Book reviews: Demons, mermaids and gold-diggers make reading fun

Surprises come in all shapes and sizes in a sparkling new collection of children's books.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 27th January 2016, 10:00 am
Demons, mermaids and gold-diggers make reading fun
Demons, mermaids and gold-diggers make reading fun

From a boxful of droll demons and a daring deep sea kidnap to a teenage girl’s unexpected singing stardom and an unwelcome four-legged arrival, there is a book here to keep youngsters enthralled.

Age 12 plus:

The Box of Demons by Daniel Whelan

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It’s not often you see the words Rhyl and Apocalypse in the same sentence… but then this strange and moving novel is far from ordinary.

The Box of Demons – a veritable box of literary conjuring tricks – comes from the pen of Daniel Whelan, an exciting debut author who can boast winning the 2012 Write Now! Prize on his first outing.

Now available in paperback, and with an eye-catching illustrated cover by Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, this clever, compelling adventure story focuses on a lonely boy whose growing pains force him into a battle between good and evil.

Ben Robson from Rhyl has owned The Box for as long as he can remember. Or does The Box own Ben, he is never entirely certain. All he knows for sure is that its three demon residents are the bane of his life.

Only Ben can see them… well Ben and his mother, but she has been committed to a psychiatric ward as a result of her ‘visions.’

The mischief-making demons are smelly, cantankerous Orff who barely moves unless it’s to moan about how ill and tired he is, the manically destructive Kartofel who forever causes friction with the two other demons, and fat, slobbering greedy-guts Djinn who is always desperate for food despite being unable to ingest anything.

When Ben was a kid it was fun, and he enjoyed their company but now he is twelve and they are nothing but trouble. So he throws The Box into the sea near his home, inadvertently summoning an angel who reveals the reason why The Box is so important.

The Apocalypse is coming and Ben is the only person who can prevent it. But in the fight between good and evil, it’s sometimes hard to work out which side you are fighting for…

Within Whelan’s playful, wry and action-packed story lies a wealth of big themes including coping with adolescence and recognising the dangers of fanaticism in its different forms.

The cast of colourful and memorable characters will be recognisable to most youngsters and the rollercoaster plot, packed with humour, adventure and moments of pure pathos, make The Box of Demons a very special package for teenagers and adults alike.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 11 plus:

Accidental Superstar by Marianne Levy

Internet fame… is it really what it’s cracked up to be?

Marianne Levy’s captivating and clever novel, the first of an exciting new series, explores the perks and pitfalls of instant fame as we travel with a troubled teen on the rocky road to stardom and riches.

Katie Cox comes from a musical family but life isn’t much fun at the moment. Her dad has moved to California to be with his girlfriend, mum is seeing some good-for-nothing former rocker called Adrian and her big sister Amanda has had her ‘fun’ gene removed and is busy playing bass in her new band.

It’s like Katie doesn’t exist so she escapes into the thing she does best, song-writing, losing herself in the lyrics and expressing her emotions in her music. She has never considered her hobby of dancing round the bedroom and singing into a hairbrush as particularly interesting but when her friends video her singing a song about what’s wrong with her life and put it online, she hopes it will shame everyone into treating her with a bit more respect.

She has always planned to take it down again but before she can, the song goes viral. And while Amanda is ranting and mum is giving her the silent treatment, Adrian’s old music industry mates are getting in touch in droves.

It seems that Katie is just what everyone has been looking for. Problem is Katie is not sure she is ready to be a superstar, but even she admits that her family could do with the cash. And being the voice of the next generation could be pretty cool. But as the money starts to pour in and her fame grows, things get weird. Why do so many people want Katie to fail? Can she perform in front of strangers? Who can she trust? And has all this been a hideous mistake?

Fresh, funny and perfectly on song, Accidental Superstar is a gripping and essentially warm-hearted story about family, friendship, fame and fortune packed with high emotions, high drama, internet antics and those essential tears and tantrums.

Sweet music to the ears of the social media generation…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6-12

Tamsin and The Deep by Neill Cameron and Kate Brown

There can’t be many children (or their parents!) who haven’t looked forward to their fun-packed The Phoenix comic dropping on to their doormat.

Launched four years ago by David Fickling Comics, The Phoenix is published weekly and features full-colour humour strips, jokes, puzzles and serialised stories, including the adventures of magical girl Tamsin.

And as part of The Phoenix Presents series, youngsters get the chance to enjoy this brilliant book featuring Tamsin whose special powers will be needed to save her family from a dangerous and deadly curse.

When Tamsin washes up on a beach after she gets ducked under the sea in a body boarding mishap, she is surprised to learn that she has been missing for weeks. So what happened when she went under the sea, and why did it happen to her?

