Book review: Spring sparklers from Macmillan Children’s Books

There’s a spring in the step of authors and illustrators at Macmillan Children’s Books as they celebrate a new season of exciting reading.

By Pam Norfolk
Monday, 8th April 2013, 10:00 am
My Super Sister
My Super Sister

Amongst the brilliant books sitting at the top of the class is an enchanting new series from Gwyneth Rees, a qualified child psychiatrist turned author. Aimed at girls aged seven and over, My Super Sister (Macmillan, paperback, £4.99), features Emma and her mischievous little sister Saffie who like having superpowers but must learn to make important compromises.

The adventurous sisters discover it’s fun making your dolls come to life, teaching Dad’s shoes to dance and playing Frisbee with the garden gnomes but that it isn’t always easy to keep your superpowers secret. And things are even more difficult for Emma when wickedly wayward Saffie can’t help using them in the naughtiest of ways.

Amongst a list of playful pranks, Saffie makes the new nosy neighbours’ garden shed come to life and hop over the hedge, and it’s left to Emma to cover their tracks before it’s too late.

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Being a big sister, she soon discovers, has never been so tough, and so heroic!

Full of warmth and magical mischief, Rees’ stories serve up innocence and nostalgia with magical twists and knockabout humour as well a gentle insight into the concerns and dreams of real children. Themes of friendship, family and sibling bonds are all neatly wrapped up in a fun, fantasy story brought to life by Ella Okstad’s charming illustrations.

And don’t miss the second book in the series, My Super Sister and the Birthday Party (Macmillan, hardback, £7.99), in which Emma and Saffie stay with their grandparents for the summer to learn how to use their superpowers. Emma brings a doll’s house to life but all Saffie wants is to cheer up Grandpa and decides to throw him the best party ever. What could possibly go wrong?

For younger children, there is a wonderful new series Let’s Talk About, first experience photographic books aimed at toddlers, pre-schoolers and their parents. Informative and funny, the series marks a departure from existing books of this kind by reflecting young children’s and their parents’ actual experiences.

Real backdrops and real domestic situations are played out using an authentic toddler’s narrative voice, accompanied by useful and sometimes wry information and advice for parents and children.

In Let’s Talk About: My New Baby by Stella Gurney and Fiona Freund (Campbell, hardback, £5.99), we meet Jack. He’s two and soon he’ll be having a new baby brother or sister. While Jack narrates what is going on around him, simple, funny cartoons show his perceptions of how his mummy will ‘have’ the baby, how he will share her with the baby and his real feelings about the baby when it finally arrives.

Featuring breastfeeding, tears, telly and an invaluable guide through the minefield of jealous siblings, this is a new baby book with a difference!

Meanwhile, Poppy Cat, the very special puss whose adventures have been turned into a brilliant TV series based on the original books by the late Lara Jones, returns in two new bright and colourful picture books, Poppy Cat: Birthday Treasure and Poppy Cat: The Mystery Trail (both Macmillan, paperback, £5.99).

In Birthday Treasure, poor Alma is really upset when she realises she has lost her new necklace, but Poppy Cat has a brilliant idea to make her feel better – a hunt for buried treasure! And in The Mystery Trail, dressing up as detectives proves to be great fun until one of Owl’s books goes missing and Poppy Cat has a real mystery to solve.

The warm, lovable animal characters, all illustrated so vividly and colourfully, are ideal for babies and toddlers, and their adventures are fun and action packed.

This pussy real is the cat’s whiskers...

On a more creative theme is Star Paws: Pirates sticker book (Macmillan, paperback, £3.99), an animal dress-up sticker book ideal for children aged three and over who will love getting to grips with the least dastardly and fluffiest pirate crew in the world. Little hands can use over 200 stickers to dress the animals in their pirate best, with hats, peg-legs and bushy beards, and get them ready for a swashbuckling adventure.

Adorable pet pictures are combined with colourful, easy-to-handle stickers and some quirky, comical quips to raise laughs as well as keep little hands busy. With a cute puppy called Cut-throat Colin and a knife-wielding cat called Tiddles McNasty, this is the craziest crew this side of Smugglers’ Bay!

For older children, award-winning designer Donna Wilson’s Creative Creatures: A Step-By-Step Guide to Making Your Own Creations (Macmillan, hardback, £12.99) is a fun and inspiring craft book to brighten up those rainy days

Wilson’s knitted creatures and quirky home accessories and designs have a huge following and now children too can get creative with the help of Donna’s woolly friends Charlie Monkey, Big Ted and Wilbur, Mitten Kitten, Cyril Squirrel-fox, Olive Owl and Ralf and Rill.

