Book reviews: Time travel magic, chaotic families and a sci-fi school

Travel back in time with a girl on a mission, meet a wild and wacky family with love in their hearts and reach for the stars at a hilarious high school in a faraway galaxy.
Evie's GhostEvie's Ghost
Evie's Ghost

Age 9 plus:

Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters

Time-slip novels have become a firm favourite with adult readers… and now youngsters can get in on the act with this brilliant story based on a slice of real-life history.

Inspired by a message for help scratched on to the window of an old manor house in Hertfordshire, Helen Peters set about writing Evie’s Ghost, a classy, compelling tale of one young girl’s fight to right the wrongs of events over 200 years ago.

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Thirteen-year-old Evie is angry with her mother. She has only gone and got married again and has flown off on honeymoon to Venice, dumping Evie with her ancient and eccentric godmother (who she has never even met) at her flat in Charlbury House, an old, creaky mansion in the middle of nowhere.

It is all seems monumentally unfair to Evie who can’t even get a phone signal at the house but on the first night, she sees the strange, ghostly figure of a girl at the window. Spooked, she flees from the room, feeling oddly disembodied as she does so.

Out in the corridor, it has somehow turned into 1814 and Evie finds herself dressed as a housemaid. She is certain that she has been sent back in time for a reason and she’s right. The family’s daughter Sophia is being forced into an arranged marriage and it’s up to Evie to fix the terrible injustice.

But first there’s a housekeeper barking orders, a bad-tempered master to avoid, and the chamber pots won’t empty themselves. It’s going to take all Evie’s cunning to lay the ghosts of the past to rest so that nothing will break apart in the future...

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Beautifully written and brimming with drama, fascinating characters and eye-opening history, this a gripping and fun adventure story set amidst the harsh realities of life for women of all classes in the early 19th century.

Learning and entertainment at every turn of the page…

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue

Families don’t come more diverse – and diverting – than the lovely Lotterys!

Emma Donoghue, international award-winning author of Room which was made into a major film starring Brie Larson, turns her talented hand to writing for children for the first time in a funny, exuberant and original novel about unconventional family life.

The Lotterys Plus One, which places diversity firmly at centre stage, features two sets of gay parents, seven children – from different cultures and backgrounds – a menagerie of animals and a grumpy grandad with dementia.

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The result is a sort of controlled and unconventional chaos as newcomer grandad – a square peg in a round hole – battles to come to terms with his strange, multicultural family, and the assorted siblings struggle to cope with his moods and conservative attitudes.

The one thing in life that never changes is that sooner or later things change… the Lotterys are learning that lesson every day now that grandad ‘Grumps’ has moved in with them.

Sumac Lottery is nine years old and the self-proclaimed ‘good girl’ of her very large, extremely unruly family. And what a family the Lotterys are… four parents comprising two same-sex couples and seven children both adopted and biological, all living and learning together in a sprawling house called Camelottery in a suburb of Toronto.

Then one day, the news breaks that one of their grandfathers (of Scottish descent but now living in the wilds of the Yukon) is suffering from dementia and will be coming to live with them. And this is not just any grandfather… he’s the long dormant, grouchy ‘Grumps’ who fell out with his son so long ago that he hasn’t been part of any of their lives.

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Suddenly, everything changes. Sumac has to give up her room to make the new member of the family feel at home. She tries to be nice, but prickly, intolerant Grumps clearly disapproves of how the Lotterys live. Whole grains, strange vegetables, rescue pets and a multicultural household are totally alien to him.

How will Sumac and her family manage with another person to add to their hectic lives and can Sumac help Grumps find a home where he belongs?

Caroline Hadilaksono provides the wonderful black-and-white illustrations for this warm, contemporary and unique story which celebrates family life – however complex, curious and diverse that may be – and reminds us that love and affection have no rules or boundaries.

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)

Age 10 plus:

The Family Fiasco by Anna Wilson

Skye Green has just turned thirteen and her life gets more mortifying every day…

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Her mum has fallen in love with the man next door, her brother’s acting ambitions are totally embarrassing and a boy called Finn is hanging around too much.

Welcome back to Anna Wilson’s pitch perfect, warm and funny middle grade series which began last year with The Parent Problem and continues in a fabulous sequel with yet more outrageous family fiascos for hilarious, self-conscious schoolgirl Skye.

A master storyteller and prolific author, Wilson has her finger firmly on the pulse of teen angst in these warm-hearted, perceptive and empathetic stories packed with real-life fears, feelings and flusters.

