Book review: Bridge the holiday boredom gap with Macmillan Children’s Books

As the summer holidays hit the halfway point, it’s time to open up a new chapter of fun and adventurous reading.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 15th August 2013, 10:00 am
Bridge the holiday boredom gap with Macmillan Childrens Books
Bridge the holiday boredom gap with Macmillan Childrens Books

Macmillan Children’s Books have some special treats in store with an exciting line-up of fabulous titles – from a little mouse on a big, beastly mission and a pair of warring witches to a chicken running out of cluck and a group of youngsters fighting evil in a sinister city.

Age 3 plus:

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Beasts by Emily Gravett

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Enter the magical world of Emily Gravett and you’ll never want to return! Her award-winning animal stories are written and illustrated with flair, affection and a freewheeling sense of fun which tumbles out of every page.

In the hotly anticipated follow-up to her award-winning Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, Gravett has created the perfect book for sharing aloud with young children in need of a little reassurance. Little Mouse has been rummaging around the bookshelves again and has found one featuring pictures of the world’s most terrifying and ferocious beasts. The loud lion, the toothsome crocodile and the grizzly bear are just some of creatures he encounters on each page but they are all just a bit too scary!

So the ever pragmatic Little Mouse decides to take matters into his own paws and bravely sets about removing or altering all the scariest bits. The lion’s sharp claws are covered up with cosy mittens, the ‘stompy’ rhinoceros gains a pair of fetching high-heeled shoes and ruby lips replace the shark’s teeth … but will brave Little Mouse’s resolve hold to face the scariest creature of all?

As always, Gravett’s animal illustrations are vibrant, busy, detailed and filled with her trademark wit, humorous observations and fun activities. With its nibbled page corners, innovative flaps to lift, pages with gaping holes and quirky notes to open up, this is a real paper chase for tiny tots who will be eager to discover if Little Mouse has bitten off more than he can chew. So much more than just a picture book, Little Mouse’s Big Book of Beasts is an amazing maze of animal magic!

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

Babies and toddlers:

My Zoo by Rod Campbell

Over the last 30 years, five million copies of Rod Campbell’s much-loved book Dear Zoo have been sold worldwide and it is still as popular today as it was when it was introduced to families in 1982. As part of the celebrations for the 30th anniversary, some new books have been added to the range including this imaginative board book which brings all those favourite zoo animals to spectacular life.

Toddlers will love to open up the pages and meet all the animals one by one, from the large grey elephant and the stripy zebra to the bouncy kangaroo and the big friendly hippo. This robust and hard-wearing board book contains sixteen popular zoo animals and little ones can learn their names and then discover their different shapes and sizes as they turn the chunky die-cut pages.

Ingeniously simple and yet wonderfully clever, My Zoo is the ideal way to introduce children to the wonder and variety of wild animals.

(Macmillan, boardbook, £8.99)

Age 2 plus:

Wake Up Do, Lydia Lou! by Julia Donaldson and Karen George

Time for bed… and time to enjoy a gentle, playful bedtime read from Julia Donaldson, author of the ever-popular The Gruffalo. Wake Up Do, Lydia Lou!, an enchanting story about a girl who sleeps through anything, is full of fun sounds which children will love to join in with time and time again.

A little ghost wants to give Lydia Lou a scare but he is struggling to even wake her up so he fetches his noisy animal friends to help. Mew says the cat, moo says the cow and too-whit too-whoo screams the owl, wake up do, Lydia Lou! Will anything ever wake her?

Donaldson’s addictive story has a bouncy, lyrical beat with plenty of repetition, making it another classic that children and parents will enjoy reading aloud, all excitingly brought to life by Karen George’s colourful and lively illustrations.

Another classic in the making from a top team…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Rich Witch, Poor Witch by Peter Bently and Jim Field

What better than a fantastically funny fairy tale from the winners of the 2011 Roald Dahl Funny Prize?

When there’s a panic at the palace, which witch will come to the rescue? Twin sisters Rose and Rita may both be witches but they don’t have much in common. Whilst Rose is happiest helping the needy for free, Rita only takes on the best, and richest, clients. As a result, their lifestyles are extremely different. Then one day the king comes calling with a serious problem – the princess just won’t smile. Rita tries everything in her power to cheer up the reticent royal, from conjuring gorgeous frocks and delicious chocs to cute puppies and pet dragons but nothing will put a grin on the face of the gloomy princess. But the more modest Rose has the solution that her show-off sister can’t figure out – and it doesn’t involve riches or magic at all.

