Book review: Summer 2012 children’s books review and giveaway

The school holiday countdown has started and whatever the weather this summer, there’s a book to keep boredom at bay.

Forget the Xbox and the telly, and open up the wonderful world of children’s books to discover facts, fantasy, fun or whatever else floats the boats of the youngest members of the family.

With a wide choice available and some of the best authors around setting their sights on writing for young people, kids have never had it so good.

Early years:

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Who says that toddlers don’t get in the groove? The CBeebies show Rastamouse, which stars a reggae-loving mouse and his ‘blinged-up’ crime fighting chums, is going down a storm on the pre-school channel. And now the creators, Genevieve Webster and Michael de Souza, have produced two new colourful Rastamouse story books, Marathon Mystery and Pirate Riddims (Campbell Books, paperback, £3.99 each). With a rhythm-loving rat, his gang of lovable pals, mysteries to solve and big, bold pictures to enjoy, there’s no youngster in the house who can resist such a winning combination. Animal fun and games for pre-schoolers who prize their street cred!

Celebrating 26 years of specialising in teen and children’s books, independent publishers Piccadilly Press have a great-line up of titles this summer. Top of their warm and fluffy toddler bill is Tony Maddox’s captivating canine creation Fergus who is sure to charm little ones ... and their mums and dads! Fergus Goes Quackers and Fergus’s Scary Night (Piccadilly, paperback, £6.99) are top-of the-class picture books full of adorable, outsize illustrations and heart-melting stories to make adults say ‘aah!’ and your toddler ask for ‘more.’ Fergus is a farm dog who never quite gets control of the animals around him which makes him feel like he’s going quackers. His hilarious adventures make him everybody’s favourite puppy and are guaranteed to fill the nursery with giggles. Also by Maddox is Well Done, Little Croc (Piccadilly, paperback, £6.99), another enchanting picture book featuring a baby crocodile and his pal Bird.

And when the ‘terrible twos’ are making parenthood a test, reach out for Rebecca Patterson’s My Big Shouting Day, an entertaining and beguiling antidote to tears and tantrums (Jonathan Cape, paperback, £5.99). It’s the perfect picture book for dealing with bad days and bad moods, and comes with a big reassuring hug at the end. Bella is having one of those days – her biscuit is broken, her foot hurts and her ballet dress is just too itchy for words. In fact, all she can do is shout. But by bedtime, when she’s tired out from all that shouting, Bella knows there’s one magic word (sorry!) and one magic mummy to make things better again. With lessons and laughs for all the family and everyday ‘scenes’ we can all recognise – screaming, crying, lying on the floor, kicking and sitting with arms folded – this beautifully illustrated story is both funny and reassuring.

Meanwhile, poet, author and dad Giles Paley-Phillips knows only too well that little ones love nothing better than monsters ... the bigger, the scarier. So his perfectly pitched picture book The Fearsome Beastie (Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £5.99), with its rhyming text and lavish, original illustrations by Gabriele Antonini, is poetry in motion for adventurous tots. Written in the style of a cautionary tale, and with more than a nod to Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl, the verse creates a magical, musical dialogue to offset the inventive and colourful characters. The fearsome beastie is searching for something to eat and the children are at the top of the menu. Will they be fooled by the fearsome beastie and his clever tricks? From the same publisher come two more enchanting, rhyming picture books, The Dog Detectives: Lost in London, written by Fin and Zoa Gypsy, and illustrated by Monika Suska, and Mrs MacCready Was Ever So Greedy written by Julie Fulton and illustrated by Jona Jung (both paperback, £5.99)

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And who can resist Albert the black pug dog who lives in a house on a terraced street somewhere near you? This funny, adorable and mischievous little fellow is the creation of Lancashire journalist, photographer and father Garry Cook. Albert’s adventures make perfect rhyming story books for young boys and girls who enjoy reading and have great imaginations, or for those who simply enjoy a good yarn before they go to bed. In Albert the Pug and the Thief Dog (CreateSpace, paperback, £6.89), our hero is awoken in the night. A prowling stray dog is intent on stealing Albert’s favourite possession – his bone. Don’t miss the next book featuring Albert’s exciting escapades.

