Hidden treasures, wonderful whales and yoga bunnies by various authors – book reviews –

Join a race against time to discover buried treasures, be carried away by a whale of a journey at the edge of the Pacific, meet a boy in search of a homing pelican called Geronimo, and enjoy adventures with a little kitten with BIG unicorn-sized ideas in a sparkling selection of super springtime children’s books.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 31st March 2022, 3:45 pm
The Secret of the Treasure Keepers
The Secret of the Treasure Keepers

Age 9 plus:

The Secret of the Treasure Keepers

A.M. Howell

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A race against time to discover the secrets buried on a farm in the windswept Fenlands of England is set to thrill young readers as master storyteller A.M. Howell returns with a fantastic post-war adventure.

Inspired by her lifelong interest in archaeology and some famous East Anglian archaeological finds now in the British Museum – the Roman Mildenhall Treasure and Hoxne Hoard, and a Bronze Age settlement at Must Farm – the award-winning author of The Garden of Lost Secrets and The House of One Hundred Clocks brings us a gripping new historical mystery.

In February 1948, in the depths of the British Museum, a telephone rings and 12-year-old Ruth is the only one on hand to answer it. Some long-buried treasure has been discovered on an isolated farm and Ruth and her aspiring archaeologist mother find themselves travelling to the Fens to investigate.

They soon discover ancient artefacts are not the only things which the mysterious landscape of Rook Farm is hiding. At the farmhouse itself, Ruth finds secrets lurk around every corner. Joe, the farmer's son, is hiding something about the treasure, while land girl Audrey watches their every move.

But before Ruth can find out more, the treasure is stolen. With a storm coming, Ruth must race to uncover the secrets of the treasure keepers before all of their lives are changed forever.

Set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, The Secret of the Treasure Keepers is rich in the atmospherics of the period and explores some fascinating real-life historical events from the British Museum’s wartime evacuation of its valuable objects and the effects of aerial attacks on cities like Norwich to post-war rationing and widespread electricity shortages.

With themes of family secrets, buried treasure, national hardship, resilience, women’s rights and archaeological integrity at its beating heart, plus all the addictive the excitement of literally digging into the past to enjoy, this is top class reading for all middle-graders.

(Usborne, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Lost Whale

Hannah Gold and Levi Pinfold

Prepare to shed tears as you dive into the second soaraway adventure from outstanding new author Hannah Gold whose bestselling 2021 debut, The Last Bear, was The Times Children’s Book of the Week, shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the British Book Awards 2022, and winner of the Blue Peter Award. Inspired by a fascination with whales dating back to her early twenties when she first saw a grey whale in Baja, Mexico, Gold harnesses the wonder and magnificence of these sea creatures for a heart-rending story about the connection between a boy and a whale, and the bond that sets them both free. What if you could communicate with a whale? Rio has been sent to live with a grandmother he barely knows at her wooden chalet at the edge of the Pacific in California while his musician mum is in hospital back home. Angry, alone and adrift, the only thing that makes him smile is joining his new friend Marina on her dad’s whale watching trips. That is until an incredible encounter with White Beak, a gentle giant of the sea, changes everything. But when White Beak goes missing, Rio must set out on a desperate quest to find his whale and somehow save his mum. Gold dons her trademark eco-warrior armour and sets her rich imagination in motion to bring us this magical, mesmerising story, set against a stunning backdrop and guaranteed to pull on your heartstrings and make you look anew at how you too can help to save the grey whale which is imperilled by warming seas, plastic pollution and over-fishing. Kate Greenaway Medal-winning illustrator Levi Pinfold provides the finishing touches to this unforgettable journey of heart, hardship and hope with a gallery of truly evocative black and white illustrations that are guaranteed to take your breath away.

(HarperCollins Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Boy in the Post

Holly Rivers

There’s a special mail delivery for adventure-loving youngsters as Holly Rivers – author of the brilliant Demelza & the Spectre Detectors – brings us her second first class adventure. Featuring an action-packed journey across the Atlantic, a trio of brave siblings and a menagerie of furry and feathered posties, The Boy in the Post comes with an enchanting retro feel and a cast of quirky characters, and immerses youngsters in a fabulous fantasy world. Siblings Orinthia and Séafra Shalloo accept a summer job from eccentric Grandy who has collected a menagerie of furry and feathered posties known as animails. The children are especially fond of Geronimo, a homing pelican. But when the big bird fails to return from her first international voyage to New York, six-year-old Taber – the youngest sibling – is devastated, so much so that he mails himself to New York where Geronimo was sent. Orinthia and Séafra follow suit, stealing a precious stamp and hopping in a freight crate – and soon all are embarked on an extraordinarily audacious and thrill-a-minute adventure. Expect dollops of derring-do and danger, suspense-packed twists and turns, and giggles galore as this funny, frantic and warm-hearted adventure puts family and friendship firmly at its beating heart.

