American flag (for peace) in tow, Mylo sets out on an epic adventure to investigate the crash and find the Martians. But he and his friends end up discovering more about the universe than they ever could have imagined.

Savage brings to life the world of 1947 with authentic dialogue and cultural references that will fascinate a new generation of children, but she also tackles with sensitivity and understanding important themes like growing up, truth, friendship, death and new beginnings.

A life-affirming adventure with a warm and clever heart…

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Royal Rebel by Carina Axelsson

If it’s girl power, glitz and glamour you are after this new year, then step into the exciting world of Lily Waldenburg, the reluctant princess who would rather be a fashion queen.

Royal Rebel is the first book in a sparkling new middle-grade series from former top model Carina Axelsson, who has swapped the catwalk for a successful writing career, and is already the bestselling author of the popular Model Under Cover books.

This new series was inspired by Axelsson’s desire to create an alternative ‘princess story,’ a Queendom where girls can fall in love with the fairy tale lifestyle whilst feeling empowered by a world where they are the decision-makers.

Lily Waldenburg is in many ways a normal teenager. She loves fashion, her dog Coco, her guinea pig Zoe and sleepovers with her best friend Leonie. She dreams of being a fashion vlogger and when her videos on her style vlog, Tiara Girl, start to take off, Lily knows this is her chance to succeed.

But Lily is also a princess, first in line to be Queen of Waldenburg, a matriarchal society. She has her royal responsibilities to think about – the ‘Queen-to-be’ stuff that she must learn before she comes of age next year.

Her Grandmaman and Mother (Her Majesty Sophia the Twelfth) have high expectations of what a princess should be, and that certainly doesn’t include being a fashion vlogger. But as Tiara Girl’s online star rises so too do Lily’s responsibilities as the future Queen. Can she keep her identity secret, or will she be exposed as the Crown Princess and royal rebel that she really is?

Royal Rebel is the perfect blend of fashion, princess glamour and fun-filled adventure as the gorgeous Lily treads a fine line between the restrictions of her royal duties and her desire to be both ‘normal’ and a successful fashion vlogger.

There is plenty of mischief to enjoy with Lily and her friends in this glittering new series which has excitement, adventure and fashion all sewn up!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Double Dork Diaries 5: Drama Queen and Puppy Love by Rachel Renée Russell

Nikki Maxwell, Queen of the Dorks, is back for a special bumper edition of dorkiness in this double story 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 inside (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. There are an amazing 45 million Dork Diaries books in print worldwide and Lionsgate, the company that produced The Hunger Games, has optioned film rights for the series.

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

In Nikki Maxwell’s newest adventures – Drama Queen and Puppy Love – there is a missing-diary disaster (leading to a mean-girl takeover!) and a puppy problem of epic proportions.

Nikki’s life is never dull and always dorky so get ready to dive into her dork-tastic life with this fabulous two-in-one bind-up.

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

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £8.99)

Age 8 plus:

Even More Pongwiffy Stories by Kaye Umansky and Katy Riddell

When Pongwiffy: A Witch of Dirty Habits was first published in 1987, it was just the start of an exciting, laugh-out-loud and anarchic series that was destined to become a much-loved classic.

Kaye Umansky has now written over 130 books for children, ranging from picture books to novels, but the Pongwiffy series, a bestseller from day one, remains a favourite with readers young and old.

Pogwiffy is the smelliest, ugliest witch ever, and publishers Simon & Schuster are re-issuing these hilarious books with a gorgeous gallery of new illustrations from Katy Riddell, daughter of the former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, and an emerging illustration talent in her own right.

This new bind-up edition of three classic Pongwiffy stories includes Pongwiffy and the Pantomime, The Spellovision Song Contest, and Back on Track.

Pongwiffy and the rest of the witches need to earn some money, and fast. But every idea they come up with to raise funds seems so boring... until Pongwiffy suggests they put on a pantomime and sell tickets. Get ready for some theatrical chaos with the witches of Witchway Wood!

