Book reviews: Royal rabbits, natural wonders and amazing creatures

Children are spoilt for choice this autumn with a selection of wonderful books that take us from the world's highest mountains and strangest animals to extraordinary rabbit warrens hidden deep below the teeming city of London.

Thursday, 20th October 2016, 10:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 6:25 pm
Royal rabbits, natural wonders and amazing creatures
Royal rabbits, natural wonders and amazing creatures

Age 6 plus:

The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montefiore and Simon Sebag Montefiore

Well-known husband and wife team Santa and Simon Sebag Montefiore have pooled their considerable writing talents to bring us their first novel for children… a sparkling and seductive tale of rabbits, royalty and rotten rats!

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This illustrious couple are renowned storytellers whose books have been published all over the world. Santa Montefiore writes popular women’s novels and her husband writes both fiction and non-fiction and this first exciting collaboration has already been optioned for film rights by 20th Century Fox.

An all-action tale set in a secret underworld of rabbits caught up in a paparazzi-style conspiracy, and all brought to life by the outstandingly atmospheric illustrations of Kate Hindley, The Royal Rabbits of London is an enchanting adventure which takes us from a quiet woodland burrow to a right royal warren beneath Buckingham Palace.

The Montefiores have conjured up a beautifully imagined world, a place where anything is possible – by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage!

Little Shylo has always been the runt of the litter. The weakest and quietest of all of his family, his siblings spend their days making fun of him for not being like the rest of them.

But when Shylo stumbles across a band of nasty, scheming rat photographers, run by their aptly named boss Papa Ratzi, he can’t help but overhear their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen Rabbit in her nightie no less!

Those dirty rats have found a map that reveals a secret tunnel into her bedroom and they plan to take a picture of the unsuspecting Queen and sell it to a website for loads of money. So now it’s up to unlikely hero Shylo to travel to London and inform the Royal Rabbits of London about the diabolical plot.

The Royal Rabbits have a proud history of protecting the royal family and now the secret society need to leap into action to stop the Ratzis... but can a rabbit as feeble and shy as Shylo convince them that the Queen is in danger?

Even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero in this enchanting story which speaks loudly to children about challenging your fears, following your instincts and learning how empowering it can be to determine your own path in life.

With a gorgeous gold-foiled jacket, fabulous illustrations and the promise of a sequel next year, this is the perfect gift for readers young and old.

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £10.99)

Age 7 plus:

Highest Mountain, Deepest Ocean by Kate Baker and Page Tsou

Marvel at all the highs and lows of the natural world in a big, beautiful book full of facts and figures that will take your breath away!

Highest Mountain, Deepest Ocean is a fascinating pictorial compendium of natural wonders presented to young readers in a sumptuous, large format book of exciting visual comparisons.

Turn the pages and open up a world of amazing discoveries brought to vivid life by the very talented Page Tsou’s extraordinarily detailed illustrations which have a lithographic aesthetic that is both vintage and contemporary.

Do you know how tall the tallest mountain on Earth is? Or how deep the deepest ocean goes? Do you know which creature was the largest to ever live or how old the oldest tree is?

Learn about a lunar eclipse, volcanic eruptions deep beneath the ocean, giant butterflies with a wingspan of 12 inches, birds that can fly non-stop for over 6,000 miles and giant tortoises that can live for 180 years.

Get all the facts on the largest ever dinosaurs, the biggest storms, the tallest trees, the deepest dwelling sea creatures, the longest insects and the majestic blue whale, the largest animal ever to have lived, weighing 200 tons, measuring 32 metres in length and with a tongue that weighs as much as an elephant!

From the highest mountain to the very depths of the oceans, this exquisite book of comparisons and superlatives is a stunning journey of discovery and will inspire young readers to learn more about the world they live in.

All the wonders of the Earth at the turn of a page…

(Big Picture Press, hardback, 14.99)

Age 7 plus:

Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown

We all love animals… but whoever heard of a numbat, an ili pika or a zorilla?

