Book review: Selection of OUP children’s books

February sees an exciting new selection of books from the classy stable at Oxford University Press Children’s Books.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 2nd February 2012, 6:00 am

From picture books that catch the eyes of toddlers through the middle reading years and into the more adventurous world of teen fiction, there’s a book for all ages and all abilities.

Teenage readers have never had it so good. Some of the best writers for the adult market are turning their attentions to young adult fiction and producing stories of breathtaking sophistication and innovation.

Matt Dickinson, noted for The Other Side of Everest, the book which charted his own terrifying experiences on the treacherous North Face, and the adult fiction thrillers High Risk and Black Ice, brings us Mortal Chaos (paperback, £6.99), the first of a superb teen series inspired by the science of Chaos Theory, otherwise known as the Butterfly Effect.

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Using the theory that even the biggest and most disastrous events (a plane crash, a tornado, an avalanche) can be caused by tiny and sometimes barely noticeable changes that happen in the natural world, he weaves together a cleverly-paced suspense tale of life, death and chaos.

The first beating of a Purple Hairstreak butterfly’s iridescent wings unleashes mayhem across the planet when it startles a baby rabbit discovering the wonders of the world outside its burrow.

In an intricate web of cause and effect, that moment in quiet Sauncy Wood in Wiltshire will change and end lives from 18-year-old Japanese girl Kuni attempting a record solo climb on Everest and six-year-old Bakili in Malawi under attack from a pack of starving and savage baboons to a former US Gulf War veteran contemplating suicide and murder and airline pilot Tina Curtis heading out in her car for a long commute to Heathrow Airport.

Through fascinating interconnections, this group of people and a slowly increasing band of other victims become ensnared in a rolling drama which links them together in a battle for life and death.

Some will survive cataclysmic events... others won’t.

Dickinson’s wickedly wonderful adventure relies on a fast-moving momentum created by a narrative shaved to the bone and short, punchy chapters which draw in the reader and make it virtually impossible to resist turning the page.

Mortal Chaos is a thrilling concept that will appeal to both male and female teenagers ... and the good news is that the next in the series, Deep Oblivion, is due out this July.

And if you are looking for books to encourage your children to begin reading alone, check out Ali Sparkes’ fun-filled SWITCH series which takes kids on freaky, funky and fact-filled rollercoaster ride!

Youngsters aged seven and over will enjoy the adventures of daring twin brothers Josh and Danny Phillips and their nutty next door neighbour Petty Potts, a scientist only interested in her top secret Switch spray which turns humans into all creatures great and small.

And guess who Petty most likes ‘Switching’? Josh and Danny of course!

Their magical conversion into turtles, lizards, geckos and chameleons causes all kinds of chaos and danger but the super siblings are more than a match for Petty’s potty experiments.

In Lizard Loopy (paperback, £4.99), Petty’s new lizard formula is ready for testing, and Josh and Danny are eager to help. But as Josh and Danny are trying it out in the safety of Petty’s secret underground lab, they’re interrupted by an intruder’s attempt to get in to Petty’s house.

Soon, they’re on the run and making the most of their amazing speed and agility by whizzing up a tree. But in no time they’re surrounded by bird droppings and in serious danger of being swallowed whole by two moody owls...

And there’s trouble in Chameleon Chaos (paperback, £4.99) when Petty’s most recent spray doesn’t seem to be working, not that Josh and Danny were all that excited about being chameleons anyway – alligators would be much better!

At school the next day, time seems to be going too fast for the twins, and when one of Danny’s eyeballs rolls right round in its socket, they know things are getting weird. While Danny is distracted by the leafy coolness of his teacher’s pot plant, Josh is causing a stir in PE, escaping the class bullies by climbing right up to the top of the gym ropes! How long will it be before the boys are boys again?

Turtle Terror (paperback, £4.99) sees the twins on holiday with their parents in Cornwall where the last person they expect to see is Petty Potts holding a turtle under each arm.

A trip to the ruined fort on the nearby rocky island takes too long and the tide comes in, trapping the boys. Luckily, they have a bottle filled with Switch spray and turn themselves into leatherback turtles! Their swim back to mainland is filled with danger ... will Danny be able to save Josh from the fishing net before he Switches back in to a boy?

And in Gecko Gladiator (paperback, £4.99), Petty relocates her secret lab to the VERY pink and VERY girly Princess Land! Reluctantly, the twins fight their way through hordes of excited girls dressed as fairies to the back of a shop where a single door stands between them and Petty’s new lab.

Switching into geckos, the boys have no problems getting under the door and up the walls. It’s on the way out that things start to get really tricky . . . the Switch back hasn’t gone well, and although Josh and Danny have normal legs, they’re giant geckos from the waist up!

Illustrator Ross Collins adds an extra dimension of fun with his action-packed illustrations and each book comes with an activity section at the back with quizzes and games.

Ideal inspiration for young readers who need a little coaxing...

They say every picture tells a story and there is no better way to describe Quack Quack Moo, We See You! (paperback, £5.99), the delightfully funny and engaging new book from talented duo Mij Kelly and Katharine McEwen.

This bright, breezy and mischievous picture book will be a favourite with children aged two and over who cannot help but fall in love with the amazing Poppa Bombola.

Kelly’s endearing rhythmic, rhyming text, which is repeated to encourage little ones to join in the fun, combines perfectly with McEwen’s exuberant illustrations which are bursting with life and energy.

Poppa Bombola is searching high and low for his little girl. Is she by the duck pond? Is she in the cowshed? Could she even be in the chicken coop? While Poppa Bombola is in a frantic flap, someone very dear (and very near) to him is enjoying a laughter-filled farmyard ride!

Luckily for Poppa Bombola, the farmyard animals are on hand to help him find his darling daughter...