Book review: Wartime drama, a gunpowder plot and a trainee witch

Reading isn't boring this summer with an exciting collection of children's books to suit every age and every taste.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 18th August 2016, 10:00 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 9:00 pm
Wartime drama, a gunpowder plot and a trainee witch
Wartime drama, a gunpowder plot and a trainee witch

Age 10 plus:

Rose in the Blitz by Rebecca Stevens

London in the midst of the terrifying Blitz bombing raids must be an unimaginable place for a generation of children so removed from the war years.

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But in a moving, atmospheric and heartbreaking story, set in the war-ravaged capital, acclaimed author Rebecca Stevens sweeps youngsters away to the sights, sounds and ever-present dangers of life in 1940s England.

Rose in the Blitz stars the same time-travelling teenager whose First World War adventures in Stevens’ novel Valentine Joe won the hearts and minds of readers and critics last year. In this engrossing sequel, inspired by the author’s own family history, Rose faces fresh perils and a desperate race against time to save a precious life.In present day London, it’s the night

before Rose’s mum re-marries. Rose can’t sleep for worrying and nor can her confused and elderly great-aunt Rosemary, known to one and all as Aunt Cosy. Rose sees the old lady leaving the house still in her dressing-gown and follows her through the darkness to the London Underground and on to an old, musty-smelling empty train.

Their train stops at her home station, Clapham South, but this isn’t the world as Rosie knows it, it’s the world as Aunty Cosy knew it… war-torn London in 1940, full of strangers and broken by the Blitz. Catapulted down Aunt Cosy’s memory lane and into the past, Rose witnesses a great romance and a heartfelt sacrifice, but a terrible tragedy is about to unfold… unless she can change what happens next.

Exciting, poignant, rich in colour and period detail, Rose in the Blitz combines a thrilling, fast-paced time-slip story with a thought-provoking exploration of family, the power of love and the importance of shared memories.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Young Adult:

Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan

Prepare to shed tears as Liz Flanagan plays a blinder in this stunning debut novel set amidst the rolling hills and valleys of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.

Inspired by her own experiences of loss, Flanagan weaves a beautiful, heart-rending tale about a teenage girl whose friend goes missing, forcing her to look back over the events, secrets and traumas that have brought her to this hard place.

‘My mind will not accept the possibility that Eden could be dead, now or ever. The end. Nothing. No. My best friend is too alive. Too everything. She can’t just disappear… What the hell happens to me, without her?’

It starts like any other day for Goth girl Jess… get up, plaster on black eyeliner, cover up tattoos and head to school. But soon it’s clear this is going to be no ordinary day because Jess’s best friend, the beautiful, popular Eden, isn’t at school. Eden has gone missing.

Jess knows she has to do everything in her power to try to find Eden before the unthinkable happens. So she starts to retrace their steps, looking back over the summer she and Eden have just spent together. She starts to notice new things. She starts to question hidden truths and everything she thought Eden’s summer had been about...

The rugged, awe-inspiring countryside of West Yorkshire plays a starring role in this tense, highly-charged journey through adolescent friendship, loss, betrayal, bullying, tragedy and self-discovery.

A powerful, gripping debut from a talented new author…

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 10 plus:

Black Powder by Ally Sherrick

Guy Fawkes, a country awash with religious strife, a plot to assassinate King James I of England… no youngster will be able to resist this rip-roaring adventure, packed full of explosive action, real history, and barrels of gunpowder!

Debut author Ally Sherrick blends fact and fiction to brilliant effect in an enthralling tale which delivers an edge-of-the seat thriller as well as recreating real events leading up to the infamous 17th century Gunpowder Plot, still remembered every year on Bonfire Night.

It’s England in 1605 and 12-year-old Catholic boy Tom Garnett must use all his wits and his courage to save his father from hanging. He falls in with a mysterious stranger, known as the Falcon, who promises to help him in exchange for his service. But on the long journey to London, Tom discovers the Falcon’s true mission… a plot to blow up Parliament with barrels of black powder. Tom faces a terrible decision. Should he secure his father’s release, or stop the assassination of the king?

