Book reviews: Assassins, animals and adventures for daring young readers

Assassins, animals and adventures for daring young readersAssassins, animals and adventures for daring young readers
Assassins, animals and adventures for daring young readers
Retired Preston teacher Joseph Delaney leads the charge with a thrilling new Spook's mission as February heralds a host of exciting new children's books.

Age 12 plus:

Spook’s: Dark Assassin by Joseph Delaney

The dark shadow of brooding Pendle Hill looms large over the third chilling instalment of retired Preston teacher Joseph Delaney’s thrilling and atmospheric Starblade Chronicles.

Delaney’s best-selling Spook’s adventures, set amid real locations in the wild and wonderful Lancashire countryside, are inspired by local ghost stories and legends and have become cult reading for a generation of young readers.

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These powerfully imaginative stories, featuring spine-chilling creatures, blood-curdling fantasies and terrifying supernatural forces, have put Lancashire firmly on the map over the past 12 years and turned former English teacher Delaney into a star of the book world.

His grisly witches, grave-wreckers, hall-knockers, rippers and all kinds of other nasty creatures have become legend with children everywhere and local youngsters have fun guessing the real locations of places featured in the books.

A spin-off from the original Spook’s series, the Starblade Chronicles feature new young Spook Tom Ward, the former apprentice to his now deceased Master John Gregory, and launch him into battle against the worst demons, devils and beasts that Lancashire County’s boggart country can produce.

His apprentice is Jenny, who claims to be the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and has proved herself a willing and courageous warrior in the ongoing battle against the might of the unearthly Kobalos.

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The County that the Spook is sworn to protect is under threat from the bestial Kobalos, the terrifying creatures that killed Tom’s oldest ally John Gregory and which are bent on bringing war and strife.

But their inhuman ambitions are now stretching way beyond the County’s borders and the future of everyone hangs in the balance. Caught in a supernatural struggle between beings of the utmost power, how can people hope to survive such fearsome enemies?

Forces from both the dark and the light must be ready to stand side by side in this, the ultimate battle for the world. But as the war that will decide the fate of humanity unfolds, a mysterious assassin lurks in the darkness between earth and oblivion with an unknown mission. Could the creature be the saviour the County seeks?

Get ready for another all-action thriller as Delaney ratchets up the suspense in this suitably scary and deadly dark chapter in the Starblade Chronicles which reintroduces some exciting characters from the past and delivers the same delicious feast of fear, deadly foes and feisty heroes.

Not to be read after dark!

(Bodley Head, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus:

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Tanglewood Animal Park: The Troublesome Tiger by Tamsyn Murray

Young animal lovers are roaring with excitement as Tamsyn Murray delivers the second book in a fantastic adventure series set among roaming lions, lemurs, lizards and leopards.

Murray, author of the fun-packed Completely Cassidy series, works magic of the furry and feather variety in these warm, wild and wonderful stories which star two siblings enjoying escapades in a wild animal park run by their mum and dad.

The middle grade series, which began with Baby Zebra Rescue, was inspired by Murray’s visits with her own son to the family-run Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and her research there provided plenty of ideas for animal adventures.

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Zoe Fox and her younger brother Rory are living at Tanglewood Animal Park, their very own zoo. There is always a lot of work to be done and Zoe can’t wait to meet the park’s newest arrival, Tindu the magnificent Sumatran tiger, who is coming from a zoo in Berlin. As Sumatran tigers are an endangered species, hunted by poachers and chased from their homes, it is important that Tindu is happy and healthy in his new home. But Tindu seems sad, and refuses to leave his den. Can Zoe and Oliver Chambers, son of the park’s chief vet, dream up a plan to help Tanglewood’s troublesome tiger feel happy in his new home?

With Chuck Groenink’s enchanting illustrations to add the extra ‘aaah’ factor, this gorgeous adventure series continues to win the hearts and minds of animal lovers of every age.

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Nelly and the Flight of the Sky Lantern by Roland Chambers and Ella Okstad

Hold on to your hats… never-say-die Nelly Peabody is back and ready to take off on a high-flying adventure!

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Fearless, feisty Nelly is the eccentric, swashbuckling star of a highly original and quirky series for younger readers from inventive author Roland Chambers and creative illustrator Ella Okstad.

