Book reviews: A super sniffer dog, the elusive Snark and monkey music with Macmillan

The summer holiday countdown has started and Macmillan Children's Books have a magical line-up to keep youngsters entertained.

Wednesday, 13th July 2016, 10:00 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 6:23 pm
A super sniffer dog, the elusive Snark and monkey music with Macmillan
A super sniffer dog, the elusive Snark and monkey music with Macmillan

Celebrated Gruffalo creator Julia Donaldson brings us a brilliant new rhyming book star, a famous Lewis Carroll nonsense poem gets a colourful makeover and there’s an all-singing, all-dancing treat for music-making toddlers.

Age 3 plus:

The Detective Dog by Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie

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The amazing Julia Donaldson, creator of the world famous Gruffalo, is on the scent of another rhyming classic with a super special sniffer dog called Nell.

In a brilliant brand new partnership with multi-talented illustrator and printmaker Sara Ogilvie, Donaldson conjures up more picture book magic in an exciting and fast-paced celebration of friendship, books, reading and the important role of libraries.

‘There once was a dog with a keen sense of smell.

She was known far and wide as Detective Dog Nell.’

And so begins the story of Peter’s sleuthing dog Nell who, with just a sniff, sniff, sniff, is always on the case whether it’s finding a lost shoe, discovering who did a poo on the new gravel path or tracking down the honey thief. Nell’s ever-sniffing nose is always hard at work. But Nell has other talents too. Every Monday she goes to school with Peter and listens to children read. So who better to have on hand when they arrive one morning to discover that the school’s books have all disappeared! Who could have taken them, and why? There’s only one dog for the job ... and Detective Dog Nell is ready to sniff out the culprit!

Revel in the warm friendship between Pater and his dog, take a peep at all the wonderful books you can find in a library and see if you can help Nell solve the mystery of the missing books.

A warm, wise and inspiring new book from rhyming queen Julia Donaldson and the perfect book to show off the gifts of the very creative Sara Ogilvie.

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

All ages:

The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll and Chris Riddell

Alice in Wonderland creator Lewis Carroll’s magnificent nonsense poem gets an irresistible makeover in a beautiful new book lavishly illustrated by Chris Riddell, the Children’s Laureate.

Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark – with an introduction here by Riddell – was first published by Macmillan in 1876 and features a quirky cast of characters drawn from one of the most famous poems in children’s literature, Jabberwocky, which appeared in Through the Looking Glass.

A fantastical epic tale recounting the adventures of a bizarre troupe of nine tradesmen and a beaver, the poem has been adapted for musicals, opera and plays and, says Riddell, ‘is nonsense and, like all the best nonsense, it makes a special kind of sense.’

The rhyming story of a crew of men searching high and low, with all the tools at their disposal, for the strange and elusive Snark is not only given a fresh look by Riddell’s intricate and beautiful artwork but, as any eagle-eyed reader will soon discover, there is a rather special twist for one of the characters in the story.

Riddell says that John Tenniel, the original illustrator of both Alice in Wonderland stories, inspired him to become a political cartoonist and children’s illustrator, and his drawings for The Hunting of the Snark pay homage to Tenniel’s enchanting artwork.

This sumptuous gift edition, with both black and white and colour artwork, ribbon marker and metallic blue sprayed edges, is perfect for fans of any age of both Lewis Carroll and Chris Riddell and continues the Macmillan celebrations of Carroll’s extraordinary Alice in Wonderland world.

(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)

Age 18 months plus:

Monkey Music: Let’s Sing and Play Illustrated by Emily Bolam

If monkey music be the food of learning, play on…

Let your little ones get into the swing of music, singing and dancing in this amazing book which offers a complete musical experience for pre-schoolers based on the award-winning Monkey Music classes.

Musician and teacher Angie Coates founded the first Monkey Music class in 1993. She knew that early exposure to music was beneficial for young children and so she developed a musical curriculum to stimulate early learning and development in pre-schoolers. Now a cult hit in many areas of the UK, there are around 10,000 families attending classes in venues across the country every week.

The bright, colourful and sturdy board book includes a CD of action songs to follow and join in with, and tips for getting the most out of each song to encourage movement, dancing, singing and teach the value of listening carefully.

Lovable characters Monkey and Mo take youngsters on a musical journey, singing, dancing and playing all kinds of instruments as they share the joy of music in Let’s Sing and Play, while Emily Bolam provides pages of vibrant illustrations to give extra excitement and colour to the journey of musical discovery.

The CD includes 22 sing-along songs that can be enjoyed on their own, on the go or alongside the book and help children to begin their own lifetime love of music while boosting their educational and emotional growth.

Musical magic for your own little monkeys!

(Campbell, board book, £12.99)

Babies and toddlers:

Small Talk: At the Park and Bedtime by Tracey Blake, Nicola Lathey and Ailie Busby

Learning to talk is one of the most important stages of development for babies and toddlers… and here are two ideal books to make ‘small talk’ fun.

