A lonely bear, a Tudor adventure and amazing treasures by various authors - book reviews -

Meet a girl on a mission to save a polar bear, journey to France to see a spectacular Tudor pageant, travel back in time to discover dazzling treasures, and hit the rooftops with a girl who can turn into a cat in a thrilling collection of new children’s books.
Last BearLast Bear
Last Bear

Age 8 plus:

The Last Bear

Hannah Gold and Levi Pinfold

One girl’s battle to save a sick and lonely polar bear becomes a battle cry to the whole world to save our precious planet in one of the most stunning children’s books of 2021.

Debut author Hannah Gold dons her eco warrior armour and sets her rich imagination in motion to bring us The Last Bear, a magical, mesmerising story, set in the wild wonderland of Norway’s remote Bear Island, and which will pull on your heartstrings and make you look anew at how you too can make a difference.

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Inspired by her love of big cuddly bears, the special friendship that humans – and particularly children – have with them, and the imperative need to save the environment, Gold set to work on this warm, lyrical and thrilling Arctic adventure.

And what a magical reading experience it proves to be as illustrator Levi Pinfold provides the finishing touches to an unforgettable journey with a gallery of beautiful, atmospheric black and white illustrations that are guaranteed to take your breath away.

There are no polar bears left on Bear Island, April Wood’s widower father tells her when they arrive at the remote Arctic outpost where he is spending six months researching weather patterns.

April has had a lonely life since her mother died but has spent many happy hours in their wild and unkempt back garden where she has befriended a family of urban foxes and learned to love animals.

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However, this trip Norway, where she will be alone with just her father, means they will be able to share time together and do things like building snowmen and sledging. What she didn’t reckon on was her father working on his data all hours and the devastating news that there are no longer any polar bears on the island because of global warming.

Undeterred, April sets off every day in search of a polar bear and one endless Arctic night, she finally meets one. But he is starving, lonely and a long way from home, and determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life…

Written from the heart and with a message that carries far beyond the last pages of this deeply emotional and enthralling story, The Last Bear speaks loudly about the fragility and beauty of the planet as well as delivering the kind of wildly exciting and timeless adventure story that children long for.

Ideal for animal lovers of any age, and the perfect vehicle to introduce young readers to the concept of conservation, this is destined to be a modern classic.

(HarperCollins Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Queen’s Fool

Ally Sherrick

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Being ‘different’ wasn’t always easy when you lived in the turbulent days of 16th century Tudor England...

And when a young girl with learning difficulties sets out on a desperate quest to find her kidnapped sister, the journey takes her to King Henry VIII’s legendary ‘Cloth of Gold’ pageant in France and a perilous mission that will test her to the limit.

Ally Sherrick, an award-winning author whose historical novels have brought fascinating facts and thrilling adventures to an army of young readers, sweeps us away to the early years of Henry’s reign for a cracking story brimming with warmth, insight and extraordinary history.

Cat Sparrow isn’t like other people. She loves music, and playing her bird-flute. She thinks differently too… and for a girl like her, the world can be an unsettling place and hold many perils.

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When Cat’s beloved sister, Meg, is snatched from their convent home, Cat sets out to find her. With the help of a young actor, Jacques, she follows Meg’s trail to the palace of Henry VIII and his queen, Katherine, and then over the sea to the strange and wondrous pageant of the ‘Field of Cloth of Gold.’

But in among the tents, feasts and tournaments, traitors are lurking and they discover that the kingdoms of England and France are both in terrible danger. Cat and Jacques must use all their wits if they are to foil a plot that threatens them all.

The Queen’s Fool is a gripping, page-turning adventure which explores the powerful bonds of siblings, the imperative to be yourself and forge your own destiny wherever that may lead you, and historical attitudes to learning disability.

Sherrick does a superb job of evoking the rich detail and atmosphere of this period of Tudor history when King Henry and King Francis I of France took part in an extravagant tournament aimed putting aside differences and making a lasting peace.

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With a brave heroine to cheer for, and action and danger at every turn, this is learning made fun and fascinating!

(Chicken House Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Amazing Treasures: 100+ Objects and Places That Will Boggle Your Mind

David Long and Studio MUTI

If you fancy going on a thrilling treasure hunt, open the pages of this brilliant book and discover over one hundred of the world’s most extraordinary wonders!

Amazing Treasures: 100+ Objects and Places That Will Boggle Your Mind comes from What on Earth Publishing which specialises in the art of telling stories through timelines. And for every question their informative books answer, they spark another one, helping to encourage young readers into a lifelong love of enquiring and discovering.

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This intriguing, colourful, fact-filled book is the second in a stunning Our Amazing World series and is an entertaining and enlightening celebration of the world’s most extraordinary man-made – and natural – treasures, objects and places.

Exploring history, culture, geology and the environment through treasures ancient and modern, readers can marvel at giant gemstones, precious artworks, architectural wonders, intriguing ruins, moon rocks and so much more.