This brilliantly escapist action series, which began with the Quest for Captain Peabody, continues apace as we once again enter intrepid Nelly’s beautifully detailed and richly descriptive world for another madcap (and seemingly impossible!) mission.

When intrepid explorer Nelly says she’s going to do a thing, she does it, whatever it is, and when she returns home to discover that her mother has mysteriously disappeared, she vows to stop at nothing until she has found her. Climb to the tops of the clouds in a laundry basket? Why not? Dive to the depths of the ocean in an oversized tin can? Of course! Leave her pet turtle Columbus behind? Certainly not! He’s her best friend, what an awful suggestion. Together they will find the answers even if what they find along the way is not quite what Nelly expected…

Nelly is a brilliant heroine; her vitality, enthusiasm and optimism are ideal inspiration for a new generation of girls and her epic, hair-raising escapades – whether on sea, land or in the air – provide the perfect balance of humour and adventure.

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Okstad’s innovative, quirky, two-tone illustrations add an extra layer of fun, making this a must-read for thrill-seeking youngsters.

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Dr KittyCat is Ready to Rescue: Pumpkin the Hamster by Jane Clarke

Cool, calm Dr KittyCat, the meowing medic, and her trusty helper Peanut, a quick-thinking paramedic mouse, are heading off on another emergency to rescue furry friends in need.

The two caring and adorably cute little creatures are the stars of Jane Clarke’s original, warm-hearted and entertaining series which follows their adventures as they chase round the countryside to dispense help and advice to small, furry patients.

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Full of fascinating first aid facts, all verified by a qualified paramedic, these gentle stories have instant appeal to budding little doctors and nurses who love animal stories.

In their new first aid foray, the little animals are very excited to be joining Dr KittyCat’s stargazing outing. When Pumpkin trips over, Peanut the mouse thinks it’s just because of the dark but then Pumpkin can’t see the stars… even with the telescope. What could be wrong with him? Perhaps Pumpkin needs a pair of glasses? It’s time for Dr KittyCat to investigate and she’ll be there in a whisker!

These gorgeous, glossy, eye-catching books are packed with two-tone illustrations which mix photography and hand-drawn elements and compelling first-aid details to create a delightfully surreal but reassuring medical world.

Ideal for the five to seven age group, and with some real-life medical tips in the back of the book, this is a canny cat and mouse team for whom medicine is not just a game!

(OUP, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory by Elys Dolan

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My Bunny might have a very successful chocolate factory but that doesn’t mean he’s always a good egg!

Prepare to laugh out loud when Elys Dolan’s clever, comical and superbly illustrated story reveals what happens when chocolate egg production goes into meltdown because mean Mr Bunny won’t let his hard-working chickens take a long overdue holiday.

Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory is the second outstanding picture book from the talented young author and illustrator who brought us the much-loved Steven Seagull Action Hero… and her eye for exquisite small detail and wry comedy wins the day again.

As the owner of a large chocolate factory, Mr Bunny is never satisfied with his success. But when he starts to expect too much of his staff, he finds himself left to run the business single-handed. Will Mr Bunny begin to realise that many minds are better than one when trying to get a job done well? Or will his chocolate empire fall apart under the pressure of running it alone?

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This cute, cautionary and truly funny tale teaches youngsters the importance of fairness, equality and team work as well offering a riotous romp packed with a delicious mix of comic capers, tasty gags, adorable characters, and lots of chocolate!

A feast of giggles for every generation…

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Lionheart by Richard Collingridge

A cinematic adventure in a book!

Richard Collingridge, the much-admired creator of When it Snows, a wonderfully creative and romantic winter fantasy for younger children, works his magic again in Lionheart, a stunning new picture book filled with a feast of colour and action.

Packed with Collingridge’s outstanding and visually exciting artwork, this warm and reassuring story will capture the hearts and minds of all adventurous youngsters.

Richard is small and scared. He hugs his Lionheart toy tightly as he tries to convince himself that there is no such thing as a monster. But the truth is that he is scared so he’d better start running… fast. But Richard is being chased and he doesn’t stop until he finds himself in a magical jungle full of amazing animals. Who or what can make him finally stop running away and face his fears?