Speech experts Tracey Blake and Nicola Lathey have created two speech-boosting picture books about the park and bedtime for parents and babies, each designed encouraging first words and early conversations.

These gentle stories highlight ways to encourage communication as babies learn to talk. Created especially for very young children, Campbell’s Small Talk series is ideal for parents and children to share.

The bright and engaging board books show how expressions, gestures and repetition of simple first words can help early conversations to blossom and by encouraging babies to join in, parents will soon experience the joy of their little one’s first words and phrases.

Packed with lively, colourful illustrations by Ailie Busby and with a guide for parents at the back, these gorgeous little books will help to develop a child’s speech and language from birth, enhance their communication skills and make them brighter and more sociable.

It’s never too early to learn to love words…

(Campbell, board book, £6.99 each)

Babies and toddlers:

There’s An Owl in My Towel by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb

Life is full of baby-sized surprises in a cute and cuddly lift-the-flaps board book from the ever-inventive Julia Donaldson.

There’s An Owl in My Towel – just made for bedtime reading – is a beautifully illustrated and engaging first book written and designed with love by top team Donaldson and illustrator Rebecca Cobb.

It’s tricky to have breakfast when there’s a mole in your bowl and how can you get dry at bathtime with an owl in your towel? Enjoy the gentle humour as baby’s activities are thwarted by a variety of surprising animals. But who wouldn’t be happy to find a ted in their bed?

Donaldson’s simple but effective rhyming text, combined with Cobb’s appealing illustrations on fresh white backgrounds, make this a perfect gift. With big flaps to lift and irresistible pictures hidden underneath, children will love joining in with the baby’s amazing discoveries.

And the fun doesn’t stop there because there is an online song to enjoy too! A recording of the wonderful There's an Owl in My Towel song featured in the story is the perfect accompaniment to the book and sure to become a favourite sing-along tune. Visit to hear the song and download the lyrics.

A world of fun and discovery in a fresh, simple and beautiful book…

(Campbell, board book, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Never Shake a Rattlesnake by Michaela Morgan and Nick Sharratt

Have fun with words and animals in Michaela Morgan and Nick Sharratt’s rollicking, rhyming picture book take on how not to behave.

You should never style the hair of a grumpy grizzly bear and you should never tuck piranhas inside your best pyjamas… Everyone knows about saying please and thank you, and not talking with your mouth full. But when it comes to dealing with a hoppy kangaroo and hairy chimpanzees, things get a lot more complicated…

Morgan’s imaginative and mischievous verse combines perfectly with illustrator Sharratt’s wild and witty illustrations in a thoroughly modern and enchanting tribute to kids behaving badly.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 2 plus:

Dinostars and the Planet Plundering Pirates by Ben Mantle

Planets, pirates and dinosaurs… they’re on a collision course and the fallout is going to be fun!

If you firmly believed dinosaurs were extinct, then think again. They are living in another galaxy, their name is the Dinostars and they have been brought to us by the super imaginative author and illustrator Ben Mantle.

Dinostars and the Planet Plundering Pirates is the first of an exciting new picture book series of space-themed stories which manage to pack in every little adventurer’s favourite things… pirates and planets, goodies and baddies, machines and spaceships, dinosaurs and, best of all, doughnuts.

When planets start vanishing from the Dinostar galaxy, it doesn’t take long for Captain T-Rex and his team to find out who is taking them – those pesky Space Pirates. If the Dinostars are going to get their planets back, they will need to come up with a clever plan… and a very tasty doughnut.

With fun space facts and a removable pop-up Dinostar and character cards in each book, this stellar series is guaranteed to leave kids over the moon!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Skipping Rope Snake by Carol Ann Duffy and Lydia Monks

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and illustrator extraordinaire Lydia Monks take a hop, skip and a jump into the jungle in a gloriously anarchic picture book.

What can a little girl looking for a game to play do in the jungle? Play snap with a crocodile, join the dots on a leopard’s spots, pin the tail on an elephant? It’s simple… just pick up a snake and skip all the way home with your very own skipping-rope snake!

With its irresistibly addictive and lively rhyme and eye-catching, colourful jungle illustrations, this joyful and quirky story, first published in 2003, offers fun and fast-paced frolics as well as a feast of words and wild animals.

Classic verse with a fresh, new feel…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Bears at the Beach by Emma Carlisle

Who can resist a day out at the beach?

Author and illustrator Emma Carlisle whisks us away to the seaside in a special summertime picture book just made for sharing.

The three bears are off on a family trip to the seaside but it might not be all plain sailing for Little Bear! Mummy Bear has packed the towels, Daddy Bear has packed the parasol and Little Bear is bringing his brand new kite. But the beach can be a busy place and when Little Bear gets lost his parents have to start hunting high and low to find him. Fortunately, a clever little bear with a brand new kite won’t stay lost for long. All he needs is a strong sea breeze...

