Keeping calm, messages of love, and a secret book by various authors - book reviews -

Take a helping hand to get youngsters through the coronavirus crisis, enjoy an all-action medieval romp, savour a slice of fairy tale fantasy, and meet a green-fingered girl called Pea in a bright and colourful selection of new books for children.

Wednesday, 15th April 2020, 11:41 am
Updated Wednesday, 15th April 2020, 11:41 am
Attack of the Heebie Jeebies

Take a helping hand to get youngsters through the coronavirus crisis, enjoy an all-action medieval romp, savour a slice of fairy tale fantasy, and meet a green-fingered girl called Pea in a bright and colourful selection of new books for children.

Age 7 plus:

Dream Team: Attack of the Heebie Jeebies

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Tom Percival

Meet the Dream Team… and turn nightmares into incredible adventures!

Children can suffer from anxiety in the best of times but in the coronavirus crisis, stress levels have the potential to soar.

So perfect timing for author and illustrator Tom Percival’s new Dream Team adventure series which offers a fun and engaging way to reassure youngsters and help them cope with their anxieties.

Brimming with action, adventures, subtle lessons offering advice and information, plus Percival’s high-octane, two-tone illustrations, this series is the perfect way to explore anxiety and behavioural issues, and to learn how to conquer them through rip-roaring adventure stories.

Erika has had a bad day but going to sleep when she is upset means bad dreams. She finds herself stranded in the Dreamscape along with a mob of hungry Heebie Jeebies… and to make matters worse, she is being hunted by a terrifying Angermare! Enter the Dream Team. Can they help Erika overcome her worries and get home, or will she be trapped forever?

Ideal for sharing at home to help children through periods of anxiety, or for reading in schools as guidance with behavioural problems and anger management, this exciting new series could turn youthful nightmares into the sweetest dreams.

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

Age 3 plus:

The Longest, Strongest Thread

Inbal Leitner

As the nation’s lockdown continues, here’s a gentle and reassuring picture book for children who have been separated from their much-loved grandparents and other family members.

The Longest, Strongest Thread comes from talented author and illustrator Inbal Leitner and is based on the real-life experiences of her grandmother who had to leave behind her parents in Nazi Germany.

Leitner’s message of love despite separation is comforting for all those grandchildren and grandparents who are now in self-isolation or social distancing because of the coronavirus. The tale of a child who is moving with her parents to a faraway country helps soothe anxiety caused by lockdown and school closure, and shows how it is still possible to communicate with each other.

A little girl is moving with her parents to a new, colder country where the lake freezes in winter. She loves visiting her Grandma’s sewing studio and watching her make things, helping her choose fabrics and finding the right thread. Now she is worried about leaving her behind.

Grandma is also worried about her granddaughter and is making her a warm coat to envelop her like a big hug. Fortunately, Grandma and her little granddaughter have the longest, strongest thread in the world to keep them bound together.

Leitner’s simple, emotive and lyrical story about moving away from home is a loving celebration of a child’s special relationship with their grandparent even in the toughest times, while delicate, uncluttered artwork, full of clever imagery and in glowing shades of yellow and green, adds warmth to the minimal but beautifully expressive illustrations.

Free resources for this enchanting book are available on the Scallywag Press website at:

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Book of Secrets

Philip Caveney

A missing book that could change the world, an orphan boy on a mission, and a feisty girl with designs on acting fame are the shining stars of a madcap medieval adventure that puts fun into history!

Philip Caveney, whose first novel for younger readers, Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools, was published around the world in 2007, returns to make youngsters laugh and gasp with a rollicking, all-action romp featuring a cast of charismatic characters.

Orphaned stable lad Boy – not the now almost forgotten name he was given at birth by his long-lost parents – is riding across the desert on a ‘borrowed’ horse after fleeing a cruel master in his home town of Serafin.

His destination is the famous Moon of Elnis festival at Ravalan and he carries with him the Book of Secrets, which contains his late father’s brilliant inventions, one of which could change the world forever. But Boy falls in with some scheming brigands who rob him and leave him for dead in the harsh desert sands.

Then along comes Lexi with her group of eccentric travelling players… and it just so happens they are looking for a new leading man. Can he help them out by starring in their latest show, and can they help him out by tracking down the all-important Book of Secrets?

As danger lurks around every corner, Boy will need to keep his wits about him…

Brimming with action, mystery, laughs galore and the delightful Lexi’s quirky band of travelling players, The Book of Secrets is a standalone thrill for all young adventurers!

