Awesome evolution, amazing galaxies and hidden history by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Take an exhilarating tour through the story of evolution, enjoy a space travel adventure in which fantasy has no bounds, enter a world full of mind-blowing history facts, join young wartime spies for some dead funny sleuthing adventures, and explore the magic and mysteries of night-time in an autumn selection of children’s books.
Evolution by Sarah Darwin, Eva-Maria Sadowski and Olga BaumertEvolution by Sarah Darwin, Eva-Maria Sadowski and Olga Baumert
Evolution by Sarah Darwin, Eva-Maria Sadowski and Olga Baumert

Age 8 plus:


Sarah Darwin, Eva-Maria Sadowski and Olga Baumert

What is evolution, how does it work... and why is it so awesome?

From bacteria to dinosaurs, and giant fungi to gingko trees, watch the story of Earth spring to vivid life in a spectacular, illustrated book which is just as much an exhilarating journey as it is a fascinating study of our planet’s origins.

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Evolution – produced in association with the Natural History Museum – has been written by real-life scientists Sarah Darwin, great, great granddaughter of Charles Darwin, and palaeontologist Eva-Maria Sadowski, and sumptuously illustrated by Olga Baumert.

The Earth, they reveal, has come a very long way from the molten planet with oceans of magma that existed 4.5 billion years ago. Since then, the land has shifted, the climate has changed and life has flourished. But how exactly did living things come to be?

Dive into this in-depth tour of life on Earth from a new generation of scientists and learn about the theory of natural selection that Charles Darwin and fellow naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace came up with together. Find out how plants, humans, pet dogs and everything else came to be and what this might mean for our future.

A colourful range of feature spreads explain the important things that youngsters need to know and a timeline plots the history of life on Earth. Budding botanists will be delighted by this gloriously illustrated guide that leaves no stone unturned and will keep youngsters both enlightened and enthralled.

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With important messages about humans being part of nature, and their much-needed role in helping to protect the planet from climate change, this awe-inspiring book is the perfect gift for readers of any age.

(What on Earth Books, hardback, £16.99)

Age 8 plus:

Which Way Round the Galaxy

Cressida Cowell

For twenty-five years, former Waterstones Children’s Laureate and bestselling author of the How to Train Your Dragon series, Cressida Cowell, had a magical story idea lying quietly in her shed and waiting patiently for its time to shine.

And last year Which Way to Anywhere, the first dazzling Which Way book, burst on to the shelves in a shower of out-of-this-world magic, marvellous mapmaking, a gallery of Cowell’s amazing, atmospheric artwork, and much-deserved critical acclaim.

Once again featuring the charismatic, blended O’Hero-Smith family – with their magical secret and a child with a powerful gift – Which Way Round the Galaxy is a thrill ride through breathtaking worlds as a tiny and helpless magical creature, lost far from home, leads the youngsters through the Which Ways and across the galaxies.

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K2 O’Hero is a seemingly ordinary boy but he has a magic gift... he can draw maps and jump through Which Ways (shaped like an X) through space. And now he and his sister Izzabird, and step siblings Theo and Mabel Smith, have found Bug, a tiny, lost and helpless Magical Creature who is set to take them on another Starcrossing adventure through the Which Ways. The children have a plan to get little Bug back to the ice-encrusted planet where he belongs, and to prove to their parents that they can be trusted with Magic along the way. But by setting off on this secret mission, they are heading straight into danger. A witch's curse, venomous snowsnakes and a gang of fighter robots are waiting for them. The fate of the galaxy is once again in their hands... they had better not mess it up, and they need more than K2’s magical gift to help them this time!

Youngsters will be holding their breath as they join the siblings for more space travel, magic, maps, danger and suspense in a story in which fantasy has no bounds. Cowell’s gift for mesmerising world-building and her creation of characters you can see and hear is central to this action-packed story which comes with her trademark humour and rich imaginative powers.

All galaxies lead to fun and adventure in this magical masterpiece!

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

Age 8 plus:

History FACTopia!: Follow Ye Olde Trail of 400 Facts

Paige Towler and Andy Smith

Enter a world full of mind-blowing history facts! Every fascinating fact in this magnificent book is connected in funny and fantastic ways. Simply follow a trail that transports you from facts about pirates to facts about emus, and from facts about astronaut meals to facts about King Rut’s tomb.

