Book reviews: Treetop antics, doodle dogs and a hard-boiled superhero

There's plenty of mayhem, madness and mischief in an exciting new selection of reading, activity and picture books for adventure-seeking youngsters this spring.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 16th May 2017, 9:47 pm
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:35 pm
King Coo by Adam Stower
King Coo by Adam Stower

Age 7 plus:

King Coo by Adam Stower

Forget Tarzan and branch out with the new kid on the treetops… a girl with a spear, a pet wombat, and a beard!

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Author and illustrator extraordinaire Adam Stower swings into action in this fantastic forest farce full of chaotic capers, hilarious adventures, perilous plop pits, sloshy springs and mucky mats.

Orchestrating all the outrageous antics is King Coo, a tree-swinging, wombat-owning, trap-building, fully-bearded girl whose inventive mind creates a wonderful world of fun, laughter and marvellous mishaps.

Packed throughout with Stower’s bold, busy and eye-catching black-and-white illustrations, this raucous romp will have youngsters giggling out loud as they encounter low-down baddies and high jinks on every page.

Meet the very ordinary Pole family, and young Ben Pole, a rather small and skinny boy who has been cruelly nicknamed Bean-Pole by Monty Grabbe, the short, fat school bully.

Ben might be small but he’s smart and spends his days slinking through the shadows ‘like a ninja assassin’ to keep out of sight of Monty and his unpleasant goons, Bertie and Gertie Plank, the remarkably huge and lumpy twins who are about as brainy as a baked potato.

But on the last day of term, Monty spots Ben in the playground and chases after him with the terrible twins at his side. Ben only just manages to escape by falling down one of the mysterious sinkholes that have been appearing all over the town.

And to his amazement he discovers a forest with treetop swings, waterslides, catapults, Wombatifier 2000s and best of all, the bearded King Coo.

But Ben and his new friend Coo have got a fight on their hands! They will need cow-pat-a-pults and slug pulps aplenty as there’s a sinister pest controller on the prowl, Monty and his gang have a dastardly plan and a particularly wild creature is roaming the forest….

This is a gloriously anarchic story for all youngsters who love their adventures to come with plenty of smelly, squelchy frolics and funny one-liners, but there are also important messages about having confidence in who you are and standing up to the bullies.

Hair-raising adventures for girls and boys!

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

Tom Gates: Family, Friends and Furry Creatures by Liz Pichon

The talented Liz Pichon is back with the latest chapter in the brilliantly inventive life of young Tom Gates, the mischievous schoolboy whose madcap adventures are the perfect incentive for boys who are reluctant to read.

The fast, furious and funny Tom Gates series – which features ingeniously illustrated adventure stories narrated in a crazy homework diary format with doodles and drawings – has sold over 2.6 million books in the UK alone, been translated into 41 languages and optioned for TV.

In the 12th riotous instalment, Mr Fullerman has a class assignment… making a family tree. Tom is only too ready to learn all about the Gates family, his friends and a furry creature or two! And it was worth all that research work because Tom has unearthed some fascinating facts, like his mum and dad got together because of a cake, cats sleep for 70 per cent of their lives and peppermint ice cream is just wrong. But, hang on a minute, what is that squeaking sound coming from Tom’s shoes?

A cross between a comic and a novel, the square, chunky books are hugely entertaining, easy to read and offer hours of fun and more than a few chuckles. The highs and lows of Tom’s life become more comical and more extreme with each wickedly witty diary.

Tom allows us to peer into the wildly off-the-wall world of a nine-year-old boy’s mind and what we find there is predictably preposterous, wonderfully wacky and hilariously horrible!

(Scholastic, hardback, £10.99)

Age 5 plus:

Doodle Dogs by Tim Hopgood

Well, I’ll be doggone… here’s a ‘woof’ sketchbook for dog lovers!

Join award-winning picture book author and illustrator Tim Hopgood – well known for his creative work in primary schools – and his cuddly new creation, Doodle Dog, at the most artistic dog show in town.

This entertaining and inventive book, which introduces children and parents to the joy of drawing and creating characters, was inspired by the work of many well-known artists, including Paul Klee who famously said ‘A line is a dog that went for a walk.’

From dots to dashes and squiggles to scribbles, this wonderful book is all about finding your own inner creative. Learn how to create your very own doodle dog using scribbles, shading, texture, pattern, paint, collage and plenty of colour, and then decide who wins the prize for Best in Show. Youngsters will love discovering the rewards of making marks and creating characters with this vibrant, stylish and utterly unique book. Filled with drawing techniques, playful ideas and other activities all linked to a famous artist, this is a fun way for children to explore their artistic side and build creative confidence.

A fantastic creative resource and a perfect introduction to the work of many famous artists and their techniques, including Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky, this is a rich and varied beginner’s guide to the wonderful world of art and ideal for children, parents and teachers.

With an expert as your guide, there could be no easier, fun, practical and accessible way to start doodling, drawing and painting.

