Creative magic, seasonal fun facts and train heaven by various authors – book reviews –

Join a schoolgirl on a turbo-charged adventure in Rob Biddulph’s fantastic debut novel, discover a host of amazing facts about the seasons, take an epic journey on trains past, present and future, and enjoy warm and witty fun with the unlikeliest of friends in a sparkling springtime selection of children’s books.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 24th March 2022, 12:30 pm
Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City by Rob Biddulph
Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City by Rob Biddulph

Age 8 plus:

Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City

Rob Biddulph

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Best known for his fantastic #DrawWithRob sessions which kept many children entertained throughout Covid lockdowns, writer and artist Rob Biddulph dazzles again with his debut adventure series for middle grade readers.

Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City is a thrilling opener to his much-anticipated trilogy… a hugely illustrated, epic tale threaded through with danger, magic, friendship, art, and a celebration of the power of the imagination.

Some legends are born, some are drawn… drawing feels like magic to Peanut Jones. But art can’t fix her problems. Her dad has gone missing and she’s stuck in a boring new school and often kept late for detention. Apparently her dad has left for a new life in Mexico but Peanut knows this can’t be true.

Now her days are like wading through treacle, even with her friend Rockwell at her side. Until the day she finds a unique pencil, turbo-charged with special powers. Suddenly she is pulled into a world packed with more colour, creativity, excitement and more challenges and danger than she could ever have imagined. And maybe, just maybe, it’s a world where she might find out what happened to her dad.

Positively buzzing throughout with energy, creativity and Biddulph’s trademark warmth and humour, this a rip-roaring romp full of devilish twists and turns, and a cliffhanger ending that will leave spellbound youngsters yearning for more. An all-round storytelling triumph!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Magic of Seasons: A Fascinating Guide to Seasons Around the World

Vicky Woodgate

Discover amazing facts about the seasons and how magical they can be with a white cat called Mimi as your guide! Author and illustrator Vicky Woodgate brings curious youngsters a beautifully illustrated, all-encompassing and informative book which delivers everything they need to know about the changing seasons in our world. How do we measure a season? Do you know why the seasons change? Why do we divide our years up and when did we start doing this? Are seasons the same for everyone? Do you know why it snows on Mars? All these questions and many more are covered in The Magic of Seasons, a fascinating and easy-to-follow climate book for younger readers. Inside the pages are entertaining top tips, quizzes and activities to reflect on the information learned throughout the book as well as maps, charts and different scenes. The aim is to plant the seeds of curiosity in the minds of children, and then watch as it blossoms into a life-long love of learning about the natural world and the science and history behind it. This practical global guide to seasons also tackles the topic from a scientific, historical and geographical perspective, and includes weather myths and legends. The ideal key stage 2 book for primary school learning… or as a riveting read for parents and children to enjoy together.

(DK Children, hardback, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

Locomotion

Alastair Steele and Ryo Takemasa

Although railways are commonplace in many parts of the world – snaking around coastlines, zipping across countryside and transporting people and goods every day – it is strange to think that they have only been around for about two hundred years. In his spectacular exploration of the history of trains, railway historian, author and expert woodworker Alastair Steele celebrates the ingenuity and usability of trains past, present and future. From early steam engines through to the modern high-speed trains of today, Locomotion charts the history of trains throughout the world, and the wonder and escapism they evoke. Brought to life by the beautiful and atmospheric retro-inspired illustrations of award-winning artist Ryo Takemasa and with an eye-catching silver-foiled cover, this fascinating pictorial journey takes in famous icons of the railway world, along with some of the more ‘off the beaten track’ railways, such as narrow gauge and industrial lines. Packed full of iconic trains including the famous Flying Scotsman and the grand Orient Express, stopping off at famous stations like the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in Mumbai and the massive Grand Central Terminal in New York, as well as encompassing scenic journeys like the majestic Trans-Siberian railway and the spectacular long-distance California Zephyr service, Locomotion makes a stunning gift or reference book for train lovers of all ages.