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Ogress and the Orphans

Kelly Barnhill

Escape into a fantastical, allegorical adventure from Kelly Barnhill, the talented Newbery Medal winning and bestselling author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon. In her coruscating exploration of greed, kindness, unity, division and the sheer power of books to entertain and inform society, Barnhill brings us a rip-roaring and far-reaching tale set in an exciting and atmospheric alternative world. Stone-in-the-Glen, once a lovely town, has fallen on hard times. Fires, floods, and other calamities have caused the townsfolk to lose their library, their school, their park, and all sense of what it means to be generous and kind. The people put their faith in the Mayor, a dazzling fellow who promises he alone can help. After all, he is a famous dragon slayer. (At least, no one has seen a dragon in his presence.) Only the clever orphans of the Orphan House and the kindly Ogress at the edge of town can see how dire the town’s problems are. When one of the orphans goes missing from the Orphan House, all eyes turn to the Ogress. The orphans, though, know this can’t be… the Ogress, along with a flock of excellent crows, secretly delivers gifts to the people of Stone-in-the-Glen. But how can the orphans tell the story of the Ogress’s goodness to people who refuse to listen? And how can they make their deluded neighbours see the real villain in their midst? The orphans have heard a whisper that they will ‘save the day’ but just how, they will have to find out. Written with her trademark elegance and attention to detail, and with a cast of characters that lingers long in the mind, this is both a spellbinding adventure and a timely, cautionary story about the damage wreaked by greed and corruption.

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Wild Before

Piers Torday

In his stunning prequel to the award-winning, bestselling The Last Wild trilogy, favourite author Piers Torday brings young readers a memorable and mesmerising tale of hope and friendship in a troubled world. Starring a cast of captivating animal characters, and delivering timely and eloquent messages about the importance of saving our planet, The Wild Before asks how do you save a world that won’t listen, and features one small animal’s quest against the odds to save it. One stormy, snowy night, a pure silver calf is born on an ordinary muddy farm by the light of the moon. This is the legendary Mooncalf whose arrival has been foretold since the dawn of time. According to a dream passed down from animal to animal, if the calf dies, a great Terribleness will come… rising seas, a plague, skies raining down fire, the end of all things. And Little Hare vows to persuade all the animals to protect Mooncalf, whatever the cost. But keeping danger at bay is easier said than done, and soon Little Hare realises that he is the only one who can save the world. On the road to devastation, lies a pawprint of hope… This captivating and atmospheric animal adventure is destined to be loved by readers of all ages as Torday blends an exciting adventure with gentle warnings about the threats from climate change. Beautifully written and a masterclass in imaginative power.

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

Age 4 plus:

Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn

Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Youngsters will be tickled pink when they get their hands on this fabulous picture book about a little kitten with BIG unicorn-sized ideas! Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn, a clever, comical and colourful celebration of the magic of unexpected friendships, comes from the bestselling superstar duo Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, the team behind the bestselling graphic novels Real Friends and Best Friends. The adorably pink Kitty thinks she might be a unicorn. She feels so perfectly unicorn-y! ‘Neigh!’ says Kitty. But when Unicorn clop clop clops over, sweeping his magnificent tail and neighing a mighty neigh, Kitty feels exceedingly small. Can this unlikely pair embrace who they are, and truly see one another? This is the star-studded author and illustrator team’s first picture book together and their messages about being exactly who you want to be speak loudly and clearly as Hale’s magic with words blends beautifully with Pham’s pink and perfect gallery of illustrations. The most heart-bursting, tail-twitching, fuzzy-feeling, perfectly unicorn-y story imaginable!