Age seven and over:

Like the sun glinting on a butterfly’s wing, there’s both light and darkness in Anne-Marie Conway’s outstanding novel Butterfly Summer (Usborne, paperback, £5.99). When Becky and her mum move to a new home, Becky discovers an old photo of her mother in hospital clutching a baby, 12 years before Becky was born. Unsettled and unhappy, Becky becomes haunted by the thought that secrets are being kept from her. Stifled by her mother’s increasing depression, she finds comfort at the nearby Butterfly Garden with her new friend, the wild-spirited Rosa May. As the two girls spend more time together, Rosa May’s jealousy suggests she is hiding something as well. Will Becky ever discover the truth? Conway’s wise and warm book get straight to the heart of childhood dilemmas whilst unravelling mysteries from the past. A terrific read for youngsters aged nine and over.

There’s another youngster on the move in Small Change for Stuart (Corgi, paperback, £5.99), an exceptionally original and entertaining children’s novel from the very talented Lissa Evans. It’s a magical, fast-paced story full of larger-than-life characters, fascinating twists and turns, and a refreshing devil-may-care attitude. When Stuart moves to a new town at the beginning of the summer holidays, he expects to be bored. Very soon he is drawn into an intriguing adventure when he discovers his long missing great uncle Tony was an inventor and magician, and has left him the contents of his workshop. Look out for triplets April, May and June, and Stuart’s brilliant dad! A funny, clever and touching tale sure to win over both adults and children aged eight plus.

If it’s fun you’re after, it doesn’t come with a better brand of brilliantly bonkers humour than top team Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell’s rollocking good read Muddle Earth Too (Macmillan, paperback, £6.99). It’s the eagerly awaited, ingeniously inventive sequel to Muddle Earth and delivers the same madness and mayhem. Once upon a time, a spell went wrong and ordinary Joe Jefferson found himself transported to Muddle Earth where the wizards are barmy, the pink stinky hogs are stinky and the lampposts have serious attitude. Now, two years later, Muddle Earth needs him back. But can Joe find the lost Goblet of Porridge and rescue his sister from a thumb-sucking vampire barbarian before a dragon fight toasts them all? A battle between good and evil that no right-thinking boy would want to miss!

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And there aren’t many boys who can resist the lure of football. David Fuller is an FA-qualified coach and he brings all his experience to an enthralling book about a soccer-mad youngster. Alfie Jones and a Change of Fortune (RDF Publishing, paperback, £5) is perfect for boys who would rather watch football than read as it offers not just an engaging plot but plenty of fascinating insider tips on the beautiful game. Alfie loves football and used to enjoy playing for his beloved Kingsway Colts but things have changed since the coach was taken ill and replaced by the father of Alfie’s arch-rival, Jasper. Just as Alfie decides to leave, he meets a mysterious fortune teller who tells him that if he wants to be a professional player, he’ll have to stay with the Colts. It means putting his ambitions to the ultimate test. Illustrated by Rob Smyth, there are plenty of kicks here for wannabe Waynes.

And if the past is your bag, step into the Weird World of Wonders: Egyptians (Macmillan, paperback, £5.99), the first in a zany and zippy new history series from comic actor turned historian Tony Robinson. Here he takes young readers on a headlong gallop through time, pointing out all the most important, funny, strange, amazing, entertaining, smelly and disgusting bits about the ancient Egyptians. It’s history, but not as we adults knew it when we were in the classroom. Our time-travelling guide fills his brilliant, action-packed book with the answers questions we’d all like to ask. Why do the gods looked so strange, why is tomb raiding such a bad idea, why did the Egyptians love cats and how do you make a mummy in eight easy steps? With cartoons, jokes and facts galore, this is a history lesson like no other!

In her time, Joanne Nadin has been a broadcast journalist, a special adviser to the Prime Minister, a cleaner and a juggler so little wonder then that Penny Dreadful is her eclectic creation! Nadin has slotted comfortably into the madcap world of children’s comedy books and Penny Dreadful Cooks Up a Calamity (Usborne, paperback, £4.99) features three adventure for her funny, feisty heroine. Penny (real name Penelope Jones) doesn’t mean to be dreadful ... it’s just that strange things seem to happen to her. In her latest calamitous capers, she tries to turn over a new leaf in the school show, during a trip out with her class and by making the cake of dreams for her mum’s birthday. But you’ve guessed it – everything goes horribly and hilariously wrong! Penny’s dreadful disasters are ideal for readers aged seven and over.