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £16.99)

Age 8 plus:

Return to FACTopia! Follow the Trail of 400 More Facts

Kate Hale and Andy Smith

Welcome aboard a rip-roaring return journey to a world of weird and wonderful facts which are connected in the most surprising and hilarious ways! Return to FACTopia! – a magical trail of four hundred unexpectedly related facts – comes from Britannica Books and is the fabulous follow-up to their hit book FACTopia! The mission is to inspire children’s curiosity and passion for learning, offering engaging non-fiction books that you can trust, with experts behind every page, and this coruscating cornucopia of extraordinary facts is truly a fun and fact-filled reading adventure. Did you know that scientists can tell how old a whale is from its earwax, or that sharks existed before trees? Every fact in the book is connected to the next in an ingenious trail of information. Hop from topic to topic in unexpected and hilarious ways, and discover extraordinary facts about fungus, dreams, dogs, tyrannosaurs, planets, diamonds, bumblebees, robots, jellyfish, Egyptian mummies, and lots more. But there’s not just one trail through these pages to find out extraordinary facts … sometimes your path branches and you can choose to jump to a totally different (but still connected) part of the book. The hilarious world of four hundred facts, all verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica, have been ferreted out by Kate Hale, a writer, editor and professional fun fact finder and a former executive editor for National Geographic Kids Books, and wittily and wonderfully brought to life by photographs, and Andy Smith’s brilliant illustrations. So what are you waiting for… follow the trail and who knows where your curiosity will take you!

(Britannica Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 7 plus:

Anisha, Accidental Detective: Holiday Adventure!

Serena Patel and Emma McCann

Anisha Mistry’s larger-than-life British-Indian family steal the show AGAIN in the latest baffling mystery for everyone’s favourite (accidental!) detective. Award-winning author Serena Patel and illustrator Emma McCann are back with a new case in their brilliant detective series starring reluctant sleuth Anisha and her best friend and fellow investigator Milo. The gang are packing their bags and off to a holiday camp. Milo can’t wait to see the wildlife, Manny is learning survival skills, and even Granny is going to have a go at archery. Honestly, Anisha just wants to read her book, but there’s NEVER any time to relax for our accidental detective. The holiday park’s mascot, Delilah the duck, has been destroyed, and Anisha’s new friend Cleo is everyone’s number one suspect. Anisha is sure she’s innocent and she’s going to do whatever it takes to prove it. Let’s hope we can find the real culprit and QUACK the case! Join Anisha and Milo as they head off on their forest adventure, and share all the fun, action and mystery that always seem to appear when the madcap Mistry family are in the spotlight!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Armadillo and Hare and the Flamingo Affair

Jeremy Strong and Rebecca Bagley

Join a cardigan-wearing armadillo and a tuba-playing hare in more wonderfully whimsical and witty stories from award-winning author Jeremy Strong and illustrator Rebecca Bagley. Strong is a master of the absurd and comical, and his humour touches the funny bone of children with exquisite precision. Here, he turns his talents to a warm, gentle and thoughtful series featuring endearing stories about two pals who could not be more different but are still the firmest and funniest of friends. Armadillo and Hare live in the Big Forest and are an unlikely pair. Armadillo is often a little grumpy, while Hare is a more cheerful sort but together, they are the perfect pairing. One day, something incredible happens. Someone rather fabulous is singing and dancing in the Big Forest. Who could it be? It’s Flamingo! Has this flamboyant new friend found a forever home in the Big Forest? Beautifully illustrated throughout by Bagley – who captures the essence of this extraordinary and heartwarming friendship with her remarkably expressive and lively gallery of black and white pictures – this is the perfect gift book for youngsters starting to read chapter books and anyone who wants to celebrate friendship!

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus:

Toto the Ninja Cat and the Legend of the Wildcat

Dermot O’Leary and Nick East

Head off for mischief and mayhem with a magical moggie who sleeps all day and fights crime at night! Popular TV broadcaster Dermot O’Leary and illustrator Nick East are back with another terrific tale starring the fearless feline and her brothers Silver and Socks. The cats live in a townhouse in London. Toto is almost totally blind, and learned to trust her senses from a ninja cat-master who taught her back in Italy where they were born. By day, Toto and Silver seem to be ordinary cats, but by night, they love to have adventures. Here Silver and Socks, and their best friend Catface have just been made Deputy Ninja Cats but while celebrating, they accidentally break a boat belonging to a very important cat and find themselves heading north to a bootcamp for naughty animals. Deep in the Scottish Highlands, they must climb mountains, paddle leaky canoes and prove that they can work as a team. But something isn’t quite right at the bootcamp, and Toto’s ninja senses will need to be on high alert! With lots of laugh-out-loud moments, reassuring and gentle themes of friendship, inclusivity and winning in the face of adversity, and East’s gallery of hilarious black and white illustrations, this is ideal for newly confident readers to curl up with or read aloud with parents.

