Book review: Stories to astound, amuse and delight from Macmillan Children’s Books

There is a rainbow selection of new children’s books from Macmillan this month and at the top of the colour chart is the captivating tale of a boy who turns green.

Stories to astound, amuse and delight from Macmillan Childrens Books
Stories to astound, amuse and delight from Macmillan Childrens Books

Award-winning author Frank Cottrell Boyce’s hilarious adventure featuring Broccoli Boy Rory Rooney is a truly tasty concoction and there are laughs and gasps with a hungry giant, some wobbly moments with a girl called Jelly, magical fun in Fairy Land and terror in an apocalyptic world.

Age 9 plus:

The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce

He’s green by day and a hero by night… colourful schoolboy Rory Rooney is setting out on an unforgettable voyage that will change the way he sees the world.

Yes, it’s here, one of 2015’s most eagerly anticipated children’s books. And award-winning author and scriptwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce doesn’t disappoint. The inventive genius behind the 21st century return of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and one of the masterminds behind the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony, is on exhilarating form in this brilliant stand-alone story.

Charming, funny, gloriously offbeat and packed with the spirit of adventure, The Astounding Broccoli Boy promises to be one of the best children’s novels of the year and comes straight from the warm heart and fertile imagination of the amazing Mr Cottrell Boyce.

Rory Rooney doesn’t like surprises. He’d rather be prepared for all eventualities and relies on his favourite and well-studied book Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared which offers advice on any problem. In fact, Rory has memorised every page of it. He could even survive a hippo attack. He knows that just because something is unlikely doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen.

But Rory isn’t prepared when he suddenly and inexplicably turns green after an unfortunate incident on a geography field trip. It’s such a rare a predicament that even Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared has no answers.

Stuck in an isolation ward with two other remarkably green children in a hospital far from home and family, poor Rory is as confused by his new condition as the medics seem to be. No one, not even some world famous scientists, have an explanation for what has happened to him, or any idea how to turn him skin-coloured again.

Despite feeding him ‘good things’ like quinoa and monitoring his every movement, they remain clueless. Is it genetic, an allergy, something all the children ate or maybe an alien life form? Hang on a minute, what if turning green actually means you’ve turned into a superhero?

Accompanied by his former nemesis and a feisty penguin sidekick, Rory makes it past hospital security, eager to discover exactly what his superpower might be. But even the best intentions can cause more harm than good and soon Rory is in a dangerous situation that needs more than an average superhero to save the day…

Family and friends, the power of the imagination, tackling bullies and learning that real heroes come in every shape and size are just some of the themes covered in this delightful, laugh-out-loud reading odyssey which has been brought to glorious life by Steven Lenton’s quirky illustrations and is guaranteed to enchant both children and parents.

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Giant of Jum Written by Elli Woollard and illustrated by Benji Davies

‘Little children are yummy yum yum!’ Will the hungry giant be tamed by kindness?

Meet Elli Woollard’s ginormous Giant of Jum… he’s terrifyingly tall, horribly hungry and eager to gobble up children. But he’s also got a hidden heart of gold!

This big-hearted twist on a classic fairy tale, with its addictive rhyming text and bold illustrations, marks the launch of the major new picture book pairing of author and poet Elli Woollard and award-winning illustrator Benji Davies.

The Giant of Jum is grumpy and hungry. He’s off in search of a tasty snack and the tastiest of all is a boy called Jack. Fortunately, Jack and his friends don’t see a scary giant, just a magically tall man who can fetch lost balls and rescue cats from trees. Perhaps this hungry giant is softer than he seems... he might think he’s ‘grizzly and grumpy and grouchy and grumbly’ but he’s actually rather lovely!

The Giant of Jum is a gorgeous story with appealing characters and a big, soft heart, and a lesson to us all that love, kindness and gratitude can wear down even the worst intentions.

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

Rabbits Don’t Lay Eggs Written by Paula Metcalf and illustrated by Cally Johnson-Isaacs

Not being able to lay an egg is no yoke for Rupert the rabbit! Paula Metcalf and Cally Johnson-Isaacs have teamed up to bring us a warm-hearted and whimsical story about a rabbit who wants to make friends.

This sturdy board book, with its glittery cover reflecting a bright new season and a pack of animals all ready to spring into action, is a tip-top book for Easter.