Step by step, children can learn to make banana bunting, an owl kite, a sausage dog draught excluder, a sock monster and many more wonderfully offbeat designs that will be loved by all the family.

Creative Creatures encourages creativity and craft hobbies, using materials which are easily sourced and accompanied by simple and clear instructions. Once made, each project can be kept and played with at home or given away as a gift.

Using items like old socks, pieces of felt, pipe cleaners, sticky tape, string, tissue paper, glue, ribbon, old gloves and elastic, children can set about making simple but ingenious masks, kites, finger puppets, key rings, paper clothes, dolls and bunting.

Easy-to-follow instructions, full colour diagrams and helpful tips ensure creative and imaginative fun for all the family. No experience is necessary and step-by-step guides make the crafts accessible for all, even those who claim to be impractical!

Fun and games at your fingertips...

And hands up those who want to be a brilliantly brainy supergeek? If you do, Glenn Murphy’s amazing new book has all the answers... and more! Murphy is a dinosaur expert and this man really does know how to think BIG!

Supergeek: Dinosaurs, Brains and Supertrains (Macmillan, paperback, £5.99), aimed at children aged nine and over, features 300 fun science questions and answers, all chosen by Murphy to test how much we REALLY know about the science that matters.

Do you know where your blind spot is and do you know how many taste buds are on your tongue? What kind of animal was a megalodon, how long could you survive with only half a brain and how large would an asteroid have to be to wipe out all human life on the planet?

This is the quick and witty way to find out all about dinosaurs and prehistoric life, blood and guts, brains, senses and feelings, weather and climate change, natural disasters, trains, planes and transport, and lots, lots more.

And as an added bonus, there are instructions at the back of the book which allow you to ‘play’ the book too, on your own or in a group.

Murphy sets the questions and gives all the answers, and he promises faithfully that there are no boring bits. Even parents will want to play this game and, who knows, all those young supergeeks out there might even beat them!

And if it’s quirky history you’re after, Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders: World War Two (Macmillan, paperback, £5.99) fills in all the gaps in those conventional, wartime history books.

True to form, Robinson takes us on a headlong gallop through time, pointing out all the most important, funny, strange, amazing, entertaining, smelly and disgusting bits about World War II, giving us a history lesson, but not as we know it!

Find out everything you need to know in this brilliant, action-packed, fact-filled book, including just how useful mashed potato is, how the Battle of Britain was won, what it takes to be a spy, how D-Day was kept a surprise and which medicine carried by soldiers was called the ‘Magic Bullet.’ Inquisitive youngsters can also discover why children were evacuated and how to detect poison gas.

With the incredible Tony Robinson as your guide, you’ll never be short of fascinating facts, fun-filled games and weird but wonderful gems from history.

And for more sophisticated and discerning teen readers, S.D.Crockett’s One Crow Alone (Macmillan, hardback, £12.99) revisits a world ravaged by a perpetual winter which we first encountered in the author’s thrilling and highly acclaimed debut After the Snow.

One Crow Alone is a superbly atmospheric and adrenalin-fuelled prequel with the action taking place ten years earlier as the winters begin to grow longer and harsher, and a state of emergency is declared across Europe.

In Poland, desperate communities are subject to frequent power cuts and fuel shortages. After the death of her grandmother and the evacuation of her village, 15-year-old Magda joins forces with the arrogant, handsome Ivan and smuggles her way onto a truck bound for London where she hopes to find her mother.

But London, when they reach it, is a terrifying and nightmarish world, and far from welcoming. Riots are commonplace and the growing chaos is exploited by ruthless gangs of criminals and terrorists.

Magda’s mother appears to have disappeared and as the lost girl struggles to come to terms with her changing, increasingly dangerous situation, she eventually becomes friends with a rag-tag group of travellers planning a new home and future.

But they will need all the cunning and know-how they possess as the frozen, outlying wilderness of Britain becomes just as lawless as the big city.

Crockett’s evocation of a dystopian, anarchic and violent country run by freewheeling gangs and at the mercy of climate change is truly chilling. Written in powerful but uncomplicated prose and with fast-paced action and believable, standout characters, One Crow Alone is both topical and thought-provoking.