Young adult:

Get ready for romance with I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Piccadilly, paperback, £6.99), a magical love story that will have teens sighing and swooning. Emily Bell, Sam Border and Riddle Border are bound together by destiny. Sam wishes he could escape after spending his life moving from place to place with his unstable father. But he could never abandon his little brother Riddle who draws pictures instead of talking. Emily believes in destiny and is waiting for the event which will change her life. Then Sam meets Emily. They’re from different worlds and seem destined for each other but can they ever be together? Breathtakingly beautiful, full of the sweet sorrow of star-crossed lovers, I’ll Be There is teen romance to die for...

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Equally breathless, but due more to non-stop action than non-stop romance, is Andrew Taylor’s sinister teen thriller The Adjusters (Usborne, paperback, £6.99). Newton is the perfect town where kids get perfect grades and everyone seems perfectly happy. Everybody, that is, except newcomer Henry Ward who refuses to buy into this ‘perfect’ unreality. Along with a pair of misfit friends, he is determined to expose the dark secrets behind Newton’s bright facade but asking questions about the town and the corporation that owns it can be dangerous. Doctors in the medical centre have a procedure called ‘adjustment’ for kids who don’t fit in, and Henry and his pals are top of the waiting list. Superb plotting, conspiracy, horror, a terrifying twist and a hint of plausibility make this a first-class read.

Dystopian worlds have an eternal fascination for readers young and old, and the one conjured up by talented new author Caroline Green in her gripping teen story Cracks (Piccadilly, paperback, £6.99) makes the book virtually impossible to put down. Fourteen-year-old Cal’s world splinters apart when he finds out he’s been in a deliberately induced coma state for most of his life, and what he thought was real was only an illusion. Escaping his captors, Cal goes on the run, determined to fight the forces behind the nightmare he finds waiting for him, and to discover his true identity. Tensions reach thrilling heights in this edgy, no-holds-barred story which is visually stunning and delivers an enormous emotional wallop.

And if the derring-do and sword-fighting dangers of BBC TV series Merlin made young hearts beat faster, then The False Prince by Jennifer A.Nielsen (Scholastic, paperback, £6.99) will send imaginations into overdrive. In a discontented kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are questionable. He also knows that he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. As Sage’s journey continues, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally a truth is revealed that proves more dangerous than all of the lies put together. This is an exciting, old-fashioned story about the battle between good and evil, with the added dimensions of an identifiably streetwise hero and a brilliantly bad baddie.

Guest reviewer: Oliver Fairbrother aged 12.

Goblins by Philip Reeve

The goblins of Clovenstone Keep are a bloodthirsty lot. They love fighting, looting, eating and more fighting. But Skarper is different. He is clever and cunning. Only he understands that the old magic trapped beneath Clovenstone is rising again. Skarper and his friends are about to be flung headfirst into the wildest adventure in all of goblin history. Goblins (Marion Lloyd Books, paperback, £6.99) is an exciting and page-turning adventure full of strange and funny wonders and characters. A simple log introduces each main character. There’s King Kobbler, a feisty warrior, Skarper, a special goblin who is smart and cunning, and Breslaw, a wise old goblin who has one eye, one leg, one ear and half a tail. He’s old but still a wily warrior. Last, but definitely not least, is Gutgust, probably the biggest, toughest, yet the stupidest of all the goblins. Philip Reeve writes with such great detail. This is an amazing book full of good descriptions and with perfectly sized paragraphs and chapters. It’s a book that I would definitely pick up off the shelf of a book store and definitely encourage other people my age to read.

Book giveaway

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The Lancashire Evening Post has a selection of the reviewed books to giveaway to six lucky people!

Simply email [email protected] with your name, address and telephone number. We will select six lucky people at random to receive one of the books reviewed above.

Usual Lancashire Evening Post terms and conditions apply.