(Hodder Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Sports Superstars: Hamilton Rules

Simon Mugford and Dan Green

Kick off the spring season with the first fantastic book in a sparkling new Sports Superstars series from everyone’s favourite sports writers Simon Mugford and illustrator Dan Green. This visual series of illustrated sporting biographies is aimed at building a love of reading from a young age, with fun cartoons, inspirational stories, a simple narrative style and a cast of characters chipping in with quotes, jokes and comments. To kick off the series, we meet Formula One icon Lewis Hamilton. Regarded as the sport’s finest competitor, Hamilton’s star profile has never been higher, with a record-equalling seven drivers’ championship titles to his name, plus a huge following around the world. Packed with cool facts, delightfully fun illustrations and inspirational quotes, this easy-to-read fan guide follows Hamilton’s meteoric rise from a go-kart racing champion at the age of ten to his sensational maiden season in F1 in 2007 and the subsequent Championship wins that have made him a living legend. The perfect fast lane to sporting fun and facts!

(Welbeck Publishing, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Tiger Who Came for Dinner

Steve Smallman and Joëlle Dredemy

Youngsters will love getting their teeth into the fourth tasty picture book in Steve Smallman and Joëlle Dredemy’s heartwarming and hilarious The Lamb Who Came for Dinner series. The Tiger Who Came for Dinner sizzles with Smallman’s wit and warmth and French illustrator Dredemy’s striking and characterful artwork as we meet up again with Wolf, Hotpot the lamb and their pet crocodile Omelette. In this new adventure, our trio of unlikely friends find a little lost tiger cub. ‘Can we keep her?’ cries Hotpot. Wolf shakes his head. ‘This little tiger’s family must live further up the river. We have to take her home.’ With that, the group set off into the forest. Everyone they meet on their journey thinks the tiger cub is VERY cute but Omelette isn’t so sure. And when the group finally find the tiger cub’s cottage, they realise she had a terrible plan all along! Smallman’s clever and cautionary tale encourages young readers to challenge stereotypes and to celebrate the value and joy of friendship and family. The perfect book to share with your own special family!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

You Can Be A Superpup

Rosamund Lloyd and Chris Dickason

Youngsters can practise their super-cuddle powers with this enchanting board book celebrating the power of kindness and friendship. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s Superpup! Our lovable, huggable superhero is here with one simple mission… to cheer up everyone with hugs. This colourful board book – brimming with Rosamund Lloyd’s interactive, rhyming text and Chris Dickason’s perfectly punchy illustrations – has a detachable, fun felt mask to pull out and wear. Brimming with sunny smiles, gentle hugs and caring cuddles, pre-schoolers will LOVE learning how to be budding superheroes!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

All About Cats: Fantastically Funny Rhymes

Franz Wittcamp and Axel Scheffler

‘Cats are sleek, and cats are slick. They read, and do arithmetic!’ All the family will be purring with delight when they get their paws on this coruscating collection of hilarious and quirky cat rhymes. These short, funny rhymes, written by award-winning German artist and poet Franz Wittcamp, and wonderfully adapted into English by children’s author David Henry Wilson, are brought to life by Axel Scheffler, the bestselling illustrator of The Gruffalo. Have you ever seen a cat playing a piano or taking a bubble bath with a rubber duck? Find out what cats really get up to when people aren’t around! Scheffler's charming and witty illustrations introduce all kinds of cats… making mischief, playing games, singing songs and going out on adventures. With fourteen delightfully funny short poems, and full-page colour illustrations, this riotous feline romp is the perfect gift for cat fans of any age!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Trains Trains Trains!