(Macmillan, paperback, £8.99)

Age 3 plus:

Supertato: Run, Veggies, Run! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

Supertato is back… so the bad guys in the supermarket had better watch their peas and queues!

Always there when the chips are down, Supertato is the picture book superhero with his eyes firmly fixed on the enemy, and ready to perform out of his skin when it comes to fantastic feats.

His wacky, calorie-consuming adventures amongst fridges, friends and foes have been cooked up by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet, the formidable duo who created Barry the Fish with Fingers.

In Supertato’s third laugh-out-loud adventure, the veggies end up in hot water when a giant interloper hijacks fun time! It’s Sports Day in the supermarket and all the veggies are in training. Everyone has been practising hard and is ready and raring to go. However, a mysterious new competitor has joined the event, accompanied by The Evil Pea, and is determined to win all the prizes. Things don’t seem quite right… but will Supertato be able to foil yet another evil plan by his green nemesis?

Big, bold, bright, all-action illustrations help this funny, fast-moving vegetable adventure boil over as the spud with superpowers attempts to make mincemeat of the perfidious Evil Pea.

Another giant mash-up for the most a-peeling veg in the supermarket!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Above and Below by Patricia Hegarty and Hanako Clulow

Take a peek below the ground, under the ocean, high up in the treetops and under the ice to see the incredible wonders of nature.

Above and Below, written by Patricia Hegarty and featuring the inspirational illustrations of the talented Hanako Clulow, is just the latest fun discovery book from 360 degrees, an exciting and informative imprint of the busy and inventive Little Tiger Group.

With flaps to lift, pictures to enjoy and facts to find, this clever book allows little ones to explore the fascinating relationships occurring in each of the world’s ecosystems.

Little hands can help the story of nature to unfold by turning the pages and lifting the flaps. Eight animal habitats, both above and below the ground, spring to life through words and pictures. From the rainforest to the ocean and the macro to the micro, these are extraordinary natural stories to inform and delight.

Watch dolphins jumping for joy, a python using its chemical receptors to stalk its prey, voles burrowing along a river bank, eagles soaring above a mountain cave and a mongoose curled up in its underground burrow.

A voyage of discovery from the ocean floor to the tallest tree!

(360 degrees, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Mouse’s Big Day by Lydia Monks

One of the UK’s most successful children’s book illustrators, Lydia Monks is inviting us all to spend a day at the delightful Twit Twoo School!

Little ones will be hooting with laughter when they swoop in on the comical antics of friends Mole, Frog, Mouse, Owl and Rabbit as they lead their teacher on a merry dance in the first of a warm, reassuring and funny series.

Lydia Monks is the award-winning illustrator of the bestselling What the Ladybird Heard and What the Ladybird Heard Next books, written by The Gruffalo creator Julia Donaldson, and the pair’s much-loved adventures featuring the outrageous Princess Mirror-Belle have won the hearts of thousands of young readers.

In the first of this adorable new series, written and illustrated by Monks, the forest’s young creatures are setting off for a day at a fun-filled treetop school with their teacher Miss Hoot. It’s Mouse's first day, and she's feeling a little nervous and grumpy… in fact, she doesn’t want to go to school at all! But with a little help from her new friends, and some exciting adventures, she finds that perhaps school isn’t so bad after all…

Mouse’s Big Day, with its enchanting animal characters and bright, bold, distinctive illustrations, is a warm and funny story about friendship, and the perfect picture book to offer encouragement to any child who is starting school or nursery.

Proof that school can be fun!

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Bug Bear by Patricia Hegarty and Carmen Saldaña

Children will be itching to get their paws on this funny, frolicsome picture book tale of a bug in need of a bed.

Popular storyteller Patricia Hegarty moves into her best rhyming mode as poor old Bear gets himself into a grumpy grouch when a small stripy bug takes up residence in his soft, warm and snuggly fur.

A bothersome bug is in search of some cuddly lodgings and Bear’s thick fur looks perfect. But what a kerfuffle when the whirring, whining insect moves in and shatters grumpy Bear’s peaceful doze! Will Bear ever get this wiggly, tickly bug to buzz off? Is the wise Owl’s furry friend Sloth the answer to the itchy problem?

There is real rhyming joy to be found in this captivating story as children join in the fun and comic capers with cantankerous Bear and his uninvited guest. Talented artist Carmen Saldaña adds an extra buzz to Bear’s battle as her bright, busy and eye-catching illustrations bring the fun and action to hilarious life.

A story built from scratch… and guaranteed to tickle everyone’s sense of humour!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

My New Room by Lisa Stickley

Big changes are tough when you are only little…

Take moving into a new bedroom, and sleeping in a BIG Bed – it can all seem a bit overwhelming when the room is strange and unfamiliar.

Author and illustrator Lisa Stickley, whose debut counting picture book Handstand won hearts and minds last year, returns with her enchanting little star Edith in a clever and funny new tale about coping with life’s big events.