Rich Witch, Poor Witch is a bright and vibrant tale with a gentle moral from the co-creators of the award-winning Cats Ahoy! Bently’s witty rhyming text is perfectly complemented by Field’s lively and elaborately detailed illustrations to create the perfect book for reading aloud and discussing. Every picture is a visual feast of talking points and entertaining characters. Colourful, vibrant and packed with action.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus

I’m A Chicken, Get Me Out of Here!by Anna Wilson

Feathers are flying as popular author Anna Wilson cooks up a delicious animal crackers standalone story about an irrepressible chicken.

Titch the chicken joins Wilf’s family by mistake. Wilf’s mum is always absent-mindedly ordering things on the internet and when Titch turns up instead of the easy-cook chicken breasts she thought she had ordered, it’s a big surprise for the whole family. Animal-loving Wilf is allowed to keep Titch as a pet and she swiftly becomes his favourite but the other pets get jealous and plot to evict poor Titch from the household.

It’s only when the animals are put in danger by a mystery foxy visitor that Titch, with all her cunning and worldly wisdom, is able to step into the spotlight and save the day…

Andy Rowland’s quirky illustrations add extra fun and put meat on the bones of Titch’s high-flying adventures.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix by Kate Saunders

Kate Saunders won an army of young hearts and minds with The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, her thrilling story of supernatural intrigue at an old chocolate shop, and the follow-up has the same magical ingredients.

Once again a secret government department needs the help of Oz and Lily in a desperate new mission. Along with everyone’s favourite cantankerous cat, Demerara, her ratty companion Spike, and some powerfully magical chocolate, the children must travel back in time to London at the height of the Blitz and try to prevent the deadly Alba from changing the past and, as a result, their present.

Along the way they meet supernatural creatures and come to know the true danger of the curse of the chocolate phoenix. Can they defeat some very dangerous supernatural creatures and save London’s famous cathedral from destruction by fire?

The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix is a tasty and tantalising treat for children with wild imaginations and an overflowing sense of adventure. Saunders’ exciting story is full of spills and thrills and plenty of dark humour. Her clear and concise narrative style makes the story flow and the element of supernatural gives an added dimension to the cracking plotlines.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish: The Sea-Quel by Mo O’Hara

Prepare to be ‘goldfish’ bowled over by the second laugh-out-loud book in the My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish series from the pen of the brilliant Mo O’Hara.

The Sea-Quel contains two squelchy stories that will have youngsters hooked from the first page. When Tom saved Frankie the goldfish from near death (by zapping him with a battery), Frankie somehow became a big fat zombie goldfish with hypnotic powers.

Now Frankie is one fierce fish with a mind of his own (good job Frankie has appointed himself as Tom’s bodyguard). When Tom takes Frankie on a trip to the seaside, they meet a strange old lighthouse keeper who warns them about the Evil Eel of Eel Bay… and sure enough, one lightning storm later, Frankie is embroiled in a fishy stand-off with a Super Zombie Eel. And in the second story, all eyes are on Frankie as he takes on a starring role in the school play.

The My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish stories brim with life and humour and are ideal for children who like books with plenty of bold, busy pictures.

(Macmillan, paperback, £4.99)

Oliver Fibbs and The Giant Boy-Munching Bugs by Steve Hartley

Lancashire children’s author Steve Hartley is one of the writers leading the way in the battle to get boys reading, and Oliver Tibbs (better known as Oliver Fibbs) is the perfect anti-hero to make reluctant young males turn over a new leaf.

In the second of this lively series, Oliver’s fibs have started getting real, a very worrying situation for the world’s biggest liar. His real name is Oliver Tibbs but some people call him Oliver Fibbs (for rather obvious reasons) and sometimes his life gets a little DAB (Dull And Boring). So from time to time he gets ‘creative’ with the truth at Show and Tell but this time something exciting really has happened. Dad has been bitten by a strange tropical insect and struck down with Wenghi Benghi Fever. It’s highly likely the bugs will get Oliver too and he’ll break out in green spots, orange boils, a red rash and probably turn into a bloodsucking zombie killer… like Agent Q in his favourite comic!