Carlisle’s funny, warm and poignant illustrations bring to life a reassuring story about family life, love and adventures while delivering a cautionary message about the dangers of straying too far from parents.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8-12:

Mumnesia by Katie Dale

Why should teens have all the fun?

OMG, Katie Dale has a treat in store for middle grade readers with this laugh-out-loud, cringe-making tale about an amnesia struck mum who thinks she’s twelve years old again.

It’s all very well for mum who is happy in her time travelled world, but what about the embarrassment for her daughter Lucy who really is twelve?

Lucy had always considered her mum to be so out of date as to be practically mouldy. She’s super-strict, overprotective and won’t even let Lucy go to the Valentine’s Ball. In fact, Lucy can’t believe that her old-fashioned mum was ever a teenager. Until the morning her mum wakes up with no memory of the last thirty years, and thinks she’s twelve years old! All Lucy wants now is for her mum to go back to being her old self, but how is she going to make that happen?

Fast-paced and brimming with in-jokes and quips, this clever and acutely observant pre-teen tale will invoke tears of laughter and plenty of curled toes!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8-12:

Notebooks of a Middle-School Princess: Bridesmaid-in-Training by Meg Cabot

The second book in Meg Cabot’s enchanting, illustrated Princess Diaries spin-off series for younger readers delivers the same irresistible mix of fun and glamour.

Star of these perfectly pitched middle grade books is Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison who has been whisked away to New York City after discovering that her father is actually the Prince of Genovia.

In Bridesmaid-in-Training, Olivia is still finding it hard to believe that she is a princess. Not only does she get to live in an actual palace with her newly discovered family and two fabulous poodles, but she also gets her very own pony.

Of course, not everything is going exactly as she imagine. Her half-sister, Princess Mia Thermopolis, is busy learning how to run the country while trying to plan a wedding, and her father is getting remarried himself… to Mia’s mother.

He is spending most of his time ‘renovating’ the kingdom’s summer palace, although Grandmère says he is just hiding from the wedding madness. Olivia hardly gets to see either of them but fortunately Grandmère has her own plans for Mia’s wedding and needs Olivia’s help to pull them off.

Just when Olivia starts to think that things are going to work out after all, the palace is invaded by a host of new cousins and other royals who all seem to be angry at Olivia (although Grandmère says they are just jealous).

As the day of the wedding gets closer, Olivia becomes more and more worried. For such a carefully planned event, it seems as if a lot of things are going wrong. Can Olivia stop this royal wedding becoming a royal disaster?

Olivia chronicles her transformation from ordinary girl to princess in an entertaining, wry and amusing notebook, packed with text message correspondence and illustrations by author Meg Cabot who studied Fine Arts as an undergraduate.

A gorgeous, fun-filled tale of love, family and friendships, just made for summertime reading.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Accidental Pirates: Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers

A funny thing – well, a few very funny things – happened on the way to Magical North!

Batten down the hatches, hoist the mainsail and all hands on deck as a shipload of pirates take two runaway children on a brilliant high seas adventure.

Full of monsters, pirates, magic and good old-fashioned fun and adventure, Voyage to Magical North is the first in an exciting new series by debut author Claire Fayers.

Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past… if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she has spent every day since housekeeping for irritable magician Tallis Magus and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter. But everything changes when Brine, who is unaccountably allergic to magic, and Peter accidentally break the magician’s starshell and are forced to flee the island.

Lost at sea, they blunder into the path of legendary pirate ship The Onion. And before you can say pieces of eight, they are up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even believe it exists. If Brine is lucky, she may find out who her parents are and why they sent her out to sea. And if she’s unlucky, everyone on the ship will be eaten by sea monsters. It really could go either way…

There are oceans full of danger, plenty of knockabout humour, some brilliant plot twists and the strains of a few sea shanties here but there is also a feisty, book-loving heroine, heartwarming friendships and a brilliant bunch of pirates.

Unmissable entertainment for young adventurers…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Young adult:

Summer Days & Summer Nights by Stephanie Perkins

Get ready for those lazy, hazy days of summer with a sparkling collection of twelve gorgeously romantic short stories by some of the most talented and exciting young adult authors writing today.

Summer Days & Summer Nights, a funny, sad, creative and diverse collection of stories edited by bestselling American author Stephanie Perkins, will have all true romantics dreaming of sun-soaked days and sunset strolls.

Beautiful, bittersweet and exciting, these stories come from the pens of writers Leigh Bardugo, Nina LaCour , Libba Bray, Francesca Lia Block, Stephanie Perkins, Tim Federle, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, Brandy Colbert, Cassandra Clare, Jennifer E Smith and Lev Grossman.

So set up your beach chair, put on your sunglasses, grab this romance-packed book with its yellow sprayed page edges and pink ribbon marker, and be swept away to a summer of love.

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)