Book reviews: Escape into autumn with the magic of reading
The dark nights are here so fill them with an exciting selection of new children's books to thrill, chill and cheer.
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:
Tom’s Midnight Garden Graphic Novel by Philippa Pearce
Adapted and illustrated by Edith
In 1958, Oxford University Press published a beautiful, moving children’s story about a boy’s enchanting adventures in a secret midnight garden which took the reading world by storm.
Tom’s Midnight Garden, went on to become a timeless classic, winning Philippa Pearce, a scriptwriter, producer, editor and author who died in 2006, the much-coveted Carnegie Medal. Over the decades, it has been reissued in print many times and has also been adapted for radio, television, the cinema and stage.
And now this atmospheric fantasy story gets a stunning and lovingly created adaptation by renowned French illustrator and graphic artist Edith. Faithful to the original story, fully accessible to young readers and offering an exciting new way to discover Tom’s adventures, this gorgeous gift book will win the hearts of grandparents, parents and children everywhere.
When Tom Long’s brother Peter gets measles, Tom is sent to stay with his Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen to be put under quarantine. They live in the upstairs flat of an old country house with no garden, only a tiny yard for parking. The elderly and reclusive landlady, Mrs Bartholomew, lives above them.
Because Tom may be infectious, he is not allowed out to play out and he feels lonely and bored. Without exercise, he is soon restless and lies awake after midnight when he hears the grandfather clock downstairs strike a strange thirteen.
Tom races down the stairs and out of the back door and into a garden everyone told him wasn’t there. In this enchanted thirteenth hour, the magic garden comes alive but Tom is never sure whether the children he meets there are real or ghosts…
Edith’s enchanting and atmospheric illustrations capture all the magic of the original story and bring new life to Tom’s haunting, timeless world where new friends are found and the past and present collide.
The perfect gift for readers of every age…
(OUP, hardback, £12.99)
Age 9 plus:
How to Catch a Witch by Abie Longstaff
Author Abie Longstaff professes to a lifelong love of fairy tales and mythology so it’s little surprise that her gorgeous children’s books are packed with magic, mystery and mayhem.
Her picture books include The Fairytale Hairdresser series, which follows the adventures of Kittie Lacey, stylist to all of fairyland, and for older children, she writes The Magic Potions Shop series about a pixie training to be a potions master.
And now she has turned her marvellous and mystical talents to How to Catch a Witch, an exciting story of everyday magic, spellbinding spells and potent potions just perfect for the nine plus age group.
Charlie Samuels and her family have moved from the big city to a small country village, and everything feels wrong. The cottage they now live in is old and creepy, anxiety about her new school is causing Charlie’s stutter to return and the villagers are just plain weird. Beautiful young singer Suzy Evans glows with a strange light that only Charlie can see, mysterious classmate Cat won’t keep her nose out of Charlie's business and Agatha may not have a broomstick or a cauldron but is definitely a witch.
Slowly and steadily, the strange surroundings start to have an effect on Charlie. Would a bit of Agatha’s magic fix her worsening stutter? Nothing else seems to... But bad-tempered Agatha has long since retired from magic and besides, she tells Charlie, her stutter is part of who she is, not a curse that can be removed. Not like the curse that has been put on Suzy Evans, the sparkling singer who is set to lose her wonderful voice when she turns sixteen in just a week’s time. But everything begins to change when Charlie finally discovers her own magical heritage…
Longstaff works her trademark magic in this warm, witty fantasy story about friendship, sharing and identity. Totally bewitching!
(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)
Age 10 plus:
The Halloweeds by Veronica Cossanteli
Imaginations will soar as Veronica Cossanteli, author of The Extincts, brings us a brilliant chiller-thriller story just made for dark autumn nights.
Packed with creepy carnivorous plants, crazy characters, missing fingers and hilarious one-liners, The Halloweeds is an atmospheric, scary and fun mystery about a boy who discovers an intriguing family secret.
Eleven-year-old Dandelion Bone (preferably known as Dan because he hates his name!) has always promised to look after his siblings – sister Martha and baby Grub – but he hadn’t bargained on his entomologist parents being eaten by cannibals on a rainforest research trip.
The orphaned children are packed off to Daundelyon Hall, a crumbling castle where gruesome Aunt Grusilla reigns supreme, tending her mysterious graveyard garden. But why are Aunt Grusilla and her weird servants each missing a finger and what are the hungry ‘Cabbages’ in the greenhouse? As
Dan struggles to solve the mystery he encounters one final, chilling question: What is the price of everlasting life?