(Abrams Books for Young Readers, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny: A story about yoga, calm and mindfulness

Emily Ann Davison and Deborah Allwright

It’s not just grown-ups who need to relax and unwind after a busy day! Calm and soothe your tired toddlers with this adorable book hug from the clever boffins at Nosy Crow. Created in a partnership with the National Trust, this funny, reassuring and entertaining picture book about yoga, mindfulness and finding calm comes from debut author Emily Ann Davison, who trained as a primary school teacher, and award-winning illustrator Deborah Allwright. Yo-Yo is a fidgety, bouncy, can’t-sit-still-EVER type of bunny. Even Grandpa’s yoga class won’t stop her wiggling and giggling! But what will Yo-Yo do when she finds herself lost and all alone in the deep, dark, shadowy forest? Maybe Grandpa’s yoga will help her find the way home. Packed with Allwright’s gallery of colourful woodland characters, an alluring countryside setting, a soothing bedtime ending, and three pages of simple, easy-to-follow step-by-step yoga instructions, children can stretch, breathe and feel calm with the irrepressible Yo-Yo. And every Nosy Crow paperback picture book comes with a free Stories Aloud audio recording so just scan the QR code and listen along!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Who Will You Meet on Dinosaur Street?

Gareth Peter and Tim Budgen

With a career as a composer and lyricist for the theatre, and an understanding of rhyme and rhythm crafted through years of song writing, it’s little wonder that little ones are bouncing along to Gareth Peter’s fun and energetic picture books. In the second book of his addictive Who Will You Meet series, which comes packed with Tim Budgen’s marvellously multi-coloured and vibrant illustrations, we head off to Dinosaur Street and join a foot stomping, foot stamping madcap party! The dinosaurs are all in a frenzy and eager to go to the Fizz-whizzing Flash-tastic Fireworks Show. So get ready to meet Flashysaurus, Splashysaurus, Whoops-there’s-been-a Crashysaurus, and a whole host of other lovable characters. The story – and the action! – certainly go with a rhyming swing as the daffy bunch of dinos strut their stuff. Bags of fun to read aloud and ideal for encouraging lots of reader engagement, this is a guaranteed repeat-read family favourite!

(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

A Dress with Pockets

Lily Murray and Jenny Løvlie

Who would have thought that pockets could lead to such exciting adventures? Rising star Lily Murray and Waterstones Prize-winning illustrator, Jenny Løvlie dig deep into the joyous contents of pockets for this funny, frock-filled picture story for modern girls who don’t just want sequins and sparkles on their dresses! Lucy and Aunt Augusta are dress shopping and at the Fabulous Fashion Store, there are dresses to suit just about everyone. There are fancy dresses, frilly dresses, stripy dresses, silly dresses, sun dresses, fun dresses, blue dresses, green dresses. But Lucy doesn’t care about frills or lace. She wants a dress WITH POCKETS. And as she wades through the titchy dresses, witchy dresses, very, very itchy dresses, she starts to worry about where she’s going to put her leaves, and nettles, and delicate petals, her magical spells and beautiful shells. The hunt is on… will Lucy find the dress of her dreams? Murray’s fabulously frothy, floaty, best dress story – with its subtle feminist undertone and matched perfectly with Løvlie’s array of gorgeous illustrations – celebrates the joy of pockets, and how they can unleash the inquisitive, adventurous spirit in any fun-loving youngster.

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

Age 2 plus:

The Littlest Elephant

Kate Read

When you’re always in a rush, it’s easy to let some important life lessons pass you by! Meet Ellie, the adorable and littlest elephant, who wants to stop for nothing and nobody in a funny, fast and furious tale from the brilliantly talented author and illustrator, Kate Read, creator of the multi-award-winning counting book One Fox. Meet Ellie… she’s on her way to the pool for a swim. At first she is too excited to notice the chaos she is causing but, after a series of mishaps, it is the words of a tiny mouse which show her how to slow down, notice the other jungle creatures, help others, and let everyone join in the fun. This cautionary tale with a big, warm heart comes with Read’s rich and colourful illustrations featuring a cast of colourful jungle creatures from a chameleon to a tiger. A beautifully crafted and written book, and the ideal tool for teaching lessons about empathy and helping those in need.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age one plus:

Cheesed Off!

Jake Hope and Genevieve Aspinall

Say cheese! Yes, there will be miles of smiles for this tasty, cheese-flavoured story from picture book duo Jake Hope, a reading development and children’s book consultant, and Genevieve Aspinall, a recent graduate from UCLan, Preston, with a first class honours degree in illustration. It’s time for a P-A-R-T-Y and you’re invited! Join the fun with photos, presents, party foods and some special surprise guests… because if there’s one word that is guaranteed to bring out the mischievous mice from their hiding hole, it’s the word cheese! With its sparse use of text, clever play on words and spellings, Aspinall’s richly detailed and colourful illustrations, and Hope’s fun storyline full of cheesy humour and energy, this is the perfect book for less confident young readers.

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)