Donna David and Nina Pirhonen

Feel the buzz, climb aboard and follow fifty colourful trains on a busy rhyming adventure! Trains Trains Trains! is the first book in an exciting new series that is now steaming towards a platform near you. Transport mad pre-schoolers can go trainspotting without leaving the comfort of home with this bright, joyful and informative picture book from author Donna David and illustrator Nina Pirhonen. Big trains, small trains, short trains, long trains… which do you like best? Follow the colourful trains as they whizz along tracks and through tunnels – up, down, around and back again! And can you find your favourite? Full of spotting and counting fun, with five trains to find on each page, and an exciting fold-out race at the end, this pre-school picture book has been specially developed to encourage pre-reading skills and expand language and vocabulary. And with a super-shiny foil cover and fun read-aloud text, Trains Trains Trains! is just the perfect ticket to ride for your toddlers!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Esme and the Sabre-Toothed Cub

Simon Philip and Magda Brol

She’s back so shout it out loud! Esme, the small girl with the BIG voice who we first met in Esme’s Rock, invites youngsters to share another rip-roaring adventure in her Stone Age village. The perfect pairing of author Simon Philip and illustrator Magda Brol work their picture book magic on another comical, cautionary tale about the joys of friendship and the rewards of teamwork. When a sabre-toothed cub strolls into Esme’s village, she enthusiastically adopts it as her own and names him Seb. But when Esme tries to train Seb as her pet, he won’t listen… even when she uses her very loudest voice. When it becomes clear that Seb doesn’t want to be anyone’s pet, Morris the wise mammoth wonders if they could they all be friends instead? Philip’s big-hearted messages come across loud and clear in a story brimming with youthful joie de vivre while Brol’s bright and energetic illustrations bring the action to glorious life.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Smile

Marie Voigt

There are smiles all round in a beautiful and thoughtful new picture book from talented author and illustrator Marie Voigt. Celebrating the connection between different people around the world, The Smile explores how a simple smile and a little kindness can spread joy and help to heal divisions in society. When a baby smiles at her brother, the happiness he feels is so powerful that it sets in motion a chain of kindness that ripples out to families and strangers far away, and back again. Differences are forgotten and people come together as Voigt uses her warm and wise narrative voice, and a gallery of star-dusted, inclusive illustrations, to convey resonant messages about the positive effects of caring, kindness… and smiles!

(Oxford University Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Bedtime for Duckling: A Peek-Through Storybook

Amelia Hepworth and Anna Doherty

What could be better at bedtime than a book to cuddle up with? Enjoy a heart-melting tale of a duckling looking for somewhere to sleep in this super Snuggle-up Story from Little Tiger Press. Duckling is looking for somewhere to sleep, but Fox’s den is too muddy, Frog’s log is too cold and wet, and Owl’s nest is too high up. When she hears quacking and finds Mummy Duck and the rest of the ducklings behind the reeds, she decides that her cosy nest is the best place to sleep after all! With Amelia Hepworth’s gentle and reassuring story, eye-catching photographic elements, Anna Doherty’s beautiful illustrations, and peek-through pages throughout, tiny tots will love getting their hands on this sturdy board book as they get ready to settle down for sleep.

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £6.99)

Age two plus:

Gretel the Wonder Mammoth

Kim Hillyard

Being the last mammoth left on earth isn’t necessarily the best thing! Just ask gorgeous Gretel… one peaceful morning, a loud CRACK can be heard as she breaks free from her icy shell and becomes Gretel the Wonder Mammoth. Everyone – including her new friends who think she’s gentle, kind, strong and understanding – is so excited to meet her but as she settles into her new life, Gretel starts to feel a little overwhelmed and even a bit lonely. Perhaps the bravest act a person (or mammoth!) can do, Gretel learns, is to ask for help. Written and illustrated by the award-winning Kim Hillyard, this clever, funny, poignant and gentle picture book about overcoming anxiety is the perfect antidote of positivity for any young child in need of reassurance and inspiration. Bedtime reading sorted for your anxious toddlers!

(Ladybird, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Winnie’s Best Friend

Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

The madcap adventures of Winnie the Witch and her black cat Wilbur have provided spellbinding, bite-size stories for over three decades and now the two much-loved stars take centre stage in a story that goes back to the beginning of their friendship. With its universal theme of finding your very own best friend, lots of mad, bad and dangerously hilarious escapades, and Korky Paul’s anarchic colour illustrations to bring the crazy antics to life, this is the perfect introduction to the irresistible duo for a new generation of young readers. A super funny book for your own mischief-makers!

(OUP, paperback, £7.99)