A brilliant blend of fun, chills and mystery, this outrageously comical and subversive adventure is a brilliant rollercoaster ride exploring (in the most entertaining way possible!) important themes like ecology, immortality and the vagaries of growing up.
(Chicken House, 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)
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 5 plus:
Isadora Moon Goes Camping by Harriet Muncaster
Imagine what fun you could have if you were half-vampire and half-fairy!
Isadora Moon, complete with fangs, wings and a crazy family, is the creation of talented new author and illustrator Harriet Muncaster and a uniquely different and dynamic story book heroine. Full to its pink and black sparkly cover with crazy capers and charming, madcap illustrations, this magical new series of first chapter books is perfect for early readers who like their sparkle with a bit of bite!
Isadora Moon is special because she’s so different. Her mum is a fairy and her dad is a vampire and Isadora is a bit of both. So when they all go camping at the seaside you can expect some extraordinary adventures that don’t happen to normal little girls. From roasting marshmallows on a campfire to making friends with a mermaid, the most amazing things really do happen when Isadora is around!
And in Isadora Moon Goes to School, we discover that Isadora loves the night, bats and the colour black, but she also can’t get enough of the outdoors, using her magic wand and the colour pink. So when it’s time for her to start school she’s not sure where she belongs… vampire school or fairy school?
Isadora and her out-of-this-world family are perfectly created for little girls who are getting bored with run-of-the-mill fairies and princesses, and are eager to get their teeth into something new and exciting.
Clever, imaginative and positively fizzing with fairies and vampires, Isadora’s adventures will leave youngsters hungry for more!
(OUP, paperback, £5.99)
Age 2 plus:
Super Happy Magic Forest: Slug of Doom by Matty Long
Every picture tells a multitude of stories as we revisit the Super Happy Magic Forest, the bold, bustling setting for outsized adventures from author and illustrator Matty Long.
Long’s distinctive, quirky and funny debut, Super Happy Magic Forest, had everybody talking, not least about his incredibly detailed artwork, and now the dastardly Slug of Doom is propelling young readers back to the fun-filled forest for more madcap picnics, dancing, and fun.
But what’s this? Zorgoth, the super slimy Slug of Doom, has been accidentally released from under a rock after being banished long ago and now he is threatening to drink the Potion of Power that will give him the size and strength to eat the entire forest.
Five heroes – a fairy, a unicorn, a faun, a gnome and a talking mushroom – must go on an epic quest to find the potion before the Slug of Doom can drink it, but their quest won’t be easy. They must navigate their way past dangerous dragon lairs, outwit cunning ogres, swim across deep rivers and work as a team if they are to succeed…
There is never a dull moment in the zany, all-action world of Long’s books… his stories and multi-faceted illustrations positively crackle with energy and life, and there are plenty of hilarious one-liners for parents to enjoy as well.
Children will love exploring the illustrations and getting to know the ill-assorted cast of characters and their irreverent fantasy world and to help youngsters on their way, the inside covers feature a map that allows readers to follow the adventure through the Super Happy Magic Forest.
Fun round every corner…
(OUP, paperback, £6.99)
Age 2 plus:
This Book is Out of Control by Richard Byrne
Comedy slapstick in a picture book!
Ben and Bella, Richard Byrne’s playful storybook stars, are up to their eyes in page-turning troubles again as Ben’s remote-controlled fire engine causes some upside-down, inside-out, eye-boggling chaos.
The two friends live inside books and the pesky pages are up to their usual naughty tricks when Ben’s remote-controlled fire engine refuses to turn, spin or sound its siren. The remote buttons won’t work and while Ben and Bella scratch their heads over what to do, strange things are happening to Bella’s dog. It’s only when Ben tries the Voice button that the dog is able to speak. And what does he say? ‘Help! This book is out of control.’ Can readers come to the rescue?
Little ones are invited to join in the fun, press the buttons and then sit back and enjoy the hilarious, topsy-turvy results every time the page is turned!
Byrne is such a versatile author and illustrator, performing creative magic tricks for kids with his off-the-wall, visually entertaining stories and artwork.
Fun to read and fun to look at, this is another Richard Byrne book destined for the favourites pile!
(OUP, hardback, £11.99)