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Richard’s extraordinary and colourful adventure with the jungle creatures will have your own little ones straining at the leash to join him. Watch their faces as they turn the pages and discover a wild and wonderful world of animal magic.

Collingridge’s bold, beautiful and spectacular illustrations, combined with a gorgeous story about dispelling fears, is guaranteed to enchant younger readers and give them a whole new perspective on the world.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth by Ellie Hattie and Karl James Mountford

Welcome to The Curious Museum where fantasy, history, science and nature become reality and where wonders are waiting to unfold around every corner… but for one night only!

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Author Ellie Hattie and star illustrator Karl James Mountford combine their considerable talents to create the unforgettable picture book story of one extraordinary evening, an evening where magic is real, history is alive and Extinct and Endangered Species participate in aerobics classes.

Look out, there’s a mammoth on the loose! When Oscar wakes to discover that Timothy, a huge, hairy woolly mammoth, is outside his bedroom window, he can’t believe his eyes. But Timothy needs Oscar’s help… his little brother has gone missing. Follow Oscar through a magical museum of curious creatures and exciting exhibits to find the mammoth before the clock strikes one. Is he munching sandwiches with Diplodocus Dave in the Dinosaur room? Or joining an aerobics class with the Extinct and Endangered Species?

The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth is a riotous adventure, packed with fascinating facts and lift-the-flap fun. Mountford’s stunning illustrations and the clever, interactive story bring history and museums to life as readers turn the pages, lift the flaps and explore the exhibits in the strangely exciting museum. Peer behind the dustbins, open the books and doors, take a look under the foliage and learn about daredevil Bessie Coleman, Narwhal’s tusks and Van Gogh’s paintings.

Whimsy, wonder and discovery prove an irresistible mix in an extraordinary story that harnesses creativity and youthful curiosity, and sweeps children away to a world of fact-based magic.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Dogs by Emily Gravett

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If man’s best friend floats the boat of your little ones, pick up this beautiful hardback copy of Emily Gravett’s classic picture book Dogs which introduces us to big dogs, small dogs, stroppy dogs and soppy dogs!

Gorgeous canines of every shape, size and colour bound through this visually irresistible book of opposites. You can help your little dog lover to choose which one they want to love best of all.

With playful, energetic and appealing illustrations to enchant children and adults alike, everyone will long to bark along with the Chihuahua and tickle the Dalmatian’s tummy.

A warm and witty canine odyssey, packed with lively and expressive drawings, this perennial favourite is a must for every animal-loving child’s bookshelf.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

We Are Family by Patricia Hegarty and Ryan Wheatcroft

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Sometimes simple messages come in poetic packages… take this charming book which lets every child see themselves reflected in the pages of rhyming words and busy, intricately detailed pictures.

Author Patricia Hegarty and illustrator Ryan Wheatcroft have together created a warm-hearted and gentle rhyming tribute to family life, celebrating how each family is different and reinforcing the message that money, colour, creed and name don’t matter. What is really important is that in each and every family, the love they feel is just the same.

Packed with vivid illustrations portraying eight very different and diverse families at work, rest and play, this is the ideal book to encourage and explore family life, our differences and similarities, and to accept and understand the unique dynamic of every family, whoever they are and wherever they live.

A compelling collection of colour, words and ideas…

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

Lucy Ladybird by Sharon King-Chai

Take flight with the adorable Lucy Ladybird and enjoy the sweetness and freshness of Australian-born Sharon King-Chai’s classic picture book.

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This warm-hearted story of colours, seasons and individuality has a striking new cover but offers the same reassuring messages and visual delights that have been winning young hearts and minds for nearly four years.

Lucy Ladybird feels she doesn’t belong with the other ladybirds because she has no spots. Follow her as she goes on a journey through the seasons, being given different coloured spots by her beautiful friends, the frog, fish, caterpillar and bird. Eventually, when she has four spots, she learns that being different is no bad thing... and a huge fold-out surprise reveals that all the other ladybirds want multi-coloured spots too!

This simple story, brought to glorious life by bright, bold illustrations in a rainbow of fabulous colours and a spectacular fold-out spread, provides positive messages about giving, sharing and accepting differences.

A riot of colour, some special surprises … and lots to talk about!

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)