Welcome to the book of Lesser Spotted Animals, a coruscating compendium of amazing unknown animals from Martin Brown, the illustrious illustrator of the ever popular Horrible Histories.

This fantastic book featuring beasts you never knew you needed to know about is Brown’s first foray into writing and illustrating and the result is a treasure trove of amazing creatures that will be loved by every member of the family.

Jam-packed with wonderful colour illustrations, bite-sized sections, fun facts and a quirky text, this is the perfect gift book for animal lovers of any age.

Stars of the show are a menagerie of wonderful wildlife creatures that we never normally get to see, usually because they are eclipsed by the big names of the natural world or because they are rare to the point of extinction.

There are hundreds of different animals in the world – some big, some small, some common and some very rare – but most books show only a handful of them.

So this book is different! Bison are banned and tigers are taboo. Say goodbye to the gnu, cheerio to the cheetah and shout poo poo to the panda because the world of Lesser Spotted Animals starts right here!

From the numbat (a toothy termite-eater of the Australian west) to the zorilla (Africa’s pongy predator) and everything in between, Brown’s warm and witty writing, teamed with his fabulous illustrations and tummy-tickling jokes, is a winning combination.

Meet the amazing lesser fairy armadillo, a little digger in pink armour from South America, a giant gaur – bigger than a buffalo and bulkier than a bison – and get up close to an ili pika, a relative of the rabbit that lives among the boulder-strewn mountains of North America and Asia.

Brown packs his book with facts, fun and some arresting home truths about conservation and the importance of saving some of the incredible creatures from extinction.

Animal magic for all the family…

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Thornthwaite Betrayal by Gareth P. Jones

Murder, mystery and villainy abound in the long-awaited companion novel to award-winning Gareth P. Jones’ perennially popular adventure story The Thornthwaite Inheritance.

This delightfully dark and wickedly funny new chapter in the fantastical lives of the warring siblings Lorelli and Ovid Thorthwaite features more dastardly deeds and evil enemies.

After a lifetime of plotting each other’s demise, orphan twins Lorelli and Ovid Thornthwaite have reached an uneasy truce. No longer trying to kill each other, they are living a quieter life in the remains of the burnt-out Thornthwaite Manor after a disastrous fire a year ago.

It’s not long though before some peculiar ‘accidents’ begin to take place and the twins suspect that someone else is now trying to bump them off. Could it be the oddball builder Dragos, or Jean-Paul Suricates, the twins’ triple Michelin-starred chef? What would old Tom the gardener have to gain from the deaths of Lorelli and Ovid or stinking rich Uncle Harry Morgan who claims to be the twins’ long-lost uncle on their mother’s side?

As the number of near fatal ‘accidents’ ramps up, it becomes clear that there are some dreadful forces at work… but just who is behind the Thornthwaite betrayal?

Thornthwaite fans will adore this brilliant twisting, turning story of mystery, deception and treachery set in the burnt-out, crumbling remains of the spooky manor house where black humour and pernicious plots are the order of the day.

An unmissable, scintillating sibling double act!

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6-8:

Dirty Bertie: Monster! by Alan MacDonald and David Roberts

And now for a bit of ‘boy’s own’ fun… it’s time to tag along with Dirty Bertie, the hair-raising, foul-smelling schoolboy who can’t help getting caught up in disastrously dire antics!

Dirty Bertie, the cringe-making creation of writer Alan MacDonald and illustrator David Roberts, has been winning laughs and guffaws for over ten years now with his nose-pickingly disgusting habits and catastrophic comic chaos.

An expert in all things yukky, there’s nothing Bertie likes more than to be surrounded by worms, fleas, bogeys, burps and suspicious smells... and with ever-increasing madcap schemes and crazy capers, Bertie is a disgusting delight for his legions of (mainly male) fans who revel in his revolting ways.

