Book reviews: Chess masters, dinosaur agents and a terrific toddler tantrum

As autumn starts to take hold, discover a magical selection of dazzling new children's books to brighten up the darker nights.

Thursday, 22nd September 2016, 10:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 2:05 pm
Chess masters, dinosaur agents and a terrific toddler tantrum
Chess masters, dinosaur agents and a terrific toddler tantrum

Age 8 plus:

The Foolish King by Mark Price and Martin Brown

On your marks, get set… and make your first move!

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Aspiring young chess players will be chomping at the bit to check out this brilliant new book which aims to inspire a new generation of quick-thinking chess champions through the magical medium of storytelling.

The Foolish King, an illustrated, interactive fairy tale about the secret history of chess, is the dazzling work of debut children’s book author Mark Price, former deputy chairman of the John Lewis Partnership and current Minister of State for Trade and Investment, and was written to teach his daughter how to play chess.

One of the most entertaining and inventive introductions to chess ever created, this enthralling story about two children from the ancient Kingdom of Marra who are on a quest to understand and play the game has been brought to stunning pictorial life by Martin Brown, illustrator of the mega-selling Horrible Histories series.

Chess is played by almost 500 million people around the world and now children have the chance to learn the game from an early age and gain the knowledge and inspiration to enjoy the rewards and challenges of chess throughout their lives.

The intriguing, all-action story teaches chess moves and rules while the witty and whimsical illustrations add an extra layer of fun. There are also interactive puzzles and games to practise the different moves and the chance to follow the ultimate chess game as part of the story.

And to add to the exciting learning experience, children aged six and above can also use a well-designed, companion iPad app, using the same story and illustrations. The app, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store, features clear tutorials, tips on how to improve your technique and suggestions for chess moves to try out yourself. There are one and two player game options, three different levels and the ability to play a friend either side-by-side or opposite each other as on a traditional board.

Entertaining, inspirational and original, this wonderful, multi-layered book is the perfect gift and the ideal way to set imaginations alight and spark a lifetime’s love for one of the world’s most popular games.

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 7 plus:

Spynosaur by Guy Bass

Humour, action, high-octane energy and geeky technology… award-winning author Guy Bass has every base covered in the first book of a criminally funny new series.

Featuring comic-strip pages and doodles from Kung Fu Panda artist Lee Robinson, Spynosaur is the world’s first super-spy dinosaur, on a mission to make crime extinct and poised to save the day with a swish of his mighty tail.

Bass is one of the finest comedy writers for young people. His genre-bending books capture the energy, excitement and clever humour of literary heroes like Roald Dahl and Simon Furman but take them to a whole new level.

Anarchic humour and action-packed, technology-filled missions meet in glorious madcap madness as the world’s only prehistoric powerhouse dishes out justice and puns to a host of eccentric enemies. Yes… expect gigantosaurus belly laughs at every turn from the hilarious master of primordial puns!

Spynosaur is secret agency Department 6’s not-so secret weapon. Created by mysterious science rays, Spynosaur, the first ever Super Secret Agent Dinosaur, has the mind of a super spy and the body of a dinosaur. Together with his daughter Amber, this prehistoric hero protects the world from villainy.

When Department 6 learns that all-round bad-egg and criminal mastermind Ergo Ego has created a super-secret weapon known only as McGuffin, there is just one person for the job… can Spynosaur find the weapon of mass mischief and put a stop to Ego’s nefarious plans, preferably without blowing everything up?

Bass knows how to touch the funny bone of his young readers and this super silly story, packed with puns, comic style illustrations and cultural references that will appeal to both kids and their parents, sees the master of comedy on scintillating form.

You’d have to be a barmy Brachiosaurus or a mad Megalosaurus to miss out on the amazing adventure!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Mango & Bambang: Tiny Tapir Trouble by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy

The most unlikely friendships can make the most wonderful stories…

Take Mango Allsorts, a little girl, and Bambang, her very unusual pet… an Asian tapir who is trying to adapt to life in the big city. Put them together and the fun begins!

Mango and Bambang’s extraordinary exploits continue in two new books in this enchanting series, written by the versatile Polly Faber and illustrated in nostalgic style by the talented Clara Vulliamy, and featuring four separate stories in each book.

Mango Allsorts is a girl good at all sorts of things, especially helping a tapir feel at home in a busy city. Their friendship continues to unfold and Bambang is getting braver every day. Join them for a new round of daring escapades in the third book, Tiny Tapir Trouble, a thrilling story of brave seaside rescues, a poorly Bambang and an endearing tiny but mischievous tapir called Guntur who causes rather more trouble than expected for such a lovable creature when he comes to stay with Mango Allsorts and Bambang in the busy city.

Published in a beautiful, high quality hardback with bright stripes, coloured edge pages, the Mango and Bambang books are the ideal gift package for youngsters who are becoming confident at reading alone.

Faber’s words and Vulliamy’s illustrations are an addictive combination, offering stories with a classic feel but packed with recognisable themes and settings.

Gently humorous, lively and easy to read, Mango and Bambang’s adventures and misadventures are picture perfect stories for a new generation of young readers.

Also available are the first two books in the series, Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig and Mango & Bambang: Tapir All at Sea.

(Walker, hardback, £8.99)

Age 3 plus:

Hyde and Squeak by Fiona Ross

One hundred and forty years after Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was first published, the story of the famous split personalities comes alive again through talented author and illustrator Fiona Ross.