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History FACTopia! – written by American author and editor Paige Towler and brought to life by amazing photographs and award-winning Andy Smith’s brilliant illustrations – comes from the endlessly inventive boffins at Britannica Books and is the fifth title in the dynamic and bestselling FACTopia! series.

And as with the other titles in the series, History FACTopia! is verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica and doesn’t offer just one trail through a multitude of facts. Each of the 400 facts is connected to the next in a wild and weird web of information where you will leapfrog from topic to topic in surprising and hilarious ways.

Discover hidden tombs, ghostly ships, boiled vipers, samurai warriors, snow machines, pet lions, hidden pyramids, secret codes, flaming fireballs, wooden swimsuits, sparkling jewels and many more jaw-dropping facts which are all woven together in an ingenious web of connected facts. And there isn’t just one trail through these facts. Sometimes your path branches, and you can choose to fast forward or rewind to a completely different (but still connected) part of history.

History FACTopia! is a truly global adventure, taking in a broad spectrum of cultures, civilisations, peoples and places and there is a glossary at the back of the book to describe the civilisations and empires featured. So what are you waiting for… follow your curiosity and enjoy an enthralling and hilarious journey into the past.

(Britannica Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Body in the Blitz

Robin Stevens

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Who knew spying could be dead funny? Robin Stevens, multi-award-winning author of the Murder Most Unladylike series, gathers up her murder-mystery loving fans and sweeps them back to wartime and into the lives of a feisty group of children who are hell-bent on saving the world.

The Body in the Blitz is the second sleuthing adventures in this action-packed series which delivers spills, thrills and laughter from first page to last, and is proving to be an all-round, hands-down, dead-cert winner.

In March of 1941, Britain is at war, and a secret agency called the Ministry of Unladylike Activity is training up children as spies... because grown-ups always underestimate them. Enter May Wong, Eric and Nuala... they are courageous, smart, and the Ministry’s newest recruits. May’s big sister Hazel has arranged for them to stay on a quiet street close to the Ministry, home to an unlikely collection of people thrown together by the war. And it is in the basement of the bombed-out house at the end of that street that they discover something mysterious... something that was not there when the Blitz wreckage was first combed through. Something that has been placed there recently. It’s a body... could this be the missing Ministry spy that Daisy Wells is on a dangerous mission in France to find? Or could it be someone else... someone who a resident of the street wanted to be silenced?

California-born Stevens is the best thing since Agatha Christie when it comes to murder mysteries for young readers. Packed with a dazzling cast of goodies and baddies, rich in seductive period detail and exciting backdrops, and with a plotline that includes bags of intrigue, some deft detective work and a gang of the canniest kids in town, this series is another Robin Stevens classic.

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Bigg School: Best Friends Forever

Lisa Williamson and Jess Bradley

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Moving from primary to secondary school is a big leap for youngsters and brings with it many fears and anxieties. It’s a topic that award-winning author Lisa Williamson tackles with warmth, enthusiasm, humour and empathy in the first book of her new Bigg School series which follows a group of children starting life at the Henry Bigg Academy. Lola and Evie have been BFF since they were babies, just like peas in a pod, and even though they don’t end up in the same class, Lola expects everything to stay the same. Meanwhile, things are tough because Lola’s parents are divorcing and the family are having to move house. So when the annoying Cleo becomes friendly with Evie, stealing her from Lola, three most definitely becomes a crowd. Perhaps now is a good time for Lola to learn that not all change is bad. With Jess Bradley’s emotive illustrations expressing the often hilarious inner lives of the characters, this funny, relatable and sometimes painfully honest new series aims to tell the stories of ordinary youngsters navigating friendships, change and all those familiar ups and downs of growing up. Entertainment and reassurance in one beautifully imagined story!

(Guppy Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

When the Stars Come Out: Exploring the Magic and Mysteries of the Night-Time

Nicola Edwards and Lucy Cartwright

Discover the history of human sleep and the habitats of nocturnal animals in a beautifully illustrated book from writer and editor Nicola Edwards and illustrator Lucy Cartwright. When the Stars Come Out delves into the magical realm that is our universe at night as we discover what makes it so extraordinary... from moonbows to shooting stars and from the polar night to the northern lights. Experience how different habitats from the city to the ocean come alive when the sun sets. Meet animals that make their own elaborate beds, others that sleep while swimming or flying, and toads that form a croaking chorus. This beautifully illustrated book takes readers on a journey through the wonders of night-time. Packed with fascinating facts and Cartwright’s mesmerising and atmospheric artwork, When the Stars Come Out is an enchanting dream read for both children and adults.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £14.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Myth Keeper