Written by award-winning author David Long and illustrated by MUTI, a creative studio based in Cape Town, South Africa, Amazing Treasures sweeps us away on a breathtaking tour stretching across thousands of years and all around the globe.

Discover sunken wrecks loaded with pirate gold, the huge diamond an Indian ruler once left in his shoe, the giant heads on Easter Island, the oldest dinosaur fossils ever found, an ancient machine pulled out of the sea near Greece, the abandoned tombs of the world’s most powerful rulers, and even meteorite treasures from outer space.

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A central fold-out map reveals the locations of all the treasures featured in the book, including a lavish double spread of China’s Forbidden City, while Long also addresses contemporary topics such as our threatened natural wonders and the ownership of cultural treasures.

With the fun of discovery on every page, this is the perfect book for young explorers and treasure-hunters!

(What on Earth Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 5 plus:

Kitty and the Twilight Trouble

Paula Harrison and Jenny Løvlie

When you’re a girl by day and a cat by night, adventures are never far away!

Author Paula Harrison and illustrator Jenny Løvlie work their special magic on this fun-filled first chapter book series which features enchanting rooftop adventures with feisty feline star Kitty and her cat crew on moonlit rooftops.

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Beautifully presented in a small format for little hands and densely illustrated in tones of grey and orange on almost every page, superhero Kitty’s magical story is simply purrfect for both cat lovers and young adventurers.

In her new moonlight mission, Kitty is excited about visiting the funfair with her trusty cats but Pixie, who has a nose for trouble, has made a new friend and doesn’t want to play with Kitty any more. She wants to play superheroes with Hazel instead.

The problem is that Pixie and Hazel aren’t acting like superheroes, they are acting like supervillains. Before long they both find themselves in trouble at the top of the Big Wheel, and only a true hero like Kitty can save the day…

Enjoy cheeky cats, night-time naughtiness and giggles galore as the merry band of moggies take on more than they bargained for!

(OUP, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Mirabelle Breaks the Rules

Harriet Muncaster

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Being different is fun… especially when it comes to making mischief!

From the magical world of author and illustrator Harriet Muncaster’s much-loved half-vampire, half-fairy Isadora Moon comes her impish, lovable cousin Mirabelle who puts the nice into being naughty.

Mirabelle's mum is a witch, her dad is a fairy, and she is a bit of both. When Mirabelle goes off to witch school she promises not to cause any mischief… but then the potions class goes a bit wrong and flying practice is a disaster.

Soon enough, Mirabelle finds herself getting up to some seriously mischievous behaviour. Hopefully, with the help of her best friend, Carlotta, she can put everything right before home time!

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Full to its sparkly covers with crazy capers and enchanting purple and black illustrations, this enchanting series of first chapter books is perfect for early readers who like their glitter with a bit of knockabout, naughty fun.

Mirabelle and her madcap family are perfectly created for little girls who are getting bored with run-of-the-mill fairies and princesses, and are eager to get their teeth into something excitingly different.

Clever, imaginative, funny and positively fizzing with potions and broomsticks, Mirabelle’s misadventures always leave youngsters eager for more!

(OUP, paperback, £5.99)

Age 4 plus:

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau

Jon Agee

Many artists seek perfection in their work… but few achieve the verisimilitude of the amazing Felix Clousseau!

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Art imitates life in American author and illustrator Jon Agee’s gloriously playful picture book which takes the concept of absurdism to its hilarious limits as a series of paintings take on a life of their own.

First published in 1988, and now back in print thanks to Scallywag Press, Agee’s much-loved classic explores realism in art through a series of hilarious plot twists and a large helping of the author’s trademark humour, wit and sense of the surreal.

Felix Clousseau’s paintings are so realistic that they actually come to life… and that’s when the trouble begins! Outrageous, the judges cried. Ridiculous! Who would dare enter a simple portrait of a duck in Paris’s Grand Contest of Art when there are fine works of art from the likes of Gaston du Stroganoff, Felicien CaffayOllay and Alphonse LeCamembair? But when Felix Clousseau’s painted duck quacks, he is hailed as a genius. Suddenly everyone wants a Clousseau masterpiece, and the unknown painter becomes an overnight sensation. But that’s when the trouble begins...

A master of visual storytelling and zany humour, Agee’s perfectly understated picture book is brimming with ideas and artistic concepts which will entertain and inform a new generation of youngsters.

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Agee uses bold, eye-catching illustrations in dark and atmospheric shades, with a wealth of rich detail and expressive genius, as readers turn the pages and enjoy watching the chaos and confusion unleashed by paintings that spring to life.

Laughter all the way… and a brilliant twist in the tail!

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 4 plus:

Milo Imagines the World

Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson

Everybody enjoys people-watching but one little boy gets an expected surprise – and an important life lesson – at the end of a long subway journey.

Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, the talented duo behind the award-winning picture books Last Stop on Market Street and Carmela Full of Wishes, deliver another soul-searching and poignant story, full of their trademark warmth and wisdom, which is sure to capture hearts and minds.

Youthful curiosity, never judging people on outward appearance, and the role of the imagination in growing up all play important parts in Milo Imagines the World, an emotive tale which explores a young child’s perception of the world.