Hyde and Squeak is a hilarious comic-book twist on the classic tale of Jekyll and Hyde, brimming with fun, anarchy, disgusting but delightful dishes, and guaranteed to be simply irresistible to messy little mischief-makers!

Would you dare to eat a beastly-looking jelly? Squeak the mouse just can't resist a taste ...Slurp! Burp! Grunt! Growl! Uh-oh! Squeak has turned into Hyde, a massive, messy, hungry monster mouse. Look out because he needs some super-sized suppers, mega-munchies and dollops of doughnuts. And when he runs out of meals, he decides to make a machine that can turn anything into food. Good job brave Granny has a fruity solution to a monster-sized dilemma.

Ross’s wildly creative and playful picture book retelling of the spooky thriller introduces a new generation to the much-loved classic through the magic medium of a deliciously manic mouse with a violently voracious appetite.

With laugh-out-loud antics, bold and busy, comic-style illustrations, horribly wobbly jellies and munching machines, Squeak’s transformation into a grub-guzzling monster mouse is a tasty treat for all little adventurers.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Meltdown by Jill Murphy

Now here’s a simply brilliant picture book that all parents will love… the familiar but torrid tale of a terrible toddler meltdown!

Jill Murphy, much-loved author and illustrator of the ever-popular The Worst Witch and Large Family series, is at her entertaining best in this excruciatingly true-to-life, brilliantly observed, wonderfully witty picture book about a bunny’s explosive tantrum in the supermarket.

Ruby the rabbit likes to be helpful, but she often gets a bit overexcited, especially when she visits the supermarket with her mum. Crisps are so crunchy and the packet so scrunchy! Tins of beans are fun to roll! And when Ruby sees a cake, her favourite cake in the shape of a cute pink piggy, she wants it... and she wants it right now. What on earth will her exhausted mum do with her bothersome baby bunny?

The genius of Jill Murphy is her ability to capture the subversive behaviour of toddlers and frustrations of parents with the simplest of words and her ingeniously expressive illustrations. Watch with belly laughs and cringing recognition as Ruby goes into meltdown and mum battles to stay calm as bothered and bewildered shoppers look on with either sympathy or irritation.

This is family life in its stark and chaotic reality, all portrayed with Murphy’s trademark warmth, wit and sense of fun, and guaranteed to become everyone’s favourite picture book!

(Walker, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Great Ape Escape by Fiona Manlove and Pascal Biet

Get ready for some madcap monkey business in this super slapstick comedy picture book from Fiona Manlove and Pascal Biet.

Prolific author Manlove provides the subversive plot and French-born illustrator Biet brings to life a bunch of charismatic and cheeky monkeys as they plan an ingenious motorised getaway from their safari park home.

Never ones to sit around doing nothing, the safari park monkeys are having fun and games with the car parts that they have collected when Banana Bill comes up with a fantastic idea.

With plenty of willing helpers and lots of spare parts, the monkeys start putting together their very own getaway vehicle right under the eyes of the rangers and the other safari park animals. Very soon the makeshift motor is ready for off, but will they manage to escape in their spectacular but very noisy jalopy?

With a fun-packed story and pages of wild and witty illustrations, all chock-full of things to spot and talk about, this is a hilarious celebration of monkey mayhem.

(Ragged Bears, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Feelings by Libby Walden and Richard Jones

Understanding our feelings is difficult… but emotional learning begins at a very young age and is a vital part of childhood development.

One in ten children aged between five and 16 are reported to have a mental health problem so the way a child’s feelings and emotions are approached is more important than ever.

Simply talking about feelings is a vital first step and this thoughtful, gentle, fully accessible, peep-through book invites young children to embark on a stunning illustrated and rhyming exploration of emotional literacy.

Libby Walden’s enchanting rhymes and Richard Jones’ beautifully evocative pictures cover everything from excitement and anger to more complex emotions such as loneliness, embarrassment and jealousy in an easy-to-understand and open manner to help children gain a better understanding of how and why they experience different feelings.

What you feel is who you are, we learn, as a world of emotions open up through the revealing peep-through holes. Encounter the volcano that is anger, the beach party of happiness and the bubble of loneliness as a child makes the poetic journey through his feelings.

Each page and emotion featured opens up a conversation for children and adults to discuss what is bubbling beneath the surface while Walden’s lyrical, rhyming text helps children understand the emotions they experience.

Sensitively created and beautifully written and illustrated, this book is perfect for school groups or to read with children at home.

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 3 plus:

Willy and the Cloud by Anthony Browne

Anthony Browne, former Children’s Laureate and twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, also tackles children’s emotions in a clever new picture book about worry and anxiety starring his much loved chimp, Willy.

Adorable chimp Willy is Browne’s best-loved creation. He has starred in many stories and has been delighting children all over the world for 30 years.

In Willy and the Cloud, Willy sets off for the park under a cloud and along the way, he explains why sometimes it’s hard to understand the reasons that you feel a bit sad and don’t want to join in the fun.

It’s a gorgeous summer’s day but there’s a cloud hovering right over him and no matter how hard he tries, he cannot seem to get away from this pesky cloud which threatens to spoil the day out. The cloud follows him home and stubbornly refuses to leave until Willy is nearly at his wits’ end. What can he do to make the cloud leave him alone and let him have his fun in the sun?

Browne handles depression and anxiety from a fully accessible child-friendly perspective, creating a gentle, perceptive story full of insight and understanding and offering a positive resolution to a sensitive subject.

Beautiful, eye-catching illustrations add extra depth to the story making this an invaluable tool for parents, teachers and the youngest children.

(Walker, hardback, £12.99)