What can rabbits do? Rabbits don’t belong in the farmyard so it creates quite a stir when Rupert the rabbit pops up. He tries to make himself useful but he can’t cock-a-doodle-do like cockerel and when he tries to lay an egg like Dora the duck, it’s a disaster. Luckily Rupert is good at digging which soon leads to the most unexpected farm job of all…

Rupert’s adventures and misadventures are about doing your best however difficult the going gets and learning to think for yourself. Little ones will adore the enchanting Rupert and his raucous farmyard friends while the eye-catching illustrations will have them frowning and laughing in quick succession.

(Macmillan, board book, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Mimi’s Magical Fairy Friends: Catkin the Fairy Kitten Written by Clare Bevan and illustrated by Cally Johnson-Isaacs

Enjoy this magical start to a sparkling new picture book series, created with tender love and care for your little princesses.

Fairies and friendship take the leading roles in a colourful rainbow adventure which features a removable pop-up fairy and kitten to help youngsters join in all the Fairy Land fun.

It’s a dull and rainy day in Fairy Land and there’s only one thing that will brighten things up – Mimi and her fairy friends need to paint a colourful rainbow. But the magic paintbrushes are missing. With a sprinkling of magic, maybe Catkin the fairy kitten will be able to help?

Each book in this enchanting series has a gorgeous glittery cover and your very own removable pop-up fairy and animal, making them perfect to collect and keep.

Full of excitement and imagination, Mimi’s Magical Fairy Friends are sure to add sparkle to any child’s bookshelf and with two magical playfellows to help make the adventures spring to life, your little ones will enjoy hours of creative fun.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

What the Jackdaw Saw Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Top team Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt are taking flight with a gorgeous new story that puts deaf children firmly in the picture.

The inspiration for the book came when Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson spent time with a group of deaf children in a workshop organised by the not-for-profit organisation Life & Deaf ( which helps deaf children to explore their identities through poetry, film, performance and art. The project was particularly close to Donaldson’s heart as she has hearing loss herself and is fascinated by sign language.

What the Jackdaw Saw is a warm-hearted picture story about sign language, and how actions speak louder than words for people who are hard of hearing.

The jackdaw wants all his friends to come to his party but when he calls out his invitation, the animals just touch their heads. Why won’t they answer? And what do their actions mean? Luckily a wise brown owl can help him with the puzzle.

Nick Sharratt’s bright and lively illustrations add colour to the story and at the end of the book is a fun exercise for children, inviting them to follow the illustrations and to have a go at signing words taken from the story.

The themes of acceptance and friendship, and the fun exploration of sign language, will speak volumes to both deaf and hearing children.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Jelly Has a Wobble by Candy Guard

Being a ‘tweeny’ girl isn’t easy… particularly when your name is Jelly, you have an embarrassing mum and your life is on the wobble.

Talented author and illustrator Candy Guard returns with her adorable, hapless heroine Jelly Rowntree whose adventures and misadventures are perfectly on target for those notoriously difficult pre-teen years.

Cringe-making mums, giggling friends and top-secret crushes are all the talk in the second of this funny, cheeky but beautifully sensitive series which features the laugh-out-loud mishaps of Jelly and her best friends Roobs and Myfanwy.

Things are looking rosy for Jelly Rowntree. Not only is she going to be bridesmaid to her mother and Juilan, she is going to see her favourite boy band OMG in concert. That is if she can find some way of raising enough money to buy a ticket. Then her mother drops a bombshell. To fulfil her wedding dream, she wants her bridesmaids to learn a street dance routine to perform at the wedding. For the unco-ordinated Jelly, this is possibly the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to her and to make it worse, Roger Lovely, Jelly’s all-time super crush is going to be there and will see the whole humiliating debacle. Can Jelly pull it out of the bag in time for the big day, or is she going to fall flat on her face?

Brought to life by lively illustrations, Jelly’s deliciously witty and appealingly honest exploits will delight pre-teens who are struggling to find a heroine they can truly identify with.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Brilliant by Roddy Doyle

Always expect the unexpected from best-selling Irish writer Roddy Doyle…

Much of his work is set in his home city of Dublin and explores the lives of ordinary Irish people and the challenges they often face in everyday life.

Here he tackles the emotive topic of depression, turning this dark illness, nicknamed ‘Black Dog’ by Winston Churchill who was a sufferer, into a magical adventure story for children.

When Uncle Ben’s Dublin business fails, it’s clear to Gloria and Raymond Kelly that something is wrong. He just isn’t his usual cheerful self. So when the children overhear their granny saying that the Black Dog has settled on Ben’s back and he won’t be OK until it’s gone, they decide they’re going to get rid of it.

Gathering all their courage, the children set out on a midnight quest to hunt down the Black Dog and chase it away. But they aren’t the only kids on the mission. Loads of other children are searching for it too because the Black Dog is hounding lots of Dublin’s adults.