With its easy-to-read text design and darkly comic content, Oliver’s wacky adventures are just what is needed to keep the pages turning.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Phenomenals: A Game of Ghouls by F.E.Higgins

Meet the truly phenomenal Phenomenals… the thief, the seeker, the rich girl and the brute but also known as Citrine, Folly, Jonah and Vincent. After a narrow escape in Tangle of Traitors, they are back for another adventure in the twisted city of Degringolade.

The extraordinary Phenomenals are the imaginative creation of F. E. Higgins, a master of the macabre who reputedly travels the lands that her books describe, collecting strange artefacts and the even stranger secrets and stories behind them.

Our heroes have survived an evil plot to release the terrifying Lurids that live in the tar pit of Degringolade but now it seems the whole population of the city are out to get the intrepid foursome. They are determined to work together to clear their names and battle the evil forces that threaten their home.

But when an unexplained earthquake strikes, the Kronometer of Degringolade, an ancient clock that sits in the town square, is severely damaged. Superstition has it that terrible things will occur if the clock stops… and the townsfolk are right to worry. There is something stirring beneath the foundations of the city and the Phenomenals will be tested to their limits if they are to save the people of Degringolade from a terrible fate.

Suspense, mystery and out-of-this-world adventures are the hallmarks of this clever and inventive series which offers youngsters so much more than a regulation story book.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Do Try This at Home: Cook It! by Punk Science

There’s a science to cooking and Punk Science, the Science Museum’s very own comedy team, have put together this feast of facts to make preparing food more than just a kitchen chore.

Using experiments, live demonstrations and music, the eclectic team members put the fun into the fundamental theories of cookery science with exciting recipes for all ages. Make cupcakes and find out why beating the eggs and using baking powder makes them rise, cook a Bolognese sauce and discover why onions make you cry and what happens to the molecules in the meat when you cook it.

Reveal the insulating power of meringue when you make a Baked Alaska… the oven is hot but the ice cream stays frozen. You can also discover the amazing scientific powers of ingredients such as gelatine, yeast and eggs. There are sections about the history of food, preserving and packaging, growing food and vitamins and minerals. And if that wasn’t enough, the food boffins have also looked at really healthy ways of preparing the food. Success on a plate for cooks young and old!

(Macmillan, paperback, £9.99)


GLOSS by Marilyn Kaye

Were the Swinging Sixties as good as they are cracked up to be? Teenage girls will love getting a taste of an exciting bygone era in this enthralling and entertaining story to kick off a sparkling new series.

Four girls are living out their wildest dreams during one steamy summer of fashion, romance, secrets and glamour in 1960s New York where fashion, music and attitudes are rapidly changing. Sherry, Donna, Allison and Pamela have each landed a dream internship at Gloss, America’s number-one fashion magazine in the Big Apple, and they think that there’s nowhere in in the world more thrilling.

Each girl is trying to make her mark on the city and each one finds herself thrown head first into the buzzing world of celebrity, high-end fashion and gossip. But everything isn’t as glamorous as it seems as secrets from the past threaten to shatter their dreams. They soon discover that romance in New York is as unpredictable and thrilling as the city itself…

A new generation of feminists will have their eyes opened to what seems like a parallel universe as they travel back to an age of chauvinism in a male-dominated publishing world. Thrills and spills, romance and glitz are played out alongside the realities of life and love in the Sixties.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

The Mortal Instruments Companion: City of Bones, Shadowhunters and the Sight: The Unauthorized Guide by Lois H. Gresh

No self-respecting teen will want to miss this first companion guide to the blockbuster bestselling The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series which is soon to be a major motion picture called The City of Bones.

The Mortal Instruments Companion takes fans deeper into the world of Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters, evil-hunting warriors living on the edge of society. Covering both The Mortal Instruments series plus steampunk prequels The Infernal Devices, the companion guide follows modern-day Clary Fray and Victorian Tessa Gray as they are inexplicably pulled into a world of magic, desire, sizzling hot romance and unspeakable evil.

This book, which is not authorised by Cassandra Clare or anyone involved in The City of Bones movie, includes fascinating background facts about the characters, myths and romances covered in both series, including amazing insights into the major themes that shape the Shadowhunter world.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)