In the second story, all the witches are transfixed by spellovision and no one wants to do anything fun any more… until Pongwiffy decides to launch a song contest to liven things up.

Finally, Pongwiffy decides that being a witch of dirty habits is holding her back. It’s time to get healthy, but can a witch who prefers sludge to sprouts really get back on track?

These warm, funny stories – which come with a cast of superbly imagined characters and a mapped woodland backdrop – have a special charm and wit that will enchant a new generation of young readers.

Pongwiffy’s world of slime, grime and exceedingly bad habits grows more addictive with each adventure and ensures that youngsters will be queueing up for more jokes and mucky mishaps when the next books hit the shelves!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Star Friends: Poison Potion by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming

Mystery, magic, adventure and danger… the perfect mix for young readers getting to grips with reading alone!

Linda Chapman, author of over 200 books for children, has her finger firmly on the pulse of little girls and animal lovers in the fifth book of her wonderfully warm, exciting and tender Star Friends series which has won the hearts of thousands of youngsters.

Maia and her three pals are Star Friends – girls who can use magic to keep the world in harmony, looking after the environment, healing things and people, but most importantly conquering evil. And when they meet the Star Animals, a whole world of magical adventure unfolds.

In their sixth adventure, the Star Friends still don’t know who is using the woodland plants to create dark magic potions. Could it be the grumpy new school secretary? Meanwhile, Lottie’s friend Essie is being mean at school, and none of the adults want to go to work. The girls must combine their powers to unmask the potion-maker… and defeat them once and for all.

Chapman’s imaginative stories – ideally pitched for building reading confidence – transport children into the wonderful Star World through her gentle narrative and enchanting characters while Lucy Fleming provides the appealing and contemporary illustrations which capture all the dramas and challenges as the friends battle to overcome evil using their magical powers.

With captivating animal characters, enchanting adventures and a lively group of Star Friends to get to know and like, there is fun, love and adventure on every page as well as important messages about wildlife and the environment.

A spellbinding series that inspires a love of reading…

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Perfect Kitten by Holly Webb and Sophy Williams

Much-loved author Holly Webb is back to bewitch and beguile her young readers with the amazing 41st story adventure in her adorable and hugely popular Animal Stories series which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since the first story hit the shelves in 2006.

Webb has written over 100 books for children, including the Animal Stories, My Naughty Little Puppy and the Maisie Hitchens series and is one of the UK’s best-loved children’s authors.

In this gorgeous new adventure, we meet Abi who has always wanted a kitten of her own. But when her family contact the local animal shelter to enquire about adopting one, she is devastated to find out that the busy road they live on would make it too dangerous. Then the shelter rescues a deaf white kitten called Flower who needs to be kept inside. She is the perfect kitten for Abi’s family but how will they adapt to looking after an indoor kitten? And what will happen when the kitten gets bored with staying inside?

Sophy Williams provides the gorgeous black and white illustrations for this enchanting 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 magical allure of animals.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Kiss by 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, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Colour of Happy by Laura Baker and Angie Rozelaar

Journey through a rainbow of feelings in this exquisite picture book from top author and illustration team Laura Baker and Angie Rozelaar.

The Colour of Happy is a beautiful first book of emotions which guides little ones through the whole gamut of feelings that everyone experiences but that they have not yet learned to recognise, label and understand.

‘Blue is for the calm I feel wandering in the spring. Yellow is for happy when I spot a special thing.’ A little boy navigates a range of emotions, from happiness and excitement to hope and love, all on his way to present the special gift of a dandelion clock to his mum.

The child learns that if he can put anger, envy and sadness aide, he might make a friend and recover what has been lost along the way.

Through Baker’s emotive, carefully selected rhyming text and Rozelaar’s enchanting, child-friendly pictures in a range of different colours to suit each mood, youngsters are gently guided through one little boy’s reactions when things go right, or wrong, for him.

This simple but highly effective book is the perfect introduction to encourage mindfulness practices in children, and will delight both little ones and adults as they share the ups and downs of everyday life.