Jasmine Richards

Be swept away to the thrilling world of myth and magic in an epic adventure which cleverly blends a contemporary cast of youngsters with classic tales of the Norse gods. The Myth Keeper is the fantastic sequel to The Unmorrow Curse and comes from Jasmine Richards, a former children’s publisher and founder of Storymix, a studio which creates children’s stories with diverse characters in an organic, joyful and authentic way, and works with emerging and established writers and illustrators from minority backgrounds. Ever since Buzz and his friend Mari returned from their quest to save the Runes of Valhalla, Buzz has been wishing something more exciting would happen in his sleepy town of Crowmarsh. Buzz's wish is about to come true. Strange people are arriving in Crowmarsh, and it turns out that these visitors aren’t people at all... they are mythological gods and they have come to kidnap Buzz’s best friend, Sam, whose newfound power makes him the key to granting the wishes of the gods. When the gods succeed in kidnapping Sam, Buzz and Mari must set off on a dangerous adventure to find a mysterious being known as the Keeper of the Myths. Only the Keeper is strong enough to help them save Sam, unlock their own powers, and banish the gods back to their realms... before it’s too late. Fun and fantasy abound once more in this imaginatively created world of adversity and adventure as the courageous youngsters face some fearsome foes and hidden perils. The race is on!

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Around the World in 80 Inventions

Matt Ralphs and Robbie Cathro

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Chocks away! Take off on an epic journey of discovery as you explore 80 incredible world-changing inventions that have expanded humankind’s knowledge and shaped our lives today. From the wheel to the space rocket, the bow and arrow to the atom bomb, chocolate to toothpaste, and the battery to the quantum computer, Around the World in 80 Inventions uncovers the fascinating, real stories behind amazing innovations from the ancient world right up to the 21st century. Read the fascinating story about how each one was developed, through the medium of bite-sized labels, intriguing captions and eye-catching illustrations. And along the way, spot the adventurous aviator, complete with goggles and flailing scarf, on each page, as they guide readers through the book. With eighty incredible stories written by author and editor Matt Ralphs, and the brightly coloured and fun-filled artwork of illustrator Robbie Cathro, this inventive invention compendium is a delight to read and look at, and sure to captivate readers for hours.

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £16.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Amazing Tale of Ali Pasha

Michael Foreman

The illustrated moving true story of a First World War soldier’s unlikely friendship with a tortoise springs to life thanks to Michael Foreman, one of the nation’s best-known and most prolific creators of children’s books. On May 6 in 1915, Henry Friston, a 21-year-old seaman from Lowestoft in Suffolk rejoined his battleship after ten days in Hell. Hell was just 180 metres long and seven metres wide, and was otherwise known only as ‘X Beach’ where the bloody Battle of Gallipoli took place. Henry, ferrying the wounded from the battlefield, faced great danger and had not eaten or slept for three days. Then, somehow, in the midst of the enemy bombardments, he found an unexpected but welcome companion... a tortoise called Ali Pasha who became Henry’s lucky mascot during his time with the navy, and a lifelong friend. Foreman’s inspirational story of heroism and friendship explores the power of hope and how it can come from the most unlikely places. Retold through journal entries and Henry’s accounts to a young reporter, Ali’s story springs to vivid life with the help of a gallery of stunning black and white illustrations and evocative language. A poignant war story that reminds youngsters of the sacrifices and bravery of those who fought for their country.

(Templar Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 6 plus:

Enchanted Tales: Stories from Around the World

Laura Sampson, Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Thi Kim Lien

If you’re looking for the perfect gift to open up a world of magic to readers of all ages, then look no further than this gorgeous treasury which comes packed with spellbinding stories that sparkle and glitter. Retold by storyteller and vocal performer Laura Sampson, and with beautifully rich and detailed artwork of Taiwanese duo Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Thi Kim Lien, this stunning collection gathers together a selection of enchanting tales from all over the world. From North America, Siberia and West Africa to Peru, India, Japan, England and Australia, children and adults will love getting lost in tales of imaginary worlds, enchanted animals, fantastical creatures, wishes and wizards. The fabulous tales include Snow White (Germany), Bloddeuwed (Wales), Valissa the Beautiful (Russia), The Foolish Brothers (India), The Stone Cutter (Japan) and Tom Tit Tot (England). Stories of visual and verbal delight to enjoy and to treasure.

