Drama at the tower, the magic of trees and suitcase travels by various authors - book reviews -

Blackpool Tower takes a starring role, a lonely boy finds a polar bear in his mum’s freezer, a girl discovers that the magic of trees could save the world and a suitcase is home to an exciting box of tricks in a fabulous selection of new children’s books.

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 12:30 pm
Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the Tower
Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the Tower

Age 8 plus:

Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the Tower

Susan Brownrigg

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There’s plenty of drama at the tower – the world-famous Blackpool Tower no less! – in the second book of Lancashire lass Susan Brownrigg’s brilliant middle-grade thriller series.

The star of the Christmas show is amateur sleuth Gracie Fairshaw who lives with her brother and parents in a resort boarding house in the 1930s, and finds that mystery and skulduggery are never far away.

In this exciting new adventure, Gracie becomes embroiled in a series of suspicious events at the real-life Blackpool Tower professional Children’s Ballet Company which delighted audiences for decades, and leads us behind the scenes of the equally real Blackpool Gazette’s newspapers offices.

The Tower Ballroom was home to a professional children’s ballet between 1902 and 1972. Girls would queue around the block to audition for a place, with some dancers going on to find fame and fortune.

Brownrigg, who set her first book in the series, Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest, against the backdrop of the 1935 Blackpool illuminations, fills her stories with such rich authentic detail and beautifully drawn characters that you can almost taste the fish and chips, smell the sea salt in the air and hear the trams rolling down the promenade.

In December of 1935, Gracie is delighted to get a sneak preview of the Children’s Ballet’s Christmas spectacular. But from the moment the curtain rises on the new show, things start to go horribly wrong for the young dancers. Accidents, pranks and a poison pen letter make Gracie wonder if someone is trying to spoil the show. Can Gracie, her brother George and their friends, Tom and Violet Emberton, stop the saboteur before their final, dastardly act?

Gracie is an inspirational lead player…. a girl with a mild disability, the heart of a lion and big ambitions who is fearless in her pursuit of truth and justice. Add on Brownrigg’s nostalgic and exhilarating evocation of the North West’s most famous resort in its heyday and you have one of the best children’s mystery series currently on the shelves.

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Bear who Sailed the Ocean on an Iceberg

Emily Critchley

What do you do when you find a huge polar bear in your freezer? Delight in the fun, humour and reassurance of this heartfelt story about a lonely boy who overcomes difficult family problems with the help of a polar bear. This moving tale comes from Carnegie-nominated author Emily Critchley and tackles serious issues of friendship, bullying, divorce and bereavement with a warm, gentle and comic touch. So how did Monty get in Patrick’s parents’ freezer? And who is Monty (official name, Wilbur Ambrose Cedric Reginald Montague, the Third, or Monty to his friends)? He talks like he might have swallowed a dictionary as well as a library – he has read more books than Patrick knew existed – and his stomach is always rumbling. How is Patrick going to feed him on his pocket money that does not stretch much further than a few tins of sardines? And how will he protect Monty from neighbours like Mr Crankly who might report him? And if that isn’t enough, Patrick is taking care of his mum who suffers from depression, and his dad isn’t there. But, fortunately for Patrick, there’s always Monty. With Christmas vibes running through its pages, and with a story full of hope and heart, this surreal adventure starring a larger-than-life polar bear who can quote from classic books is a true wintertime winner!

(Everything with Words, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Girl Who Talked to Trees

Natasha Farrant and Lydia Corry

Believing in the magic of trees could save the world! That is the message which speaks loudly and clearly in a sumptuous gift book from the Costa Book Award-winning team of author Natasha Farrant and illustrator Lydia Corry. Featuring magical interlinked stories about what one girl learns from talking to trees throughout time and from around the world, the companion volume to the empowering book Eight Princesses and a Magic Mirror reminds us all of the importance of trees in our lives. Olive’s best friend is a 400-year-old oak tree, and it’s in danger. As she tumbles into its magic world, she makes it a promise. From deep roots to high branches, a Persian garden to an underwater forest, from tulip trees to wild apple and a vengeful box, she listens to the trees telling stories for all time. And she keeps her promise. With a serious conservation message and facts about tree science alongside the magic and wonder of seven beautifully imagined original stories, this full-colour gift book will enchant and inspire young readers.