In his latest messy adventures, we find Bertie turning Know-All Nick into a monster, getting stuck on a mountain with Dad and coming face-to-face with his French double!

With each hilarious story approximately thirty pages long and split into chapters with illustrations on nearly every spread, Dirty Bertie is ideal for confident readers to enjoy by themselves or to share with parents.

Naughty but very, very nice…

(Stripes, paperback, £4.99)

Age 7 plus:

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity by Dave Shelton

When there’s trouble in town, who do you call? Dog detectives Kirk Bergman and Duncan McBoo, of course, the finest canine cops in Muttropolis!

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity, a brilliant new comic-strip book masterpiece from the award-winning Dave Shelton, will have youngsters laughing out loud as the dogged duo head off on the scent of some wise-guy crooks.

This fun-packed and hilarious noir detective romp is just one of The Phoenix Presents books, published by David Fickling in partnership with The Phoenix comic and part of a series that is going from strength to strength.

The city Muttropolis is movie central and heaving with low-down mongrels who would sell their own mother for a bone. That means Bergman and McBoo are never short of work. Now there’s been a killing in Collie-wood and Bergman and McBoo, the craftiest cops around, are on the case. Those no-good hound crooks are determined to stop the dogged detectives sniffing out the truth but they haven’t reckoned on the finest milkshake-fuelled minds in the force. Criminals beware… Bergman and McBoo are on your tail!

The clever, comic strip style is ideal for an action-packed, visually exciting story which packs in humour and adventure in delightfully equal portions.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £8.99)

Age 5 plus:

Home in the Rain by Bob Graham

Multi-award winning author and illustrator Bob Graham touches hearts and minds in this tender, picture book snapshot of family life, perfect for sharing with little ones when a new baby is on the way.

Graham’s beautifully illustrated story takes readers of every generation to those instantly recognisable and deeply precious moments that stay with you long after the last page has turned.

Francie and her mum, who is expecting a baby girl, are driving home from Grandma’s in the heavy rain. When they are still far from home, they stop for a picnic and as the car steams up, Francie presses her little finger on the window, spelling out ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mummy’ and leaving one space free, ready and waiting for the name of her soon-to-be sister. But what will her name be? Francie has so many ideas… maybe on the rest of the journey home they will find a name that is just right.

Full of joy, understanding and warmth, Graham’s acutely beautifully observed celebration explores the way inspiration can, and often does happen, in the most unlikely of places.

Exquisitely crafted illustrations complement a heartfelt and moving little story that captures both the ordinariness and the extraordinariness of a day in the life of a family that will be familiar to us all.

(Walker Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Mine Mine Mine Said The Porcupine by Alex English and Emma Levey

It’s mine, mine, mine… how often have parents heard that refrain?

Well, here’s an enchanting picture story that puts the old chestnut in a playful context guaranteed to make little ones sit up and take notice!

Mine Mine Mine Said The Porcupine is the second exciting collaboration between author Alex English and illustrator Emma Levey, and once again features the adorable little Alfie whose adventures in Yuck Said the Yak won a host of tiny fans.

One day a porcupine comes to play with Alfie but the porcupine is a very rude porcupine and does not want to share any of the toys. Alfie decides that he won’t play with the porcupine after all and instead will have lots of adventures in his imaginary land of Kaboo where you can jump, galumph, ski and swing through trees. Soon the porcupine is bored with playing on his own… but will Alfie let him join in the fun of his imaginary world?

The often forgotten joys of sharing and friendship take centre stage in another wonderfully wacky and imaginative book from Alex English complemented by Emma Levey’s big, bold, eye-catching illustrations which capture all the quirky humour of the story.

(Maverick Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

As Nice As Pie by Gary Sheppard and Tim Budgen

A flock of greedy birds take starring roles in a clever new rhyming story from debut author Garry Sheppard which is set to hit the shelves next month.