Sherrick’s exciting novel provides a fascinating English history lesson while exploring important themes like faith, family, loyalty and trust in times of persecution and suffering.

A brilliant adventure guaranteed to set alight young imaginations…

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 10 plus:

The Secret Cooking Club by Laurel Remington

What do you get when you mix three cups of friendship, a spoonful of toe-curling mum and a sprinkle of first love? A deliciously warm and appetising debut novel cooked up by lawyer-cum-author Laurel Remington!

Tickle your taste buds for the new TV series of The Great British Bake Off, starting on August 24, with a very modern and very satisfying tale of a one girl’s journey to find happiness.

Twelve-year-old Scarlett is the star and victim of her mum’s popular blog and as the butt of many school jokes, she is always eager to stay firmly out of the spotlight. But one evening, she finds a gorgeous kitchen in the house next door, left empty by an elderly neighbour who has had to go into hospital.

As Scarlett bakes behind the kitchen’s closed door, she starts to transform her life, discovering new friends and forming the Secret Cooking Club. But can she fix her family problems, seal her friendships and find the mysterious secret ingredient?

Brimming with warmth, humanity and the magic ingredient of love, this is a beautiful and sensitively written novel, perfect for aspiring young cooks and readers from the internet generation.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

There’s magic aplenty in this sparkling novel featuring a trainee witch whose failed ‘spelling’ tests leave her lost for words… and without the bright silver star of a successful apprentice.

Packed with warmth and humanity, and starring a bewitching young witch called Arianwyn, James Nicol’s fantasy adventure is a joy to read and perfect for all Harry Potter fans.

When 15-year-old trainee witch Arianwyn fluffs her final assessment, she is awarded only the dull bronze disc of an apprentice… to the glee of her arch-rival Gimma. Informed by the Civil Witchcraft Authority that she has not yet reached the full maturity of her powers, Arianwyn is sent to protect the remote, dreary town of Lull. But her new life proves far from boring.

It turns out that Gimma is the pompous mayor’s favourite niece and, worse, she opens a magical rift in the nearby forest. As Arianwyn struggles with her spells and a mysterious darkness starts to cast a shadow, it’s soon clear there is much more than her pride at stake... it’s up to Arianwyn to save the town!

Nicol handles serious themes like low self-esteem and discovering self-belief with the lightest of touches in a clever, wise and timeless tale which speaks loudly to children of all ages.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7-11:

It’s Not Fine to Sit on a Porcupine by Neal Zetter

‘Here comes a man

With a pen in his hand

Rhythms and rhymes at his command

To build a sandcastle

You need sand

But who’d you need to write a poem?

Mister Poetry Man’

Enjoy the rhythm and the rhyme with ‘Mister Poetry Man’ Neal Zetter in this wacky, wonderful collection of funny, quirky poems.

London-based comedy performance poet Zetter is well known for using poetry writing and performance to develop literacy, confidence, self-expression, creativity and presentation skills in three to 103-year-olds, regularly entertaining audiences in schools, comedy clubs, theatres, pubs and music venues.

And he certainly works his rappy, happy poetic magic here with nearly fifty comical poems, all designed to be read aloud and shared, and brought to life by Rory Walker’s hilarious black and white cartoons.

Youngsters will be joining in to the mood music as they meet everything from robot teachers, aliens, shoelaces and orangutans to a bungee-jumping grandad, a killer dog, soap and even the zany letter Z.

Take pity on a bored superhero, take off with an angry shopping trolley, marvel at a mammoth on the underground and crack out laughing at the world’s worst toilet.

Perfect for entertaining school classes or to be enjoyed by all the family at home…

(Troika Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Furry Friends: Sophie’s Squeaky Surprise by Holly Webb

Young readers will be dancing for joy when they meet the cutest, cuddliest ballet dancer on the block… a tutu-wearing guinea pig!