(Zephyr, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Flember: The Glowing Skull

Jamie Smart

If your youngsters like laugh-out-loud comedy and lots of madcap action, then gift them the third book in extraordinarily talented illustrator and author Jamie Smart’s ingenious Flember illustrated novel series. Packed with all the outrageously comical, addictive and high-energy action we have come to expect from Smart’s work, this series certainly hits the mark with middle grade readers. Here we meet up again with boy-inventor Dev, who has a strange and mystical power called Flember, and his best friend Boja, a huge red robot bear. The two chaotic adventurers have found the super hi-tech, mega-modern city of Prosperity but everything there is really weird. People are battling it out for control of magic Flember power in epic races, the sewers are disgustingly stinky and Boja discovers he has superpowers. Will they ever get home? Smart has proved to be a comic genius and there are snorts and sniggers to enjoy on every page of this gloriously anarchic story.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Anisha, Accidental Detective: Show Stoppers!

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. Anisha is so busy… her class is putting on a musical and they only have one week before curtain up. And, as it’s nearly Diwali, Granny Jas is cooking non-stop and Auntie Bindi is determined to bring the bling. Anisha is leaving the theatrics to Milo but as the director’s assistant, she has loads to do... especially now everything is going wrong. Even Molly the cat is forgetting her cues! Miss Jive believes the show is cursed but Anisha thinks someone is trying to stop the production. Time for Anisha, the Accidental Detective, to step into the spotlight. Join Anisha and Milo as they take to the stage in the search for the scheming showstopper, and share all the fun, action and mystery that always seem to appear when the madcap Mistry family are in the spotlight!

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

At the Height of the Moon: A Book of Bedtime Poetry and Art

Edited by Alison Baverstock , Matt Cunningham and Annette Roeder

Help your children to drift off to sleep – and inspire in them a lifelong love of art and poetry – with this stunning bedtime book which draws on centuries of artistic and literary traditions from around the world. Pairing works of art with poems and short fiction, At the Height of the Moon is divided into eight thematic sections and features dozens of double-page spreads that families will enjoy as part of their bedtime routine. The carefully chosen, diverse selection of art includes works by John Singer Sargent, Georgia O’Keeffe, Utagawa Hiroshige, Edgar Allen Poe and Henri Le Sidoner among many others, all beautifully reproduced in luminous colour. Accompanying these artworks are poems, mediations and short fiction which range from light-hearted verse and passages from Shakespeare to lullabies and spooky folktales. Together the words and pictures create meaningful impressions that children will treasure and remember as they drift off to sleep… and hold on to for the rest of their lives. With its ribbon marker, fabulous illustrations, wise words and high quality production, this is a gorgeous gift book for both youngsters and adults.

(Prestel, hardback, £18.99)

Age 4 plus:

Inside the Suitcase

Clotilde Perrin

Everyone will be in a flap when they turn the pages of this brilliantly inventive lift-the-flaps adventure which offers the magic of a fairy tale, the surreal atmosphere of Alice in Wonderland, and the interactive fun of a puzzle book. There are a host of intriguing flaps within flaps for little ones to get their hands on as French author and illustrator Clotilde Perrin casts a spell with her tale of a boy travelling the world with a suitcase full of tricks and treasures. Away behind the hills you’ll find a charming little house. Who’s inside… knock, knock! Look, there’s a boy packing his suitcase. Lift the flaps to see what he takes with him and then join him as he travels over oceans and mountains, under water and into the forest. Delve deeper into each page to see its hidden secrets and, whatever you do, don’t take your eyes off the suitcase! This timeless tale of travelling the globe and making memories is brimming with mystery, atmosphere and discovery. The simple but richly evocative illustrations, and the joy of multi-layered discoveries on every page, are all guaranteed to delight curious youngsters. A voyage of adventure that children will want to experience time and time again!

