Book reviews: Drama, dinosaurs and smiling snowmen with Usborne

Christmas comes only once a year'¦ and Usborne Children's Books always know how to make the season of sparkle extra special!

Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 1:39 pm
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 3:50 pm
Drama, dinosaurs and smiling snowmen with Usborne
Drama, dinosaurs and smiling snowmen with Usborne

Watch young eyes light up with a fantastic slot-together theatre, use stickers to bring dinosaurs to life, get touchy-feely with some adorable snowmen and travel the world with three best-dressed popstars.

Age 5 plus:

Slot-Together Theatre by Anna Milbourne, Jenny Hilborne and Jamey Christoph

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The stage is set for another Usborne innovative triumph… a model theatre that offers hours of fun and creative play.

Simply press out and slot together the 79 chunky cardboard pieces of this exciting theatrical ensemble and then start rehearsals to produce, direct and act out your very own performances of Tchaikovsky’s beautiful The Nutcracker ballet and Shakespeare’s perennially popular play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This inventive package contains enchanting scenery and characters for the ballet, which tells the story of a little girl who is given a Nutcracker doll by her uncle on Christmas Eve and her adventures when it comes to life, and Shakespeare’s famous comedy, which centres on the day before Duke Theseus’s wedding and follows the meddling fairies of the forest as they bring chaos to the preparations.

Engineered and designed by Jenny Hilborne, the stunning, old-time theatre comes with a full-colour book by Anna Milbourne which includes the magical stories of The Nutcracker and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, instructions for building the theatre, a guide to using the scenery, characters and props, and stage directions for the shows.

Jamey Christoph provides the wonderful illustrations and there is a QR link to download specially recorded accompanying music, arranged by Anthony Marks.

The cardboard pieces are sturdy enough for busy little hands and the theatre construction is all designed to slot together easily and quickly, with or without help from a grown up, depending on the age of the child.

Ideal for sharing backstage fun with friends, entertaining mums and dads, impressing visitors or simply producing solo performances, this is a magical gift for all budding impresarios!

(Usborne, box set with book, £25)

Age 5 plus:

Build Your Own Dinosaurs Sticker Book by Simon Tudhope and Franco Tempesta

There’s a rumble in the jungle as twenty of the biggest, fiercest, most awesome beasts ever to roam the Earth get ready to take shape!

Build Your Own Dinosaurs Sticker Book is packed with the magnificent prehistoric giants which left our planet millennia ago but still continue to fascinate and inspire every generation.

With over ten pages of terrifying teeth, beady eyes and enormous tails, children will love finding the right stickers, fitting them in place and recreating the big beasts, whether that’s Triceratops with his huge horns and Diplodocus, the plodding plant-eater, or Stegosaurus with its spiky tail and Tyrannosaurus rex, the king of the prehistoric world.

Brimming with statistics on when each dinosaur lived, what they ate and how big they were, and with hundreds of high quality, glossy stickers to bring them to life, there won’t be a dull moment as youngsters go wild on wet days and holidays!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 months plus:

That’s Not My Snowman Book and Toy by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

This special Christmas touchy-feely board book allows even the very youngest family members to have a hand in all the fun.

Designed to develop sensory and language awareness, Usborne’s distinctive board books offer a vividly visual and hands-on treat for every growing child.

And this attractive gift pack includes the much-loved, touchy-feely book That’s Not My Snowman... with an adorable snowman soft toy. There are five cheerful snowmen to meet in the book, with squashy noses, fuzzy mittens, bumpy buttons and fluffy scarves, and a plush snowman for little ones to cuddle while they listen to the book read aloud.

The gentle words, bold illustrations and tactile patches are irresistible to little children and their parents. Babies and toddlers love turning the pages and touching the ‘feely’ patches, and what better than an up-close meeting with a colourful, cuddly snowman?

(Usborne, book and toy box set, £14.99)

Age 6 plus:

Sticker Activities by Fiona Watt and Erica Harrison

Take a thousand tiny multi-coloured stickers, an activity book full of ideas and lashings of imagination, and what do you have? Usborne’s fabulous Sticker Activities of course!