Madcap little Josephine is the shining star of Furry Friends, a gorgeous, warm-hearted new series from the animal magician of children’s books, Holly Webb, and talented illustrator Clare Elsom.

Poor Sophie isn’t happy about moving to a strange new country and starting at a new school where she can’t seem to make any real friends. She’s lonely in Paris and missing her cat

Oscar who has been left behind with Grandma. But then she meets Josephine, a macaroon-eating, tutu-wearing guinea pig who lives with her furry friends and family underneath the city’s famous Sacré Coeur church.

Their existence is a big secret and one that Sophie must keep as she discovers that Josephine is the best friend she has been looking for. Soon Josephine is showing Sophie that living in a new place is exciting and being friends with a guinea pig is the best adventure of all.

Comical, reassuring and packed with high-energy fun and action, Sophie and Josephine’s extravagant exploits look set to run and run…

(Scholastic, paperback, £4.99)

Age 3 plus:

Bocchi & Pocchi’s Big Surprise by Noriko Matsubara

Bocchi and Pocchi, two close-knit sock friends, have become a shoo-in success for inventive picture book author and illustrator Noriko Matsubara.

This is the third outing for the woolly playmates whose footloose adventures were inspired by Matsubara’s childhood in Japan when she would sit and watch her grandmother darn socks and make up stories.

Here we find Bocchi and Pocchi more than a little surprised to find a caterpillar on their table one morning… and enjoying a cabbage for breakfast! They try to persuade Caterpillar that sandwiches or ice cream would be far tastier but he assures them he’s happy to eat cabbage for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Very soon the three of them are firm friends so when Caterpillar disappears one morning Bocchi and Pocchi are very worried. Grandma Mouse reassures them that all will be well and sure enough Caterpillar reappears with yet another surprise for his friends… he’s a butterfly!

Matsubara’s delightful story, packed with her colourful, eye-catching illustrations, includes a charming little musical sing-along celebration of Twirly Socks at the end of the book.

You can bet your boots that this lovable pair of socks will be back…

(Troika Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

How to Find a Friend by Maria S. Costa

Friendship is all mapped out in this enchanting debut picture book story which shows two ways of looking at the world.

Little ones will delight in author and illustrator Maria S. Costa’s ingenious visual dual narrative which features two woodland animals looking for a new friend… in all the wrong places.

When Rabbit moves into his new burrow and Squirrel moves into her new treehouse, they would both love to bump into a friend. But will that ever happen when they are too busy to notice what is just above or beneath them? Are they destined to keep on missing each other by a whisker?

Children can follow Rabbit and Squirrel’s hit-and-miss search for friendship on a special story map at the front and back of the book and along the way enjoy all the excitement of those ‘it’s behind you’ pantomime moments as they head off on a comical crash course with the help of two little bugs.

Costa’s funny, tender story features her distinctive linocut illustrations which use a limited palette of bright Mediterranean colours and mix digital and traditional techniques.

Fun, friendship… and a first lesson in irony!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Way to Outer Space by Jay Eunji Lee

Young imaginations can take flight in this inspirational and creative picture book from author and illustrator Jay Eunji Lee.

Committed to producing books which include activities to inspire creative play, Lee’s quirky space travel extravaganza provides lots of ideas, illustrations and templates to build a model rocket, draw alien friends and make beautiful origami stars.

Feeling bored at home one evening, Em receives a mysterious parcel with instructions for building her very own space rocket. By harnessing the power of her imagination (and with the help of two loo rolls and some sticky-back plastic), she builds a magnificent rocket. After climbing aboard with her pet cat as her trusty sidekick, Em zooms off through the solar system to a mysterious faraway planet where the inhabitants desperately need her help to survive.

The Way to Outer Space, with its exciting story and simple craft activities, is the perfect way to inspire your child’s imagination and send their creative powers into orbit.

The sky’s the limit for your budding artists and aspiring little space travellers!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)