Book reviews: Wizard words, wartime adventure and a moon rabbit

Discover some of the world's most extraordinary words, enjoy a thrilling wartime adventure, meet a girl who dreams of making dresses, and discover the giant rabbit who lives in the Moon in a sparkling selection of new springtime children's books.

Tuesday, 24th April 2018, 10:18 am
Updated Tuesday, 24th April 2018, 10:21 am
What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards and Luisa Uribe
What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards and Luisa Uribe

Age 9 plus:

What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards and Luisa Uribe

Youngsters will be having the last word – and the last laugh – with this entertaining and beautifully illustrated book which celebrates the magic of language.

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Written by Nicola Edwards and illustrated by Luisa Uribe, What a Wonderful Word features a glorious collection of untranslatable words from around the world… all guaranteed to bamboozle (and impress!) your family and friends.

The perfect gift for word lovers of any age, it has been created by 360 Degrees, a non-fiction imprint of the Little Tiger Group which offers a stimulating and creative approach to presenting facts and aims to create accessible and unique non-fiction books with the highest production values and attention to creative detail.

Have you ever wished there was a word for the way you hesitate when you’ve forgotten someone’s name? Well, next time you can raise a laugh by telling everyone you were – to use an old Scottish expression – simply ‘tartling.’

And when you feel like nodding off after a particularly large meal, follow the Italian example and give in to ‘abbiocco.’ Test out that wonderful English word ‘gobbledygook’ when you are faced with lots of complicated jargon, or impress and amuse by revealing that the distance a reindeer can walk before needing the toilet is known in Finnish as ‘poronkusema.’

Have you ever looked out of a window to see a beautiful day outside, but know that it will actually be freezing cold out there? Unsurprisingly, there is a word for it in Iceland… gluggavedur.

This hand-picked collection of words with no direct one-word translation includes fascinating facts about the culture surrounding the words’ origins and explains why the word is likely to have evolved within its particular language.

Packed with Uribe’s eye-catching artwork and Edwards’ fully accessible facts, this chunky, hardback book is word perfect for enquiring minds, and a world of fun for language lovers.

(360 Degrees, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Buried Crown by Ally Sherrick

Head off to the danger and intrigue of wartime in an all-action novel from exciting author Ally Sherrick, winner of last year’s Historical Association Young Quills Award.

The Buried Crown brings youngsters real history – including the realities of life during the Second World War – along with a rip-roaring adventure full of mythology, magic and the joys of friendship.

This thrilling story was inspired by Sherrick’s father’s experiences of being evacuated, the discovery of the great Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo ship in 1939, the infamous Nazi treasure hunters, and the Kindertransport initiative which rescued thousands of mainly Jewish children from Europe. The book also ties in with a year of celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the RAF.

Britain is on the brink of invasion in September of 1940 and orphan George Penny from London has been sent to live in in the Suffolk countryside while his brother and guardian, Charlie, trains to be an RAF pilot to fight overseas.

But the war is closer than he thinks and George, who is lodged with the rough and decidedly unfriendly Bill Jarvis, is far from safe. An ancient burial ground nearby contains a priceless treasure, a magical Anglo-Saxon crown which Adolf Hitler is desperate to possess. Alongside immigrant Kitty Regenbogen, the caring and wise granddaughter of a Jewish archaeologist, George must find and protect the crown from the Nazi invaders before it’s too late...

There are thrills, spills and plenty of twists and turns in this white-knuckle adventure as we join George and Kitty on their quest to keep the ancient crown out of the hands of the ruthless Nazis. Sherrick brings the past to vivid life without losing sight of issues like bullying and isolation which are as relevant today as they were nearly 80 years ago.

With lots of fascinating wartime history and adventure to enjoy – plus some bonus information included at the end of the book – this is the perfect blend of fact and fiction for middle-grade readers.