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £16.99)

Age 5 plus:

British Museum: Celebrate!: Discover 50 Fantastic Festivals from Around the World

Laura Mucha and Hannah Tolson

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Are you ready to discover fascinating festivals from around the world? Grab your bag, pack your camel, canoe and cow bells, and let’s celebrate! This awe-inspiring gift book features fifty spectacular festivals from different countries, cultures and religions and was produced in collaboration with the British Museum. Celebrate! is written by Laura Mucha, an award-winning poet and author whose work with organisations such as UNICEF has involved travelling to every continent of the world, and lavishly illustrated by Hannah Tolson.

In the pages of this spectacular and colourful book, youngsters can explore some of the most exciting festivals from different countries, cultures and religions around the globe. From the familiar to the unexpected, readers discover how and why festivals bring people together to enjoy all kinds of sensational celebrations.

From the Bloemencorso Zundert in the Netherlands (the biggest flower parade in the world) to Crépissage De La Grande Mosquée in Mali (where locals come together to help re-plaster the biggest building made of mud), there is so much to discover. Learn the origins of familiar celebrations like Christmas and Halloween, marvel at the four-day Argunga Fishing Festival in Nigeria that celebrates peace between two communities, and shiver as you follow the freezing 1,500-kilometre Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race which takes place every year between the Alaskan cities of Anchorage and Nome. Packed with all the life, energy, colour and fascinating facts of the world’s greatest festivals, this is certainly a book to enjoy... and celebrate!

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £18.99)

Age 5 plus:

Winnie-the-Pooh: Tales from the Forest

Jane Riordan and Mark Burgess

‘One morning, Winnie-the-Pooh woke up with a tingling feeling in his toes that told him Something Good was about to happen...’

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Who doesn’t love the eternally popular and timeless tales of Winnie-the-Pooh and his adventures in Hundred Acre Wood? Created by English author A.A. Milne, and brought to visual life by illustrator E.H. Shepard, Winnie was based on a teddy bear that Milne bought for his son Christopher Robin in London store Harrods, and first appeared in a story collection published in 1926.

And now Winnie returns to enchant us again with a special new authorised sequel story, starring a brand new character, written by Jane Riordan in the style of Milne, and featuring the beautifully warm and funny illustrations of Mark Burgess who was inspired by Shepard’s original artwork.

Riordan, who has penned an authorised prequel and written many other delightful Winnie-the-Pooh books for children, introduced the brave little female dog called Carmen after discovering that Milne took with him a toy dog mascot called Carmen when he fought in the trenches of the First World War.

So meet adorable Carmen and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang in the seven new stories which are set after the iconic tales in Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, and take us back to the much loved places that Milne’s stories and Shepard’s map introduced us to, like Eeyore’s Gloomy Place and the Poohsticks Bridge, as well as exciting trips to the British Museum and the Tower of London.

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Filled with the gentle humour, friendship and life lessons that echo through Milne’s original stories, Riordan’s collection captures the essence of Milne’s characters and the Hundred Acre Wood, while showing her genuine affection for Winnie-the-Pooh, one of the true stars of English literary heritage.

A gift for the special people in your life whatever their age.

(Farshore, hardback, £16.99)

Age 5 plus:

Call the Puffins: Tiny’s Brave Rescue

Cath Howe and Ella Okstad

When a rescue is needed, call in team puffin! Author, teacher and self-confessed puffin enthusiast Cath Howe works her word magic on the second book of a sparkling series starring a stellar group of young puffins in training for a search and rescue team. So welcome back to the island of Egg where a brave and bold puffin rescue team are in training. The puffins must work together to rescue birds and eggs wherever they are in danger. One of the new recruits, Tiny, is worried about whether he is good enough to join the team, particularly as he can’t always see very well. Luckily Muffin and his other team mates are there to help. Together they can face anything... even a scary wild cat on the beach! Brought to life by the enchanting artwork of illustrator Ella Okstad, this gorgeous series celebrates teamwork, belonging and resilience as the new puffin team get in the swim for their exciting rescue roles. Add on an irresistible helping of fluttery fun and high-flying mischief, and youngsters are in for another perfect puffin fest!

(Welbeck Flame, paperback, £6.99)

Age 4 plus:

SuperQuesters: The Case of the Great Energy Robbery

Dr Thomas Bernard, Lisa Moss and Amy Willcox

Discover your inner superhero in this unique interactive story, part of a brilliantly brainy series which aims to fire up imaginations and inspire scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technology experts of the future!