What Tamsin doesn’t yet know is that she was kidnapped by a mermaid who has cursed her family for generations and dragged down to a long-forgotten world of ancient magic… dark, unforgiving, mermaid magic.

Her family is now in grave danger. Can Tamsin be the one with the power to change the course of history and save them all?

Inspired by English folklore, Neill Cameron’s superb all-action thriller featuring a fearless feisty heroine springs to life through Kate Brown’s sophisticated and atmospheric illustration panels.

So take a deep breath, dive into the ocean and don’t surface until it’s mission accomplished!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwarz

German-born artist Viviane Schwarz likes nothing better than to see someone laugh at one of her books.

‘There are a lot of frightening things in the world,’ she declares, ‘and I think my job is to find the happy things curled up in the corners.’

And there are plenty of exciting hidden corners to explore, and laugh-out-loud moments to enjoy, in this quirky and original picture book which celebrates the spirit of adventure, the rewards of challenge and the special bonds of friendship.

Anna and her friend Crocodile would seem to be on a mission impossible to find gold. Finding gold takes planning, it’s dangerous and difficult, it’s heavy to carry… and they don’t have a map to find where it’s hidden. But resourceful, determined and daring, Anna persuades Crocodile to head out to sea, sail into the great storm and dive into the deep to find the hidden gold. Will they unearth their longed-for treasure and if they do, what on earth will they do with all that gold?

Young imaginations will soar as they follow Anna and Crocodile on their amazing journey of discovery in which no challenge is too difficult and no adventure too dangerous. Smart, sassy dialogue coupled with Schwarz’s distinctive illustrations and uplifting messages about courage and persistence provide plenty of food for thought for inquisitive young minds.

(Walker, hardback, £11.99)

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.

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?

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, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Giraffe on a Bicycle by Julia Woolf

Chaos can be fun! Well, it is certainly packs in plenty of laughs in a bright, bold and brilliantly playful picture book from debut author and illustrator Julia Woolf.

Featuring a go-getting giraffe, a mischievous monkey and a fast-moving bicycle, this freewheeling and witty journey through a jungle full of adventure proves to be a bouncy, bumpy ride that no youngster would want to miss.

Monkey has found a bicycle and luckily giraffe knows how to ride it... sort of! But when a tentative tiger, a very flappy flamingo and three leaping lemurs join in the fun, things start getting a little crowded. And with a whole host of other jungle animals keen to climb aboard, monkey and giraffe are in for a crashing end to their jolly jaunt!

Woolf’s seductive sense of fun, her vibrant and characterful cast of animal stars, and warm message about the joys of friendship ensure that this gorgeous picture book will be a favourite with all the family.

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

The King Cat by Marta Altés

It’s a cat’s life… or rather, it used to be until a playful puppy arrived in the house.

Meet King Cat, the superior ginger feline who prides himself on being indispensable to his family of humans but hadn’t reckoned on the sudden and unwelcome arrival of a canine rival.

Award-winning author and illustrator Marta Altés steals the hearts of all animal lovers in this funny, heartwarming and enchanting story of an egotistical cat and an irresistibly lovable dog.

King Cat regards himself as a good king… he eats, he sleeps, he guards the house and only asks for a bit of relaxing tickling every now and then, So why has his family brought home a dribbly, disgusting, stupid dog? Will King Cat ever get used to having a dog around and will the dog learn King Cat’s rules of the house?

Using perfectly understated humour, two adorable animal stars and a gallery of clever, comical and characterful illustrations, Altés’ show-stopping tale of friendship, compromise and change is ideal for any family getting ready for a new arrival of their own.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

I am Bear by Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyuz

Are you ready to rap! Get your little ones singing along in this fun-packed, read-aloud, rap-happy picture book written by Ben Bailey Smith, aka Doc Brown, the British actor, rapper, comedian, screenwriter and creator of the BAFTA-nominated CBBC comedy 4 O’Clock Club.

‘I am Bear and I am bare, The suit I wear has purple hair.’ Read and enjoy as Bear, the cheeky rebel hero of the forest, bares his soul to young readers and climbs in (and out) of his outrageous purple outfit.

And if there’s trouble, one thing is certain… Bear was there. When he’s in the purple, Bear can do anything including steal honey from the bees, do magic tricks, steal doughnuts from a police officer and annoy a certain pesky squirrel.

I am Bear, a visual, verbal treat packed with big, bold illustrations, comes from first-time book creators Bailey Smith and talented storyboard artist Sav Akyuz, and is set to tickle the funny bones and capture the hearts and imaginations of budding young rappers everywhere.

So turn the pages, log on to, listen to Bailey Smith’s recording of the rap and go with the rhythm!

(Walker, hardback, £11.99)