Ever since her mum started dating ‘the man next door,’ AKA Rob, Skye Green’s life has been turned upside down. Not only is Rob spending far too much time at Skye’s house (and forgetting to do really important things like locking the bathroom door when he is on the loo… cringe!), his annoying son Finn is always hanging around too.

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If that wasn’t enough to cope with, Skye’s younger brother Harris has become obsessed with the idea of being Dorothy in his school’s production of The Wizard of Oz, and won’t stop singing to the dog which he has started calling Toto.

Just when Skye thinks life can’t get any more mortifying, Mum and Rob drop a bombshell. They want to move in together and be a real family. Which is of course when Finn’s yoga-loving, art-making, hippie mum decides to come and stay…

Interspersed with Skye’s fantastically funny diary style, under the heading The Mortifying Life of Skye Green, and filled with her caustic comments on her madcap family, friends and enemies, this new chapter of embarrassing escapades is ideal for in-betweenies getting ready to move into teen reading territory.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 8 plus:

Sci-Fi Junior High by Scott Seegert and John Martin

Kids often complain that their school is full of weirdos… well, Kelvin Klosmo’s high school really is!

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Extra-terrestrial fun and games are firmly on the curriculum in a new madcap sci-fi series that is literally worlds apart from the regular high school adventures we have all come to expect.

Sci-Fi Junior High is the rather apt ‘brainchild’ of author Scott Seegert and illustrator John Martin, the top team behind the popular Vordak the Incomprehensible series and is guaranteed to generate plenty of intergalactic giggles and guffaws.

Kelvin Klosmo’s scientist parents are investigating a strange, unstable phenomenon at the edge of the galaxy. That means the family is moving all 390,000,000,000,000,000 miles out there, and Kelvin has to attend a new school… Sciriustrati Fibronoculareus Junior High School, commonly known as Sci-Fi Junior High.

Not only is Kelvin the only human in school, but everyone knows Kelvin’s parents are geniuses and have great expectations of their prodigiously clever son. What everyone doesn’t know is that Kelvin’s own geniusness hasn’t exactly kicked in yet. Will he be able to hide his secret, even when an evil scientist takes the form of a stuffed bunny and tries to conquer the universe? The answer is, yes, that strange event really does happen and yes, Kelvin’s secret is still safe!

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Expects spaceships, robots, mad scientists, freaky friends and aliens galore as Seegert’s soaring imagination moves into top gear, and Martin puts faces to a charismatic cast of amazing characters and brings the zany action to life with a fantastic assortment of illustrative devices.

An all-star cast for a stellar new series…

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Homeless Kitten by Holly Webb and Sophy Williams

Much-loved author Holly Webb conjures up more animal magic in the latest book in her adorable Animal Stories series for young readers.

Webb, who has written over 90 books for children, brings us the cute and cuddly story of an adorable litter of abandoned kittens.

Lily and her dad are going for a walk with their dog Hugo when he sniffs out an amazing secret. A litter of kittens has been abandoned in the woods. Without their mother, the kittens may not survive the night so Lily’s family take them in. Lily loves caring for the kittens, and even Hugo does his best to protect the new arrivals. But Lily knows all along that she won’t be able to keep any of the kittens – even her favourite fluffy white kitten, the adorable Stanley – as they will have to be found new homes. All too soon the time comes for them to leave. How can Lily persuade her family that Stanley’s perfect home is with her?

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Sophy Williams provides the gorgeous black and white illustrations for an enchanting story that is sure to capture the hearts of every animal-loving child. And fans can also discover the free Puppies and Kittens app on App Store and Google Play. It’s jam-packed with exciting activities from fantastic games and puzzles to creative colouring and sticker fun.

Perfect for children just starting to read alone, youngsters who love to share a book with mum and dad, and any child who can’t resist the magnetic allure of animals.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Message from the Moon and other poems by Hilda Offen

Feel the rhythm and get ready to rock as award-winning author, poet and illustrator Hilda Offen returns with another exciting collection of fun and inspirational verse.

Offen’s first anthology, Blue Balloons and Rabbit Ears, was shortlisted for the prestigious CLPE award for children’s poetry in 2015 and there is a romp and a rhyme for everyone in this delicious mix of imaginative, thoughtful and funny poems which bring contrast, surprise and delight to youngsters just learning to appreciate the rewards of reading verse.

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Divided into five sections – Oh, Really?, Feathers and Fur, Dream-Time, From Dawn to Dusk and Outside-In – these warm, whimsical and fantastical poems celebrate all those things that children love, from animals and aliens to the seaside, fireworks, monsters and the night-time sky.