(Chicken House Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Beyond the Odyssey by Maz Evans

Elliot Hooper’s life changed for ever when a shooting star crashed to earth and he ended up having to save the world from an ancient daemon… can he bring order out of the chaos?

Rising star, middle-grade fiction author Maz Evans is back with the third book in her heart-warming and heart-pounding Greek myths-inspired Who Let the Gods Out? series which stars a youngster caring for his seriously ill mother and sharing adventures with a cast of immortal Olympian gods.

There are over 700,000 young carers like Elliot living across the UK and Evans is a keen supporter of Spurgeons, a leading children’s charity which helps families and children affected by social disadvantage. She has also set up the BookBuddy scheme ( in which schools in need of books are paired up with readers willing to donate.

We first met Elliot in Who Let the Gods Out? in which he discovered that the fallen star was teen goddess Virgo, a young woman on a mission. Elliot and his new friend accidentally released Thanatos, a wicked death daemon imprisoned beneath Stonehenge, and had to turn to the old Olympian gods for help.

In his new adventure, reluctant hero Elliot finds his life is spiralling out of control. He has been suspended from school, his ex-convict dad is useless around the house and his mum’s health is worsening. What’s more, the gods are determined to forge on with the quest for the third chaos stone.

An unlikely, hilarious and heart-warming mission begins. But Elliot has heard of a mythical potion rumoured to cure all ills… and can he save his mum, even if it means sacrificing the fate of the world?

Witty and packed with full-on action and fascinating facts about ancient myths, this is a rip-roaring, Greek odyssey leavened by moments of heartbreaking emotion and gritty realities.

Prepare to laugh, marvel… and begin the countdown to Elliot’s next battle with the gods!

(Chicken House Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

What Lexie Did by Emma Shevah

Modern families come in all shapes and sizes… and Emma Shevah certainly knows how to celebrate diversity in style!

Half-Irish and half-Thai (her great-great-great grandfather was King Rama I in exotic Thailand!), Shevah delivers her third fresh, funny and observant novel starring an irresistibly mixed bunch of lively characters with contemporary voices and exploring recognisable themes with humour and insight.

Illustrated throughout by the quirky, black-and-white illustrations of Helen Crawford-White, this tale of smart young Lexie is immaculately researched and allows children from different backgrounds and cultures to experience other people’s lives.

Lexie lives in London with her large and colourful Greek-Cypriot family, and she is ‘super-crazy-mega-extra-seriously’ close to Eleni, her fragile cousin of the same age, who has a heart condition. But after the death of their grandmother, Lexie tells a terrible, instinctive, jealous lie – not just a fib but a real whopper – about an heirloom necklace.

Even though Lexie never meant to hurt anyone, it’s a lie that splits the family apart. And it’s up to her to bring the family back together… but after such a big lie, can she find a way to tell the truth?

With her two previous novels, Dream On Amber and Dara Palmer’s Major Drama, now optioned for TV by CBBC, Shevah is fast becoming the go-to author for clever, on-song, middle-grade novels that speak loudly to all children from all backgrounds.

(Chicken House Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Rose’s Dress of Dreams by Katherine Woodfine and Kate Pankhurst

A young French girl who rose to be one of the most influential dressmakers of the 18th century is the inspiration behind an enchanting new book which puts fun and facts into fashion.

Ideal for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers, the Little Gems series by publishers Barrington Stoke brings together top children’s authors and illustrators, and a host of clever design and finishing techniques, to create super readable books in a chunky format ideal for little hands, and with some extra reading fun hiding inside the jacket flaps.

The latest book in the series, Rose’s Dress of Dreams, is based on the life of Rose Bertin, the woman credited with creating haute-couture and a remarkable pioneer of fashion at the court of Marie Antoinette. Bertin has often been named history’s first fashion designer and the incredible dresses she created continue to influence fashion today.

Young Rose dreams of sewing beautiful dresses for the women of the French Royal Court. In those dreams, she sews silver dresses that sparkle like moonlight, gold dresses that glitter like treasure and silk dresses that swirl like the sea.