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

Age 3 plus:

Perfectly Polite Penguins by Georgiana Deutsch and Ekaterina Trukhan

Get ready to laugh out loud when a naughty little penguin starts a madcap rebellion!

Penguins are always perfectly polite. They wait their turn, they share their toys and they never forget to say please or thank you. But then Polly the not-so-polite penguin decides that being polite is boring! And when the other penguins start to agree… Uh oh! It’s chaos!

Find out what happens when Polly’s bad manners start rubbing off on the whole penguin clan. Can chaos be averted for the sake of baby Peter who just wants to be quiet?

With amusing characters, including the naughty but irresistibly funny Polly, Ekaterina Trukhan’s bold, bright and simply picture perfect illustrations, this warm-hearted, enchanting and playful story speaks loudly about minding your manners and respecting the wishes of others.

The ideal cautionary tale for you own little mischief-makers!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 3 plus:

Octopants by Suzy Senior and Claire Powell

Everything is going swimmingly for a little octopus until he tries to find a pair of underpants that fit!

Youngsters will be laughing all the way to the deep end as they follow the adventures and misadventures of a mixed-up, muddled-up mollusc in a joyously playful picture book from the perfect pairing of author Suzy Senior and illustrator Claire Powell.

The perfect pants are hard to find for someone shaped like an octopus. Could a pair of Octopants be just what he needs? Why not dive in and see? There are bobble hats for barnacles, all-in-ones for urchins, slipper-socks for eels and even water wings for whales... will Octopus ever find a pair of pants to fit, or will he finally know his legs from his arms?

Senior has a wonderful way with words and her funny, exuberant and clever rhyming romp leaps into glorious life alongside Powell’s vibrant, vivid and superbly colourful cartoon-style illustrations.

Underwater underwear doesn’t have to be pants!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie

After ten years in publishing, award-winning publicist Lauren Ace is starting a new chapter and turning her talents to writing her own stories.

And this extra special debut picture book packs a resonant and inspirational message for youngsters just embarking on the adventure of life and with beautiful, heartfelt illustrations by Jenny Løvlie to complete the picture, The Girls is a work of words and art.

We are told that behind every successful woman is a tribe of women who have her back. They are the ones that pick each other up when they have fallen down, the ones that tell you anything is possible. They are friends, partners, role models and family.

And when four very different little girls – Sasha, Lottie, Alice and Leela – meet under an apple tree, they form an unshakable bond that grows as they their share secrets, dreams, worries and triumphs.

Of course, there are times when jokes and laughter turn to cross words and tears but they know how to say sorry and learn from the falling out. As the years pass, the girls become teenagers, falling in love and sharing new experiences, but they remain rooted together. As they lay the foundations of their future, they work, marry and even move away but whatever lies ahead, they know they will always be the best of friends.

The Girls is a cleverly conceived and quietly powerful book which champions female friendship in a beautiful, poignant and original way, inviting little ones to grow with the characters, and showing the passage of time as they mature from four typical little girls into four strong, resourceful women.

Løvlie’s lovingly imagined illustrations are fresh and appealing and are the perfect match for Ace’s warm and wise words, creating a stunning harmony between words and pictures, and an outstanding picture book.

(Caterpillar Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age from birth:

Zoology for Babies and Architecture for Babies by Jonathan Litton and Thomas Elliott

It’s never too early to score top marks in zoology and architecture!

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.

In Zoology for Babies, little ones will love discovering all about some of their favourite animals, including their habitats, foods, and families. Creatively written by Jonathan Litton, who has a background in science, and featuring the bright and bold illustrations of Thomas Elliott, this appealing and light-hearted book presents essential information about animals like penguins, bears and deer through easy-to-understand facts and bright, bold images.

The talented duo also work their magic on Architecture for Babies which introduces babies and toddlers to different types of buildings, from schools and shops to the magnificent Taj Mahal, and shows how they are made. Delivered in an eye-catching format full of colour and eye-catching design, the workings of building and architecture 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!

So welcome to Baby 101, where big topics are creatively curated for the tiniest tots…

(Caterpillar Books, board book, £5.99 each)