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Milo is on a long subway ride with his older sister on the way to visit their mum in prison. To pass the time, he studies the faces around him and draws pictures of the other passengers, imagining how their lives might be. There’s the whiskered man with the crossword puzzle; Milo imagines him playing solitaire in a cluttered apartment full of pets.

There’s the wedding-dressed woman with a little dog peeking out of her handbag; Milo imagines her in a grand cathedral ceremony. And then there’s the boy in the suit with the bright white sneakers; Milo imagines him arriving home to a castle with a drawbridge and a butler.

But when the boy in the suit gets off on the same stop as Milo – walking the same path, going to the exact same place – Milo realises that you can’t really know anyone just by looking at them.

This clever, thought-provoking story is punctuated by Milo’s drawings of his wild imaginings and speaks loudly and illustratively about prejudice and the impact on families, and especially children, when a parent is behind bars.

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Stunningly illustrated, and written with real heart and compassion, this is a tale of our times told with simplicity and honesty.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age 4 plus:

What Did the Tree See?

Charlotte Guillain and Sam Usher

Take a journey through time and history under the canopy of a sturdy oak tree in a clever and enchanting picture book from a top author and illustrator team.

Charlotte Guillain’s gentle rhyming verse sweeps youngsters across one hundred years of fascinating history in What Did the Tree See? as the hilltop oak tree witnesses life changing all around it.

From the time when hunters chased deer through the woodland and when trees were cleared for farmland, to the smog and factories emerging during the industrial revolution, one majestic oak has seen it all… and now we can too!

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Brought to vivid life by the rich, detailed and energetic illustrations of Sam Usher – well known for his technical drawing skills and watercolour expertise – this beautifully produced book includes a timeline of events in world history across the periods featured in the poem, the life cycle of an oak tree, and prompts to help parents and children explore their own local history.

And with ten pence from every book sold going to the National Forest, this is the perfect way to learn about history and help the environment.

(Welbeck Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Island

Judith Wisdom

Three quirky friends searching for a place to call home are the imaginative stars of an eye-catching picture book from visual communication author and illustrator Judith Wisdom.

Quirky, collage-inspired illustration and emotive storytelling blend perfectly in this warm and charming tale championing friendship, hope, kindness, and highlighting the importance of not judging people who appear to be ‘different.’

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Unhappy and thought of as strange and too shy, Moon Lady, Trunky and Little Lion decide one day to set sail in search of a better life. After a few days they find a beautiful island and land with great optimism for the future.

But the islanders aren’t very friendly and one angry man declares that they should be locked up in a zoo and painted green to fit in. Stared at, isolated, surrounded by sad zoo animals, they decide to break out and sail away.

As they leave, a great storm brews up and they see that the islanders are in peril. They return to help save the people. Everyone clambers on board the ship and they set sail again for a better life. As they sail, the colours they were forced to wear disappear, and they discover each other’s wonderful colours and realise that being different is fun.

This busy, beautifully illustrated story – with its enchanting palette of muted colours and innovative design – is guaranteed to encourage important discussions with little ones about acceptance, the comforts of friendship and belonging, and the rewards of kindness.

(Troika Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:


Barry Falls

Life doesn’t always turn out how you plan it...

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Belfast author and illustrator Barry Falls puts the joys of friendship at centre stage in his beautiful, funny and thoughtfully created picture book which will inspire little ones to embrace life, however hard that sometimes seems, and to relish the rewards of living happily together.

‘There once was a boy called Billy McGill

who lived by himself at the top of a hill.

He spent every day in his house all alone

for Billy McGill liked to be on his own.

But one day Billy hears the squeak of a mouse, destroying his perfectly peaceful existence. So he gets a cat to catch the mouse. But the cat and the mouse make friends. So he gets a dog to chase the cat. But they all play together too. So then he gets a bear... then a tiger... and on it goes, until Billy’s house is so filled with characters that he has to move out.

Will he find that he still craves peace and quiet, or is it actually quite lovely to have company and friends?

Little ones will laugh out loud as they observe the growing chaos in Billy McGill’s once peaceful life and discover that it’s good to have families and friendship… even if they can sometimes test you to the limit.

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With its quirky cast of characters and gorgeous, rhyming story – packed with Falls’ vibrant, highly detailed and colour-soaked illustrations – this is the perfect book to read out loud and help children understand that life is fun… even when it’s not running smoothly!

(Pavilion Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Everybody Feels

Lorna Freytag

Children can never be too young to understand their emotions.

Help curious toddlers to explore their feelings with this bright, bold, illustrated board book which puts the focus on feelings we can all recognise… like happiness, anger, excitement, embarrassment, worry and sadness.

Using eye-catching illustrations and simple language, Lorna Freytag examines both the good and the not so good emotions, and helps youngsters recognise that whether we are happy, sad, angry, worried or confused, all of our emotions are important.

With some easy tips for feeling better, this is the ideal introduction to what can be a complex topic for little ones.

(Studio Press, board book, £6.99)

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