But Rose’s dresses are considered too outlandish and unusual until a chance encounter with royalty changes her life. Now Rose has the chance to draw on all her skills to create the most breathtaking dress of them all...

Written by author Katherine Woodfine, who grew up in Lancashire and worked in the Lancaster branch of Waterstones, this beautifully produced and fact-filled book has an evocative sense of period and is brought to life by the charming, full-colour illustrations of Kate Pankhurst.

A story to inspire all young dressmakers… and the perfect way to make reading fun for everyone!

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Luna and the Moon Rabbit by Camille Whitcher

Is there really a man in the moon… or could it be a giant rabbit instead?

Welcome to Luna and the Moon Rabbit, a gorgeous creation from Camille Whitcher, worthy winner of the inaugural Stratford-Salariya Picture Book Prize, a competition held by the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival and Salariya Book Company to find a special picture book by an unpublished author.

A graduate of the Cambridge School of Art, Whitcher was inspired by films of Studio Ghibli, Asian folklore and the stories her Japanese grandmother told her as a child for this beautifully illustrated and gently moving debut picture book.

Luna and the Moon Rabbit features a magical journey as a young girl befriends the giant rabbit who lives in the moon and goes with it on a mesmerising bedtime adventure through a dreamy landscape of enchanted forests and fields.

Luna was sitting with her Grandma gazing up at the bright shining moon. ‘Look up there, Luna,’ said Grandma, pointing up, ‘when the moon is full and the sky is clear, you can see him.’ ‘See who?’ asked Luna. ‘Why, the Moon Rabbit, of course!’ replied Grandma.

Parents and children alike will be mesmerised by this simple yet powerful story and want to read it over and over again.

With its air of mystery, ethereal illustrations with a soothing colour palette, and simple yet powerful story, Whitcher has created the perfect bedtime story for dreamers young and old.

(Scribblers, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Rhythm of the Rain by Grahame Baker-Smith

Watch in wonder as the cycle of the world’s water from a tiniest raindrop on the mountain side to the deepest oceans and on to the rain clouds over a parched land in a stunning picture book from self-taught artist Grahame Baker-Smith.

Greenaway medal-winner Baker-Smith, whose love for drawing is a passionate and all-consuming activity, has created a breathtaking celebration of the remarkable and majestic movement of water across the earth through the simplest but most effective of stories and a gallery of dazzling illustrations.

Issac plays in his favourite pool on the mountainside. As rain starts to fall, he empties his little jar of water into the pool and races with the sparkling streams as they tumble over waterfalls, rush through swollen rivers and burst out into the vast open sea. ‘Where will my little jar of water go now?’ Issac wonders. Across oceans with their many moods and storms, the water travels to the other side of the world where thirsty Cassi welcomes the gift of rain to her parched village.

Packed with intricately detailed and atmospheric illustrations, coupled with a beautiful lyrical text, The Rhythm of the Rain is both an ingenious learning tool and a voyage of magical discovery.

(Templar, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Big Bunny by Rowboat Watkins

Children’s author Rowboat Watkins turns philosophy into a fun and highly imaginative picture book as he ponders just who should be telling this story.

In a subversive conversation between the person reading the bedtime story – and the enthusiastic but mysterious young listener hoping for a ‘ginormously’ scary tale – we follow the adventures of Big Bunny as he tackles big carrots and little carrots, trucker penguins, crunchy trucks, and penguins driven to Florida by… giraffes.

Full of subversive humour, off-the-wall concepts and big, bold, child-friendly illustrations, this is a story that seems to spiral gloriously out of control until it lands firmly in a truly scary ending for a lettuce family facing a hungry bunny!

Riotous anarchy for kids, and surreptitious smiles for grown-ups…

(Chronicle Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby

Celebrate the time you share with loved ones in a lyrical and lovely picture book from award-winning illustrator Sarah Jacoby.