(Gecko Press, hardback, £16.99)

Age 4 plus:

The Smart Cookie

Jory John and Pete Oswald

Enjoy food for thought as bestselling author and illustrator team, Jory John and Pete Oswald, turn up the heat for another tasty and inventive picture book! This entertaining new romp in the Food Group series features a cookie whose life hasn’t always been a cakewalk. The problem is that the cookie never felt like a smart cookie, no matter how hard she tried, and especially in comparison to all the clever cupcakes and brilliant rolls in the bakery where she lives. So will a dash of creativity and a sprinkle of confidence be enough to help her learn that perfect scores and having all the answers aren’t the only ingredients for being clever? This terrific top team can’t put a foot wrong when it comes to conjuring up child-friendly stories with important life messages, all carefully baked to perfection inside John’s warm and witty wordplay, and Oswald’s captivating, high-energy artwork. Get ready for giggles galore as youngsters gorge on the antics of some cute cookies while learning valuable lessons about confidence and self-esteem.

(HarperCollins, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Lily Takes a Walk

Satoshi Kitamura

The unspoken fears of childhood are confronted with wit, warmth and smiles in this welcome new outing for Japanese author and illustrator Satoshi Kitamura’s classic picture book which won hearts and minds back in the 1980s. Republished in an enlarged format with extra artwork, Lily Takes a Walk stars a little girl and her pet dog Nicky who, in an ironic twist, possesses an outrageously overactive imagination. When Lily takes a walk with Nicky, she notices many lovely things like the sunset, a friendly neighbour and the ducks on the canal. But poor Nicky only sees monsters, snakes and fierce creatures lurking in every corner and at every turn. So which version of the walk is true… Lily’s, Nicky’s or both? Kitamura’s eternally popular, funny and gently scary story helps children to confront nightmares and fears with confidence whilst delivering an entertaining twist in its fold-out last page. Imaginative and inventive, this is a picture book for every generation to treasure!

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Lights that Dance in the Night

Yuval Zommer

Author and illustrator Yuval Zommer spreads his own special glow over the festive season with a bright and beautiful picture book celebrating the wonder of the Northern Lights. The Lights that Dance in the Night – with its sparkling cover, beautiful rhyming text and atmospheric illustrations – is a gentle and colourful reminder of the threats to our fragile planet. During long, dark winters, the Northern Lights dazzle in Arctic skies and here Zommer imagines their fleeting journey from space to Earth and how they weave a welcome magic for the animals and people living in the frozen lands below. With an ethereal beauty to both the words and the illustrations, heartfelt messages about the peace that comes from togetherness, and the dangers of global warming radiating subtly from the pages, Zommer puts the living world at the heart of his powerful storytelling, bringing the very youngest children a lyrically written, resonant and utterly charming story. A verbal and visual treat to treasure for yourself… or as a memorable gift for others.

(Oxford University Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age one plus:

Zoom: Farm Adventure

Susan Hayes and Aviel Basil

Enjoy a day on a busy farm and find out what goes on at a building site with two exciting and innovative board books which were specially created for all young adventurers. Zoom: Farm Adventure and Zoom: Building Site Adventure are two new titles in an imaginative board book series from What on Earth Publishing which specialises in children’s non-fiction books. These sturdy, informative Zoom books, with their intriguing peep-holes and cut-outs, and a final, fabulous fold-out surprise, deliver fascinating facts about the world around us through exciting, colourful adventures and fun-filled, hands-on discoveries. In Zoom: Farm Adventure, written by Susan Hayes and illustrated by Aviel Basil, we join Bo as he gets to work on his very own farm, including raising alpacas, milking cows and bringing in the peanut harvest. Watch Bo collecting honey from the beehive, picking juicy tomatoes and collecting eggs from the chickens. And in Zoom: Building Site Adventure, written by Susan Hayes and illustrated by Susanna Rumiz, we meet Maxie as he drills, scoops and digs to build his dream skyscraper from the ground up. Share adventures as drives a crane, clears the site with his bulldozer and takes away rocks on a gigantic dumper truck. With their bold, interactive features, vibrant illustrations and fun story, these books are the ideal gift for curious children.

(What on Earth Publishing, board books, £10.99 each)