Book review: Usborne Children’s Books autumn 2012

A new term is beginning and one of the first publishers to turn the autumn leaves of a new reading season are Usborne Children’s Books with a golden selection of colourful, compelling books.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 4th September 2012, 10:00 am

There’s a sizzling and truly remarkable teen tale about teenage pregnancy, some brilliant books for boy readers and a musical masterpiece for the very youngest in the family.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Forget vampires, witches, werewolves and fallen angels ... and enjoy the real deal instead.

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Sara Zarr’s absorbing and moving young adult novel is about real people, real emotions and real-life dilemmas, and packs an emotional punch that would floor the beefiest of boxers.

It’s a tale of two teenage girls from different sides of the tracks. One is rebellious, full of hurt and confusion but was born into a loving and stable home. The other is prickly, manipulative, from the toughest of backgrounds... and is unmarried and pregnant.

When their paths cross under the most extraordinary circumstances, it becomes the catalyst for a remarkable and heartbreaking story about the meaning of family, community, home and parenthood.

Jill MacSweeney just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died in a car accident, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend Dylan, her best friends and everyone who wants to support her.

Jill was like her father in character – practical, headstrong and stern – and without him she doesn’t know who she is any more.

She’s finding it hard dealing with people who are trying to be ‘nice’ and ‘comforting’ and even harder to love her mother Robin when she’s made the ‘lunatic’ decision to adopt a baby.

Robin is impulsive and stubborn so there is no reasoning with her but Jill is angry because it feels like her mother wants to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Meanwhile, Mandy Kalinowski understands what it’s like to grow up unwanted; to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child.

So when Mandy falls pregnant, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of her own future. Will she ever find someone to care for her too and how will she feel when it’s time to give up her baby?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy, or as difficult, as it seems.

The relationship between Robin, Jill and Mandy unfolds through the alternating narratives of the two teenage girls and their inner thoughts and dialogue create a fascinating perspective on events and a palpable sense of expectation as the birth of the baby approaches.

Hidden secrets from the past and fears for the future impact on the way friendships develop and add a layer of mystery and suspense.

How to Save a Life is an absorbing and life-affirming story enriched by humour, high emotion and genuine humanity.

A must-read book that will melt even the hardest of hearts...

(paperback, £6.99)

And don’t miss a treat in store on October 1 when Usborne publish the first in a slick and compelling new young adult crime fiction series, Street Duty by Chris Ould, which brings to life the gritty world of policing.

Ould is a BAFTA-winning screenwriter and has written for a number of television dramas including The Bill, Casualty, Solider Soldier and Hornblower.

Street Duty: Knock Down (paperback, £6.99), his first book for young adults, features 16-year-old Holly Blades, a new type of policewoman, a TPO or Trainee Police Officer, one of a team of teenagers recruited early and fast-tracked into the police force.

After only two weeks on the job, Holly is first on the scene of a road traffic accident. Fourteen-year-old Ashleigh Jarvis was barefoot and running so fast that she didn’t see the truck that knocked her down. Why was she so scared?

Her routine assignment of accompanying Ashleigh to hospital reveals a shocking secret about the young girl and Holly becomes convinced that there is more to the incident than she first thought.

Unable to persuade her superiors that they should dig deeper however, Holly is forced to embark on a course of action which may reveal the truth, but which could also end her career in the police before it has really started...

Street Duty is a brilliant, down-to-earth crime drama which brings the unforgiving and harsh world of street policing into new focus for the younger generation. Hard-hitting, challenging and explicit, it is compelling reading for teens aged 15 and over.

And to tie in with the launch of Knock Down, Usborne are running an exciting competition with Foyles, giving aspiring writers and journalists between the age of 15 and 18 the chance to interview the author at an event at the Charing Cross store in London.

Entrants have until Monday September 17 to say, in less than 50 words, why they love writing. The top 50 entries will receive a free copy of Knock Down, which they then review in no more than 100 words. The winner will interview Chris at a YA crime panel event at Foyles Charing Cross on Friday October 19 and their write-up of the interview will be featured on the Foyles website.

The winner will also receive a bumper pack of Usborne YA books and goodies. All the details, including the terms and conditions, are on the Foyles website at:

Quest of the Gods: Attack of the Scorpion Riders by Dan Hunter

An evil pharaoh, bloodthirsty monsters and one little boy ... can he save Ancient Egypt from disaster?

Quest of the Gods, packed with superb black and white illustrations, is a truly epic new series which puts a vibrant sense of adventure into the age-old art of storytelling.

Usborne are publishing the first five books in this all-action series which includes a fully interactive website,, and free game cards to collect with every book. Readers can log on to the website to download and play some exciting and exclusive games.

In Attack of the Scorpion Riders, the evil Pharaoh Oba has captured five of the most powerful good gods and imprisoned them in secret and perilous places. Now deadly plagues are destroying the land and bloodthirsty monsters terrorise the people.