Meet the killer caterpillar on the prowl, the robber rabbit who is a criminal all-rounder, the reading dogs and a troll who is not afraid to speak out about those Billy-Goats Gruff.

Offen’s appealing and witty line illustrations fill the pages, complementing the poetry and adding extra vitality to explorations of nature, the seasons and the planets.

The enduring fascination of words, the fun of playful verse and the joys of sharing rhythm and rhyme have always been the hallmark of Offen’s work and this new collection is guaranteed to both entertain and inspire a new generation of budding poets.

(Troika, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

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Bear Grylls Adventures: The Blizzard Challenge by Bear Grylls

Adventures just got more daring, scary – and informative – in a thrilling new series from survival expert and Chief Scout Bear Grylls.

Each book in this fun, illustrated 12-book series for younger readers follows a different child visiting an outdoor activity camp. When they are given a special magical compass, they meet inspirational adventurer Bear Grylls in an amazing place and learn new skills and facts that they can take back with them to their real life.

In The Blizzard Challenge, we meet Olly who isn’t enjoying the activity camp at all. Why should he bother building a shelter or foraging for food with his team-mates… he would much rather be at home in the warm and dry, sitting on the sofa and enjoying his video games. But then a mysterious girl gives Olly a compass with a strange fifth direction. When he follows it, he is magically transported to a high mountain range where he meets Bear Grylls.

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With the famous expert’s help, Olly must learn to survive in sub-zero temperatures, including what to do if the ice cracks when you are crossing a frozen lake, or a blizzard sets in. But can his adventure with Bear Grylls change Olly’s mind about teamwork and perseverance? And who will Olly give the compass to next?

In the second book in the series, The Desert Challenge, we discover that Sophie loves the activity camp but is terrified of insects. It’s so bad that she won’t go into the tent on her own, just in case something flies at her or she steps on a creepie-crawly. But when she is given a compass by a boy on the camp site, Sophie is magically transported to the desert for an adventure in which insects are impossible to avoid!

With the help of Bear Grylls as her guide, she learns how to withstand the extreme temperatures of the desert, and how to spot mirages and encounter giant camel spiders, deadly scorpions and snakes. But can Sophie overcome her fear of insects when she goes back to the real world?

Emma McCann provides the lively illustrations for exciting, action-packed, easy-to-read stories guaranteed to motivate, inspire and entertain your own little adventurers.

(Bear Grylls, paperback, £4.99 each)

Age 3 plus:

Glitter by Stella J Jones and Judi Abbot

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The things children say can sometimes inspire authors to write a whole new book…

Take this big, bold, super sparkly picture book story about the contagious effects of happiness, created after the daughter of one of Little Tiger Press’ publishing team who, when asked what her favourite colour was, replied ‘Glitter!’

Yorkshire author Stella J Jones put her imagination into overdrive, Italian-born Judi Abbot, whose medium includes acrylics, collage and colour pencils, worked her illustrative magic, and together they conjured up a laugh-out-loud, literally sparkling celebration of glitter… and the little ones who can’t get enough of it.

Gloria the rhino loves glitter. It’s her favourite colour (even though everyone knows glitter isn’t a real colour). Everywhere Gloria goes, she leaves a little bit of glittery happiness behind her. She has spangle pants, glitter slippers and even a glitzerama-razzmatazz scooter! But beware, all that glisters is not gold and once glitter gets out of the pot, it goes absolutely everywhere! Uh-oh, is everyone going to get angry, or will they just get happy?

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Youngsters will love getting their busy hands on this gorgeous book’s glitzy, razzle dazzle cover and the seductive, eye-catching splashes and dashes of gorgeous glitter on every page.

Story time just got more glitzy…

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

One Happy Tiger by Catherine Rayner

The timeless beauty, striking imagery and heartfelt poignancy of Catherine Rayner’s unforgettable story, Augustus and His Smile, has been winning hearts for over ten years now.

The award-winning author and illustrator’s remarkable picture odyssey about a rare Amur tiger who has lost his smile approaches sadness with the lightest of touches, celebrating the beauty of the world and the simple happiness it brings us when we open our eyes to it.

And now you can help your toddler learn to count from one to ten with a beautifully illustrated and stylish counting board book inspired by the adventures of Augustus.

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The simple text gently touches on themes of happiness, friendship and the natural world, and features the magic of Rayner’s fresh and painterly illustrations, making it the perfect companion to the classic book.

With sturdy board pages for little hands to turn, this beautiful tall-format board book encourages your child to practise their first numbers and develop their counting skills and is a magical gift for both babies and toddlers.

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)