This gorgeously illustrated book is a poignant conversation between parent and child across the course of a single day, celebrating those shared cherished moments and making them simple, profound and beautiful.

Using the elegance of verse and the intrigue of a mystery tale, an anonymous narrator charts the course of a single day by interrogating the flexible nature of time through a series of questions and comparisons that reflect both a parent’s and a child’s perspective.

Thus we enjoy the seconds that count in pouring the first cup of tea of the day, watching the dog with its wildly wagging tail, catching a bus, the idyllic hours that slip by so quickly during a perfect day on the lake, and the summer days that disappear into blissful happiness.

Fabulously illustrated and cleverly conceived, this is a gentle, timeless story with a powerful message…

(Chronicle Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Case of the Red-Bottomed Robber by Richard Byrne

Multi-talented author and illustrator Richard Byrne is seeing red this month as he chalks up another hilarious picture book success.

Byrne, who has a string of ingeniously clever books to his name, conjures up a rainbow of laughs as bunch of chalks try to get to the bottom of a mysterious disappearing act and are left with chalk dust on their faces.

Someone is stealing the chalks’ lovely drawings on the chalkboard and they need someone to investigate. Clever Sergeant Blue quickly spots some dust clues at the scene of the crime and in a line-up of possible suspects, only one has a dusty red bottom! But the poor old chalkboard rubber says he’s not a robber… just a duster doing his job. Fortunately Sergeant Blue has a bright idea to bring the case to a happy conclusion for everyone!

Youngsters will love getting in on the action in this multi-coloured crime caper which encourages them to help look for clues, assess the line-up of suspects, and close in on the culprit.

Byrne’s stunning graphic figures and colours, all set against a black chalkboard background, is a marvel of movement, colour and ideas as he takes us on a cops-chalks-and-robber chase from one busy page to the next.

The bottom line in picture book ingenuity…

(Oxford University Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

My First Milestones: My First Day by Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow

From first days at nursery to trying new foods, life is a journey of discovery for growing toddlers.

And to help them on their way, Oxford University Press have a beautifully illustrated and endearing My First Milestones series of picture books in which animal families offer gentle guidance and reassurance to little readers step by step.

These indispensable and appealing books cover important toddler issues like fussy eating, bedtime anxieties, learning a new skill, going to pre-school, celebrating a birthday, and letting go of a comfort blanket, and celebrate all those important milestones along the way.

In the latest book in the series, Puddle the duckling is starting nursery and he’s not sure he's ready for his first day. He couldn’t wait to start duckling school but now he’s really worried about going. But Mummy packs enough love and support into his smart new school bag to carry him through the day.

Amber Stewart’s cuddly and engaging story offers positive messages for toddlers about starting school or nursery, along with practical hints and tips for parents, while Layn Marlow’s beautiful, contemporary artwork captures perfectly the emotions and personalities of the animal characters.

A warm and friendly hand on the long road to growing up…

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Woollies: Flying High by Kelly McKain and Jon Stuart

The close-knit team of woolly pals are back in action and they’re heading for the skies!

Author Kelly McKain and illustrator Jon Stuart are certainly on the ball (of wool) in this cute and cosy, knit one, purl one series which is perfectly designed and stitched together for fun-loving toddlers.

With their balls of wool and chunky needles, the daring, knitted Woollies are always ready to imagi-knit! Puzzle, Bling, Zip and Baby Woolly live in a slightly overgrown corner of the local park. Their superpower is knitting anything from their imagination… and turning it into awesome reality.

In Flying High, Baby Woolly sees a plane flying over the park and he wants to take to the skies too. It’s just the start of a really big adventure full of imagination, amazing knitted flying machines, crash landings and lots and lots of wool!

With McKain’s gentle, easy-to-follow stories, all brimming with adventure, imagination and wool, and Stuart’s bold and brightly coloured illustrations, the adventures of the wonderful Woollies are cuddly perfection for pre-schoolers.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)