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The Case of the Great Energy Robbery is the third book in the SuperQuesters series from husband and wife team and STEM experts, Thomas Bernard and Lisa Moss, whose mission is to inspire and equip a new generation to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education and careers, reduce the skills shortage, and close the ethnic diversity and gender gap in STEM studies.

A young fiction adventure series with a fun educational twist, SuperQuesters blends exciting stories with hands-on activities, expertly designed to develop skills in creative new ways, and includes over 100 reusable stickers in each book.

The stars are Lilli and her best friends Leo and Bea, three endlessly curious children with big imaginations. When they unite to solve a challenging science problem, they turn into superheroes Lillicorn, Leo Zoom and Bea Bumble and journey to a world full of magic, adventure and quests. And they want readers to join in the mission and the fun.

When Leo’s mum challenges Leo, Lilli and Bea to figure out how to power a model aeroplane using a special biofuel that can be made from an ingredient in their very own garden, the friends start investigating and return to Questland in search of a solution. When they discover that the evil Lord Grumble is up to his dastardly tricks, stealing energy throughout Questland, adventure and excitement await as the friends work together to crack this latest case. Can you help them defeat evil Lord Grumble and return the stolen energy to Questland?

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Combining clever storytelling with interactive hands-on learning, the book’s stickers feature magical charm rewards and there is also a reward chart to mark progress and celebrate success, and a glossary and answer page.

Skills covered include problem solving, coding, sequencing and algorithms and the book is carefully designed with cross-curricular learning opportunities in mind, linking with computing, maths and science in the national curriculum.

And it’s all brought to vivid life through the bright and colourful illustrations of Amy Willcox... so if you’re a superhero enthusiast and love learning through play then this is the perfect way to Read, Quest and Learn!

(QuestFriendz, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Wild

Yuval Zommer

Beautiful words, filled with meaning and heartfelt emotion, blend with evocative artwork in a stunning picture book from highly acclaimed author and illustrator Yuval Zommer. ‘Everything found a place in the wild and the wild welcomed all.’ Once upon a time, somewhere not far away, was the Wild. The Wild was huge and giving, and everything from insects, to birds, to humans made their home in it. At first, people lived lightly and took what they needed, but when they started to take more, the Wild suffered. For the Wild to be healthy, someone must be brave enough to raise their voice and make people notice... ‘Stop!’ said a young boy, ‘We are hurting the Wild’ and soon everyone was shouting for change. Once again, this talented writer and artist spreads his own special glow over the autumn and winter season with a lyrical and richly illustrated modern fable which sends our climate-hit world a hopeful and powerful message about how our environment needs us just as much as we need it. An exquisitely created and gold-foiled picture book which puts nature firmly – and spectacularly – at centre stage.

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(Oxford University Press Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Tree Next Door

Charlie Moyler and Martin Stanev

The sturdy branches of a magnificent apple tree reach far beyond the elderly owner’s garden in a moving tale from artist and designer Charlie Moyler in what is her first authored picture book. The Tree Next Door – beautifully illustrated by Bulgarian-born artist Martin Stanev – is a heart-warming tribute to community, nature and the special warmth that comes from an intergenerational friendship. When a little girl moves into her new home, the first thing she notices is the magnificent tree next door. By getting to know her neighbour, and helping her to tend to her garden through the changing seasons, the girl learns what an important place both the tree and the elderly lady hold in the hearts of their community. Moyler’s evocative and resonant story – brought to life by Stanev’s emotive artwork – is sure to inspire youngsters to find their own joy and adventures in the great outdoors, and to enjoy finding friendship in the most unexpected places.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Moon: Activity Book

Hettie Cox, Beth Hamilton and Britta Teckentrup

Journey through some of the planet’s most amazing places in this beautiful winter-themed sticker book based on award-winning illustrator Britta Teckentrup’s acclaimed picture book Moon. From the dusty desert and shimmering seas of mysterious oceans to the shadowy depths of the moonlit forest, this activity book takes little ones on a journey through the wild at night alongside busy night-time creatures. Filled with Teckentrup’s mesmerising illustrations of the nocturnal world and lots of puzzles, word searches, dot-to-dots, mazes and stickers to keep little hands busy, this is the perfect gift for wildlife lovers and a magical, interactive way to shine a light on our amazing moon!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £9.99)

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