Book review: Monsters, madcap fun and cuddly creatures take centre stage

Macmillan Children’s Books have a monstrously good selection of winter reads for young readers this January.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 22nd January 2015, 9:00 am
Monsters, madcap fun and cuddly creatures take centre stage
Monsters, madcap fun and cuddly creatures take centre stage

Film director Garth Jennings makes his first, exciting foray into children’s books, the most successful picture book partnership returns to delight us, an Aussie top team heads for the treetops and a zombie goldfish makes giant waves.

Age 9 plus:

The Deadly 7 by Garth Jennings

Meet The Deadly 7, a group of scary (well kind of scary) monsters who are guaranteed to make you howl… with laughter.

This bunch of ugly, cantankerous, smelly and hilarious creatures comes straight from the fertile imagination of Garth Jennings, director of the 2005 film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and a man who just loves to be in charge of all the action.

So what better than to be pulling the strings in this brilliant debut which combines adventure, mystery and knockabout humour in one devilishly entertaining book.

Everything happened so fast for 11-year-old Nelson Green. It was as if someone had taken reality, made it into a jigsaw, thrown the jigsaw on to the floor and then said ‘Now, hurry up and put it all together!’

When Nelson’s much-loved big sister Celeste goes missing on a school trip abroad, he is devastated. Nelson is shy and not that good at making friends and his sister is the only person he can talk to. His parents join the search party and leave Nelson in the care of his mad Uncle Pogo, a plumber working at St Paul’s Cathedral.

And it is here in the dark catacombs that Nelson stumbles across a strange and ancient machine, invented by Sir Christopher Wren and buried for hundreds of years. Designed to extract the seven deadly sins, the machine had a fault… once extracted, the sins become living, breathing monsters who then follow the sinner around for eternity (unless they eat him first, in the case of the particularly sinful).

Unfortunately, Nelson accidentally extracts seven deadly monsters from his own little soul. They are monstrously awful and amazingly funny, and the cause of much embarrassment. Nelson’s monsters are the last thing he needs in his life, but at least they’re fairly harmless (he’s actually a pretty good kid, on the whole).

When he learns about their individual powers, he realises the monsters can be put to good use, and together Nelson and the Deadly 7 set out on a quest across the globe to find and rescue his sister. Together they share an adventure beyond Nelson’s wildest dreams and somewhere along the way, he realises that he finally has friends, even if they are smelly, lazy friends…

Jennings’ work as a screenplay writer pays dividends in this brilliantly visual story which will grip young readers from the first intriguing page. The quirky and lovable cast of anarchic monsters steal the show as they slobber, honk, hoot and puff their way through a series of outlandish antics.

Written with style and boundless imaginative power, and illustrated throughout by the author, The Deadly 7 are simply drop-dead fantastic!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

The 13-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

The ‘wizards of Oz’ are here… and they are ready to work their treehouse magic!

Top Australian writer and illustrator team – Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton – have turned their wacky adventure stories, featuring two young would-be publishing sensations (unsurprisingly called Andy and Terry!), into a real-life reading phenomenon.

The success of the Treehouse series just won’t stop growing Down Under and now the amazing creators are branching out into the UK market with these wild and wacky, highly illustrated, laugh-out-loud books packed with hilarious antics, jokes and cartoons.

Fun, easy-to-read, visually exciting and wonderfully entertaining, their primary purpose is to grab the hearts and minds of reluctant young readers, and it’s a job well done.

Andy and Terry live in the world’s best ever treehouse! It’s got a giant catapult, a secret underground laboratory, a tank of man-eating sharks and a marshmallow machine that follows you around and shoots marshmallows into your mouth whenever you’re hungry.

It should be the perfect retreat to write a best-seller but there are a few totally unexpected hitches… you have to watch out for the sea monkeys, and the monkeys pretending to be sea monkeys, and the giant mutant mermaid sea monster. Oh, and, whatever you do, don’t get trapped in a burp-gas-filled bubble!

Youngsters will love following Andy and Terry’s crazy adventures in their treehouse as they try to write a book beset by a giant ocean of devilish distractions.

With its slapstick humour, brilliant absurdities and a some bonus puzzles to solve at the back of the book, The 13-Storey Treehouse is the best ‘tall story’ you’ll read this year!

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish: Live and Let Swim by Mo O’Hara

As the talented Mo O’Hara lands the fifth book in her zany zombie goldfish extravaganza, there will be a queue of youngsters waiting breathlessly for her latest catch.

These entertaining and anarchic stories, accompanied by equally outstanding illustrations, are just the job for reluctant readers who like their books to be visually exciting. And there are two stories in one book to enjoy here.

In the latest daredevil adventure, we meet up again with Tom and his best friend Pradeep who have a secret. Their best friend Frankie is a goldfish… not an ordinary orange bubble-blower with a three-second memory, but a zombie goldfish with super-fishy intelligence, super-fishy strength and the power to hypnotise his enemies and control their every move. But luckily for Tom and Pradeep, their fishy friend is rather fond of them.

On a trip to the aquarium, the boys discover that something fishy is going on, something that almost certainly involves evil older brothers, a vampire kitten, a psychic octopus and a plot to take over the world. Can Pradeep and Tom help Frankie to swim another day, or will he come to a squiddy end?

In story two, the TV show My Pet’s Got Talent has come to town. But someone is stealing all the entrants’ amazing abilities. Can Frankie stop the thief without revealing his secret zombie skills?

Marek Jagucki’s suitably outlandish illustrations add to all the fun of stories brimming with exuberant action and vibrant humour. And the addictive mix of comedy, mystery and adventure makes these books a sure-fire winner for boisterous boys.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

It’s ten years since the winning team of author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler, creators of The Gruffalo, stole the show with the memorable story of avid reader Charlie Cook.

This limited10th anniversary edition comes complete with early drawings from Scheffler’s sketchbook and a shiny foiled cover to make it the perfect gift.

Julia Donaldson had always dreamed of ‘writing a book about someone reading a book about someone reading a book’ and thus Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book was born, an artful and amusing play on words beautifully brought to life by the talented Axel Scheffler.

Charlie Cook is reading a book about a pirate captain, who is reading a book about Goldilocks, who is reading about a knight, who is reading about a frog… from kings and queens to aliens and ghosts, there is something for everyone in Charlie’s amazing book!

This rhyming book, full of fun and humour and a true celebration of books and reading, will capture the hearts and minds of a new generation of children.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Baby and toddler: Postman Bear by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

And the winning Donaldson-Scheffler team have another good reason to celebrate this year… it’s the 15th anniversary of their gorgeous Tales from Acorn Wood series starring a group of furry favourites.

To mark the occasion, Macmillan have printed several beautiful new editions so babies and toddlers can get to know the woodland friends and join in the gentle fun of their adventures.

These foiled, hard-wearing lift-the flap books feature Scheffler’s bold and colourful illustrations and offer a simple, appealing story full of warmth and friendship. There are surprises on every page as little ones open the doors and make their own discoveries whilst learning the joys of books and reading.

In Postman Bear, we find Bear writing letters… one, two, three. Then off he goes to post them, but where do his friends live? Lift the flaps and join frog, squirrel and mole for Bear’s special surprise! And don’t miss the other titles in the series… Fox’s Socks, Rabbit’s Nap and Hide-and-Seek Pig.

Books to read, love and share…

(Macmillan, board book, £5.99)