Only one boy can stop them – Akori, an orphaned farm boy with a huge destiny. For his first quest, Akori must risk his life to free Ra, the Sun God. But how can he ever hope to win a battle against giant scorpions and a deadly Snake Goddess?

With amazing adventures, breathtaking battles and lots of grisly and gruesome Egyptian mythology, this series is a dream come true for adventure-hungry readers aged seven and over!

(paperback, £4.99)

Action Dogs: Ocean of Peril by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore

When killer cats are clawing for world domination, who are you going to call? Action Dogs of course!

They’re back and they’re still barking mad! No, not their new and brilliant daredevil dogs ... The Two Steves, the inspired and madcap duo Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore who are so in tune with kids that one senses – and hopes – that these two terrific authors will never truly grow up!

They met over twenty years ago when they were both teaching in Nottingham and have since written over 150 books together.

Never the kind of authors to sit back on their laurels, they have created a pack of six crazy canines whose madcap adventures will make young readers howl with laughter.

Little do we know it, but mankind is in danger from the evil, plotting, killer-kitty Katmanchew and only the Action Dogs can defeat this malevolent moggy. When the MS Retriever is hijacked by ferocious feline Captain Claw, Benji the faithful watchdog is hurled into the cat-catching, top secret world of the Action Dogs.

With gadgets galore to hand (or paw), can Benji and the Action Dogs save the day? Or will they all end up as cat food?

Ocean of Peril, which features brilliant illustrations by Martin Chatterton, includes super free game cards and is the first in what promises to be another hilarious new series for young readers aged seven and over.

(paperback, £4.99)

Magical Moon Cat: Moonbeans and the Dream Café by Annie Dalton

Meet Moonbeans, the coolest cat in town! She’s no ordinary kitten ... far from it. She has hot-tailed it from her home on the moon and she’s bringing love, fun and friendship to lonely little Jax.

The talented Annie Dalton’s magical new series is simply out of this world for little girls aged seven and over who dream of having a very special pet, meeting new friends... and baking lots of delicious cupcakes!

Space-mad Jax has just moved to a new town and is finding it difficult to get settled. Her mum is so busy struggling to open her new Dream Café, which sells yummy cupcakes, that she doesn’t seem to realise that Jax feels lonely and is desperately missing her dad who died four years ago.

But when a pink lightning bolt delivers a sparkly kitten to Jax’s door, everything changes. Jax’s magical moon cat Moonbeans seems to bring luck wherever she goes. Is it all down to Moonbeans, or do Jax and her mum have a special kind of magic of their own?

Quirky Jax and her adorable moon cat will delight young readers with their exciting and warm-hearted adventures, and their moving and magical friendship.

With charming illustrations, some delicious recipes from the Dream Café and a page full of colourful stickers, the Magical Moon Cat is sure to cast a spell over little girls everywhere!

(paperback, £4.99)

Look inside Space

Written by Rob Lloyd Jones and illustrated by Benedetta Giaufret and Enrica Rusina

The sky’s the limit for inquisitive youngsters who will be over the moon with a brilliant Look Inside book which has 70 flaps to lift and discover what lies beyond the darkness of space.

It’s a fun and fascinating way to introduce children aged four and over to our solar system. There are detailed, easy-to-follow colour spreads and interactive novelty pages with information and fun facts behind every flap.

They can learn about the amazing things that float through space – stars, moons, comets and the planets. Each double-page spread, including Glittering Galaxies, On the Moon and Space Station, has a stunning colour illustration and several flaps to lift to find out more about what’s going on in the scene.

Discover what goes on inside the International Space Station, why stars shine, how astronauts visited the moon and what they did there and enjoy a quick tour through the history of astronomy from Galileo to the Hubble Space Telescope.

There can be no more entertaining way to blast off into space and see how our planet fits into a world bigger than many young minds could ever have imagined.

(hardback, £9.99)

Little Children’s Music Book

If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise. Because the animals are having a ball... a musical ball! Yes, it’s music maestro please as Squirrel, Mole, Weasel, Badger and Fox tune up for the biggest concert of the year.

And this is no ramshackle band but the sweet orchestral sounds of the flute, piano, violin, glockenspiel and guitar to wow and woo the young musicians in your family.

Little Children’s Music Book is an enchanting musical extravaganza, a delightful soundchip storybook which features animals in their homes practising their musical instruments as they prepare for a woodland concert.

Watch and enjoy as little ones press the soundchips to hear Squirrel playing her flute, Mole on the glockenspiel, Weasel plucking his guitar, Badger playing the piano and Fox on his fiddle, before they all meet up to perform under the baton of Raccoon.

With bold and beautiful illustrations by Elsa Squillace, a chirpy and cheerful story by Fiona Watts, music courtesy of Anthony Marks and an eye-catching design by Nicola Butler, this is a first-class team production.

Calming, soothing, melodic and magical, here we have the perfect interactive introduction to different orchestral sounds, and it’s music to the ears of parents when the wheels come off the bus of all those perennial, and over-played, favourite tunes!

(hardback, £12.99)