This fun-filled, spiral-bound activity book has a thousand tiny, colourful stickers which children can combine to make anything from a spaceship to a snake. Kids will love building rockets in the dark night sky, creating a caterpillar, filling a page with butterflies, putting scales on a crocodile, adding birds to the sky and giving a group of children an ice cream each!

And if they want to get really creative, they can impress the family by designing their own pictures with the stickers.

Just take the lid off the tray and get stuck in! This brilliantly simple but ingenious book is bursting with ideas and provides hours of fun and constructive play for every child who loves to create.

(Usborne, spiral-bound hardback, £9.99)

Age 4 plus:

Little Children's Activity Book: Mazes, Puzzles and Colouring

Keep boredom at bay over the holidays with this jam-packed little children’s activity book positively bursting with puzzles, drawing, colouring, dot-to-dots, mazes, spot the difference and much more.

Whether you are house-bound on rainy days, snowed in, jetting off to warmer climes or setting off in the car or on the train, this action-packed bonanza book is an indispensable companion.

This book is filled with mixed activities to keep little children happy and occupied on holiday, on journeys and at home.

Alongside the puzzles and colouring activities are four pages of colourful stickers of animals, people, robots, dragons, spaceships and lots more. Children can stick race cars on to the track, help brave knights battle dragons, find some sneaky burglars and spot the animals on the farm. Answers for the puzzles are included at the back of the book.

Use the stickers, draw lines and circles with your pencil and colour in the pictures with your crayons. Then spot the differences in a range of pictures, sort out some picture tangles and find some buried treasure. There are hours of fun and spotting so you’d better get started now!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Sticker Dolly Dressing Popstars by Lucy Bowman and Stella Baggott

Check out what the best-dressed popstars are wearing as they travel the world with their girl band… and then choose the most glamorous outfits for them!

There are hours of fashion fun to be enjoyed in this brilliant book of fantastic doll dressing which has over 400 stickers featuring a fabulous range of colourful clothes and stylish accessories.

Use the stickers to dress them for a dance rehearsal, a day in the recording studio, a big performance and their jet-setting world tour. There over hundreds of high quality, reusable stickers of amazing dresses, cool costumes, instruments, microphones and lots more, plus a fold-out back cover to ‘park’ your spare stickers while you design your outfits.

Use the stickers to dress Zoë, Crystal and Tina, the three popstars who love fashion and fun. Join them as they learn their steps, head for the studio, take part in a photo shoot, shop for musical instruments, visit a beauty salon, go shoe shopping and, best of all, attend a glittering awards ceremony.

Glamour heaven for young fashionistas!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up by Simon Cherry

Ahoy me hearties… head off to the high seas for a cracking pirate adventure!

Television producer, writer and director Simon Cherry hits the ground (or is that the sea?) running in his first book for children, the high-octane, hilarious tale of a bored schoolboy and his madcap pirate pal.

Eddy Stone’s holiday at his gran’s old seaside cottage in Tidemark Bay is a disaster. He’s miserable and bored and he has only been there for four days. But one morning, just as he is about to get stuck into his bowl of Choccy Puffs, he hears a deep bellow and a heavy thump. And when he creeps upstairs, who’s there? It’s a pirate… sitting in the bath, fully clothed and with a big, black beard! Even better, he wants Eddy to help him find some buried treasure.

Setting sail in a ship-shaped shed, crewed by an old lady and a grumpy penguin, what could possibly stop their quest for booty? Well apart, that is, from the world’s most evil shopkeeper, a man-eating beast, and the maddest, baddest villain in all the seven seas…

Francis Blake’s suitably anarchic black and white illustrations add yet more frantic fun to a laugh-out-loud story packed with brilliant jokes, knockabout action and plenty of potty pirates.

So hoist the mainsail and hold on to your pirate hats for the best new adventure series on the high seas this year!

Also out now is Eddy Stone and the Alien Cat Mash-Up, another hilarious outing with madcap Eddy as he discovers a bedraggled cat in his front garden. Suddenly his rubbish weekend turns into an alien escapade and when he shoots off into outer space with his cousin Milly, Eddy finds himself on an epic adventure that’s out of this world...