With the help of a collection of strange animals, birds and rodents, some from Dublin’s zoo, the children manage to corner the Black Dog… but will they have the courage and guile to destroy the frightening creature?

A quirky, clever story which uncovers the debilitation and angst of depression whilst delivering a delightful, heartwarming adventure story.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 11 plus:

Smart by Kim Slater

Debut novels don’t come much smarter than Smart, Kim Slater’s contemporary tale of a boy battling bullying, prejudice, fear… and crime.

Kieran Woods from Nottingham lives with his mum, stepdad Tony and step-brother Ryan and his home life is far from happy. Ryan and Tony are bullies, his mother is cowed by their presence and his beloved Grandma doesn’t come to stay with them any more.

The world outside home isn’t much better. All around him he sees people ‘with cracked hearts’ and eyes that look sad when you look at them closely.

Now he has found a man dead in the river. His name was Colin Kirk. ‘He was a homeless man, but he still wanted to live.’ Kieran and his friend Jean are convinced he was murdered but the police don’t care, saying he was only a homeless old man after all. But Kieran cares and he’s going to find out what really happened.

He made a promise and when you say something out loud, that means you’re going to do it. He’s going to find out what really happened not just to Colin but to his Grandma who suddenly stopped coming round one day.

It’s a good job that Kieran is a master of observation and knows all the detective tricks of the trade but being a detective is difficult when you’re Kieran, amazing at drawing but terrible at fitting in.

And when there are dangerous secrets everywhere, not just outside but under your own roof, being able to ‘think like Albert Einstein’ might not be enough…

Beautifully observed, and written straight from a child’s mind and heart, Smart is an evocative, compelling story from a new and talented author.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)


The Storm by Virginia Bergin

Water, water everywhere… and just a drop could kill.

The clouds are looming large again as Virginia Bergin sweeps in with the second book in her thrilling ‘poison rain’ YA series featuring truculent teen Ruby Morris whose cynicism is almost as toxic as her apocalyptic world.

Fifteen-year-old Ruby is hilariously irreverent, immature and abrasive, and she’s fighting to survive on a planet where the rain has become so deadly that it has killed most of its inhabitants, including some of her family and friends.

Three months after the killer rain first fell, Ruby is beginning to realise that her father might be dead… and that she cannot survive alone. When a chance encounter lands her back in the confines of an army camp, Ruby thinks she is safe, but it comes at a price. Being forced to live with Darius Spratt is bad enough, but if Ruby wants to stay she must keep her eyes, and her mouth, shut. And that is just not going to happen. When she realises what is going on – the army is trying to find a cure by experimenting on human subjects – Ruby flips out. But then she makes an even more shocking discovery… she’s not as useless as she thought.

Bergin does an impressive job of making the reckless and refreshingly real Ruby shine brightly in what is essentially a dark and terrifying dystopian landscape, without allowing her whiplash adolescent humour to appear totally out of place.

Amidst the chaos and nail-biting tension, there are heart-searching moments of reflection which add true pathos to the gripping plotline and make The Storm an addictive and seductive read for teenagers hungry for a different kind of story.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Unchanged by Jessica Brody

Jessica Brody’s captivating sci-fi teen trilogy about cloning, manipulated memories and heart-stopping romance reaches its final explosive chapter.

The star of the show is Seraphina (Sera), the only survivor of a plane explosion who woke up in hospital with no memory. The only clue to her identity was a mysterious boy Zen who claimed she was part of a top-secret science experiment.

After a daring escape from the scientists at Diotech who created her, Sera hoped that she was finally safe from the horrors of her past but there were new threats awaiting her and Zen.

In Unchanged, we find that Sera and Zen have been separated once again. After undergoing a new memory alteration procedure, Sera is now is living with the enemy in the Diotech compound, passionately in love with the only other person in the world created by scientists and genetically programmed to be her soulmate.

But when the new couple embark on a tour to show off Diotech’s scientific achievements, Sera’s mind starts to rebel and despite all her best efforts she can’t stop the memories of Zen from creeping back in.

Soon Sera’s past comes rushing back, forcing her to question everything she thinks she knows. Will Sera remember why she was in love with Zen in the first place and rebel against the evil corporation who created her, or will the lovers remain enemies forever?

Brody really ratchets up the tension in this thrilling denouement which is packed with mind-boggling twists and turns, high octane action, mystery and secrets aplenty, and a heart-stopping last page.

Teenage heaven…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)