Written with an easy style, appealing illustrations, and a fresh and original exploration of recognisable childhood fears, this warm and reassuring story is guaranteed to raise smiles and calm nerves.

Edith has made the big move into her new house, with her big bedroom and a big bed. But Edith is only little, so her toys – all familiar and comforting – are arranged around the room and they help her to settle in. Meet Gary Guardsman as he stands to attention on the bookshelf, look out for Osbert T Octopus on the colourful chest of drawers, share dutiful Major Ted’s work schedule on Edith’s bed, and find out where the other toys have made themselves comfortable. The toys make their own comical observations as they give a guided tour of the room and explain the roles each of them plays in keeping the room safe, tidy and happy. Edith is going to feel at home in no time!

My New Room is packed with charming characters and quirky, vintage-inspired collage illustrations that promote cosy familiarity and help little ones to understand the story as it is read aloud.

Sometimes change is an exciting new adventure!

(Pavilion, paperback, £6.99)

Age 10 plus:

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Winner of the 2017 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize with her brilliant debut novel The Girl of Ink & Stars, Kiran Millwood Hargrave is back to bewitch us with a moving story of death, desperation and determination.

This stunning, standalone novel, set in 1902 on the real-life Filipino island of Culion, formerly an island for people with leprosy, imagines the lives of those who inhabited this ill-fated island through the eyes of one fearless young girl.

Hargrave, who studied at Oxford and Cambridge, is an award-winning poet, and her lyrical and intensely poignant new novel, about finding your way home and the unbreakable bond between mother and daughter, reflects both her word skills and her empathy with those marginalised by society.

Ami lives on Culion, an island where the sea is as blue as the sky. She loves her home… with its lush forests, Culion contains all she knows and loves. But the arrival of a cruel government official, Mr Zamora, changes her world forever. Her island is to become a colony for people who have leprosy and the islanders untouched by sickness are forced to leave.

Her mother is among the infected but banished to an orphanage across the sea, Ami is desperate to return before her mother dies. She finds a strange and fragile hope in a colony of butterflies and a honey-eyed girl called Mari. Together they set out to find a way back to the island… but will they get back in time?

Hargrave effortlessly weaves themes of prejudice, intolerance, segregation and illness into the story of one very brave young girl’s battle to find her way back to her desperately ill mother.

Compelling, emotionally powerful and sensitively handled, this is another outstanding story from a dazzling new name in children’s fiction.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods

Australian author Matilda Woods sweeps us away to a magical world of life and death, love and loss, hope and hopelessness, in a beautiful and soul-searching new middle grade story.

Alberto, the carpenter, lives all alone in the town of Allora, a place where fish fly out of the sea and the houses shine like jewels. But the dreaded plague has visited death on the town, taking his wife and children and many of the other people who lived there. Once upon a time he made toys but now he spends his quiet, solitary days creating coffins, the final resting places of Allora’s people whether they are great or small.

Being the only coffin maker in town can be lonely and all is quiet until a mysterious boy called Tito and his magical bird arrive. They are flying from danger and searching for a safe haven. Tito is fearful and suspicious of kindness but as the winter days grow colder and darker, Alberto’s home grows warmer and brighter. Can Tito and his bird be sheltered from the town’s prying eyes and the arrival of a menacing stranger?

This vividly imagined, literary and highly original debut is a heartbreaking story of grief and terrible loss, but it is also a powerful and ultimately reassuring celebration of love and friendship, and the small acts of gentleness and goodness that make life worth living.

The magical realist setting is endowed with an almost lyrical beauty, tinged by the heartbreaking sadness of Alberto and featuring a cast of traditional fairy tale style characters representing both good and evil.

Moving, thought-provoking and tender, this is an impressive and magical piece of storytelling…

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Young Adult:

Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan

Prepare to shed tears as Liz Flanagan plays a blinder in this stunning debut novel set amidst the rolling hills and valleys of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.

Inspired by her own experiences of loss, Flanagan weaves a beautiful, heart-rending tale about a teenage girl whose friend goes missing, forcing her to look back over the events, secrets and traumas that have brought her to this hard place.

‘My mind will not accept the possibility that Eden could be dead, now or ever. The end. Nothing. No. My best friend is too alive. Too everything. She can’t just disappear… What the hell happens to me, without her?’

It starts like any other day for Goth girl Jess… get up, plaster on black eyeliner, cover up tattoos and head to school. But soon it’s clear this is going to be no ordinary day because Jess’s best friend, the beautiful, popular Eden, isn’t at school. Eden has gone missing.

Jess knows she has to do everything in her power to try to find Eden before the unthinkable happens. So she starts to retrace their steps, looking back over the summer she and Eden have just spent together. She starts to notice new things. She starts to question hidden truths and everything she thought Eden’s summer had been about...

The rugged, awe-inspiring countryside of West Yorkshire plays a starring role in this tense, highly-charged journey through adolescent friendship, loss, betrayal, bullying, tragedy and self-discovery.

A powerful, gripping debut from a talented new author…

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £7.99)