Packed with versatile verse and Tim Budgen’s bright and busy illustrations, As Nice As Pie is a funny, flighty, cautionary tale about the pitfalls of being greedy and lazy, and the rewards of teamwork and sharing.

Kindly and caring Mavis Manewaring loves to bake and share and when a little bird in her garden is after a few crumbs, she is happy to supply them. But as all the other birds get wind of her generosity, Mavis soon finds overwhelmed as she bakes and makes pies for them every day. The greedy, demanding birds are taking advantage of her generosity so she cooks up a plan to get those lazy birds to help her achieve her own dream of opening up a pie shop.

Budgen’s gorgeous gallery of greedy birds is the perfect accompaniment to Sheppard’s carefully crafted rhymes and a simple but subtle story that is a true flight of imagination.

(Maverick Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Migloo’s Weekend by William Bee

Join Migloo – everyone’s favourite dog – in another hilarious, jam-packed, search-and-find story book experience from the master of illustration William Bee.

Yes, Migloo, the star of the ever-popular Migloo’s Day, is back and now we can spend the whole weekend with the fun-loving hound.

Migloo’s Weekend sees Migloo and his Sunnytown friends throw off their uniforms to enjoy some welcome time off with trips to the museum, the outdoor cinema, the racetrack and the glitzy fairground. There might even be a film star sighting too!

Youngsters can explore new areas of Sunnytown and follow the hilarious storylines. Will Mia ever work out how to use her jetpack and why is the leprechaun knitting all those Flashy Gordon posters? Sunnytown is funnier, sillier and busier than ever.

This educational and imaginative series takes search-and-find to a whole new level with its charismatic canine, jam-packed pages, an eye-watering double-spread fold-out and mind-boggling detail.

There are hours of interactive fun inside the pages of this wonderful book… guaranteed to keep young minds active and boredom at bay!

(Walker Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Odd Socks and Ssssnap! Mister Shark by Neal Zetter and Chris White

It’s never too early to learn the rhythm and rhyme of poetry…

Comedy performance poet Neal Zetter knows all about making poetry irresistible to readers of every generation and the very youngest children will have hours of fun joining in with the deceptively simple but cleverly interactive poems in these two bright picture books.

London-based Zetter is well known for using poetry writing and performance to develop literacy, confidence, self-expression, creativity and presentation skills in three to 103-year-olds, regularly entertaining audiences in schools, comedy clubs, theatres, pubs and music venues.

In Odd Socks, we are greeted with the rhyme ‘Odd socks are all I ever wear, I cannot make a matching pair.’ It’s a familiar refrain and little listeners will quickly enjoy calling out the rhyming words and performing the simple actions to create a lively, interactive poem.

And in Ssssnap! Mister Shark, pre-schoolers are encouraged to clap their hands to stop Mr Shark every time he tries to have a nibble. It’s impossible not to join in with the poem’s simple actions and addictive rhymes.

These two exciting and entertaining first performance poetry books come with bold, eye-catching, colour illustrations by Chris White, creating lots of extra child appeal.

The perfect introduction to poetry…

(Troika Books, paperback, £5.99 each)

Age 2 plus:

Duck Gets A Job by Sonny Ross

Exciting new author and illustrator Sonny Ross uses his own experiences of the working world in this highly creative and original picture book that speaks volumes about following your dreams and never giving up.

Duck wants a job. All his friends work in big city banks and they never stop going on about how much they love it. Duck doesn’t think a job in a big city bank and working on spreadsheets sounds very exciting but he picks one out of the paper, gets an interview and lands the job. But it’s not long before he realises that the job is not for him.

He needs to follow his heart and his dream of being an artist. So he quits his job at the bank and makes a decision. He’s going to be an artist. He puts all the pictures he has drawn into a portfolio and goes off for another interview. And hey presto… he not only gets the job, he loves it too!

Duck’s creative side certainly wins the day in fine and funny style in a quirky, quacky tale that provides a lesson for big business and the world of finance and an enchanting adventure for little ones.

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £11.99)