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog: A Horse called Moon by Claire Barker and Ross Collins

Welcome back to Starcross Hall… the funny, friendly home for animal ghosts!

Losing a beloved pet is upsetting for any member of the family but for children, it can be devastating. So let them get lost in the warm, wonderful and whimsical world of Knitbone Pepper, the pet dog who has turned into a friendly ghost dog to bring joy and adventure to his owner Winnie Pepper.

Now that Winnie can see him again, Knitbone’s days whizz by in a blur of doggy joy and afterlife fun, and he can be her best friend forever.

Naughty, loving Knitbone and a gaggle of other ghostly pets known as the Beloveds are the wonderfully inventive creations of author Claire Barker and illustrator Ross Collins in an enchanting series that is proving irresistible to all young animal lovers and children who have lost a pet.

In their sparkling third adventure, Winnie is fascinated by the stars after Knitbone digs up an ancient telescope. So when a heartbroken ghost horse asks for help finding her owner, a world-famous astronomer, Knitbone looks to the skies for a dazzling answer…

Each book comes in hardback and with a ribbon bookmark. Ross Collins’ enchanting and expressive illustrations add extra life and energy to a brilliantly conceived and warm-hearted series which comes packed with laughs, licks and woofs!

Gentle ghost stories that are fun, not frightening…

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

What are the favourite ingredients of a children’s adventure story… a charismatic cast, thrilling action, a big dollop of mystery, a sprinkling of danger and some mind-boggling fantasy?

Debut author Peter Bunzl has the secrets of a perfect adventure all sewn up in his powerful Victorian steampunk thriller Cogheart, a tale of love and loyalty, trust and trickery that takes readers on an amazing journey to a world far beyond their wildest dreams.

When 13-year-old Lily Hartman’s inventor father disappears after a routine Zeppelin flight, Lily is determined to find out the truth behind his disappearance. But her life is in mortal peril because she is not the only one searching for him. Silver-eyed men stalk her through the shadows and will stop at nothing to track down her father.

With Robert, the local clockmaker’s son, and her cantankerous pet clockwork fox called Malkin, Lily travels from her ghastly school for young ladies in the English countryside to dirty, dangerous London. But before long, Lily is plunged into a murky and menacing world and too soon realises that she holds the key to the mystery, and that those dearest to her may be the very ones to break her heart...

The seeds of Cogheart grew from a non-fiction book called Living Dolls by Gaby Wood, a popular history of automatons and Bunzl reveals that these fictional Frankenstein-style stories of early androids – full of lies, mysteries and what-ifs – were key to building Lily and Robert’s world.

And Bunzl has created a truly remarkable world, a place peopled by humans, mechanicals, hybrids, heroes and villains, and so finely and uniquely imagined that it will leave young readers gasping for breath… and for more!

From ‘mechanimals’ and incredible automata to soaring airships and dastardly plots, Cogheart is a magnificent, standout modern classic, an exhilarating epic that offers fun, adventure and pure escapism for anyone aged between nine and ninety. Not be missed!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

A Dog’s Life by Ann M.Martin

Dog lover and author of the critically acclaimed book How to Look for a Lost Dog, which chronicled an autistic girl’s friendship with a stray, Ann M.Martin returns with another canine heartbreaker.

This moving and tearjerking tale of a stray dog’s adventures and misadventures is told entirely through the eyes of a dog and is guaranteed to capture the hearts and minds of readers young and old.

Squirrel and her brother Bone begin their lives in a tool shed behind someone’s summer house. Their mother nurtures them and teaches them the many skills they will need to survive as stray dogs. But when their mother is taken from them suddenly and too soon, the puppies are forced to make their own way in the world, facing humans both gentle and brutal, busy highways, other animals and the changing seasons. When Bone and Squirrel become separated, Squirrel must fend for herself, and in the process makes two friends who in very different ways define her fate.

Squirrel’s life is filled with surprises, setbacks and adventures as she bravely journeys from town to town in her search of a place to call home and her touching tale of survival offers a compelling contemporary twist on the classic animal adventure story.

Written with touching simplicity, honesty and sensitivity, A Dog’s Life is a dream read for all animal lovers.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)