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Cut-Throat Cafe

Nicki Thornton

Take an Agatha Christie conundrum, a slice of fairy tale fantasy, and a big helping of Harry Potter-style magic and you have the third enthralling book in Nicki Thornton’s sparkling Seth Seppi series.

Thornton, a former independent bookseller and winner of the 2016 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition, delivers another stunning sleuthing adventure in her deliciously atmospheric and wickedly funny series which blends a classic whodunit with her own special brand of comedy and magical mystery.

Following on from The Last Chance Hotel and The Bad Luck Lighthouse, we are plunged back into a wild and wonderfully imaginative world of sinister sorcerers, dark magic, and cunning clues as former kitchen boy turned apprentice magician Seth sets out to solve another murder mystery.

Seth and his talking cat Nightshade arrive in the mysterious town of Gramichee – one of the few towns where a cluster of magic folk live – to gain an apprenticeship. He is finally ready to qualify as a magician, and maybe one day, a sorcerer. But he soon discovers that the existing apprentices are under attack at the town’s Scrumdiddlyumptious Cafe which is far more deadly than it is delightful. Seth – whose attempts to get a spell under control seem to go spectacularly wrong every single time – has got his hands full, as usual. Can he pass his exams, discover who is murdering the apprentices, and stop them before they strike again?

Thornton excels at building a rich and exciting world full of bizarre and extraordinary characters, but with the authentic atmosphere of a timeless and classic mystery tale, and a trail of intriguing clues that will keep young readers guessing right through to the last pages.

With its tantalising tangle of magic, mayhem, murder and mystery, this is a tasty dish for young readers who like to indulge in their own detective work, and a thrilling read for daring adventurers unafraid to step inside an amazing world of danger and deception.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Milton the Megastar

Emma Read

When you are a teeny, tiny spider, superstardom can seem like a very BIG deal…

But fame has its price as Milton (a truly harmless and completely unscreamworthy false widow spider) discovers in the fabulously funny second book of a laugh-out-loud and entertaining series from former biologist Emma Read.

Read, who is on a mission to turn spider worriers into spider warriors, has even won the hearts of young arachnophobes with her itsy bitsy superhero Milton who is on the web, always ready to swing into action, and has the heart of a lion!

And in this super hilarious sequel to Milton the Mighty, our eight-legged legend goes international despite his claims that superstardom is stressing him out. The events, the glamour, the adoring fans are getting too much for our exhausted hero but, secretly, his owner Zoe, and BFFs, big hairy Ralph and spindly daddy-long-legs Audrey, think he’s turned into... well, a bit of a diva.

So when Dad and Greta plan a trip to Hawaii, Zoe knows she has to take her best spider pals along for the ride… they all need a break. But with a live volcano, an endangered spider species, an unscrupulous entrepreneur and Milton’s ego to contend with, this is hardly a holiday!

Read does another fine job of debunking some of the myths around creepy crawlies as we discover fascinating science and conservation facts, and meet some amazing new spider characters like the Hawaiian happy-face spider and the more familiar money spider.

Milton’s frantic antics – the perfect antidote to arachnophobia – are brought to life by the comical illustrations of Alex G. Griffiths and Lisa Reed, and there are wise lessons about the sometimes harmful cult of celebrity, and the importance of being yourself.

Who knew spiders could be such a scream!

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3:

Number 7 Evergreen Street

Julia Patton

A little girl called Pea certainly isn’t green when it comes to saving her precious home!

Enjoy a delicious picture book treat from much-loved author and illustrator Julia Patton as she introduces us to a horticultural heroine who comes up with a green-fingered solution to stop the demolition of her much-loved tower block home.

Penelope Petersham (better known as Pea because she is tiny and loves wearing green) lives in a flat at Number 7 Evergreen Street. It’s a grey building in a grey street, in a grey city. Inside the building, however, it’s not grey at all. Pea and her parents have lots of amazing, colourful neighbours. But there are ‘big plans’ for Evergreen Street and one day, an army of construction workers turn up and start putting up brand new buildings. When it looks like Number 7 Evergreen Street is going to be demolished, Pea has to think quickly to save her home.

Patton’s big, beautiful picture book is overflowing with her colourful and intricately detailed illustrations which bring to vibrant life a very special story celebrating the rich rewards of a diverse community, and the value of the natural world even in the seemingly most monochrome of landscapes.

From the smallest plans grow the biggest schemes!

(Templar Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Mabel: A Mermaid Fable

Rowboat Watkins

Wry humour and warm messages about how special we all are – with or without a moustache! – combine to create a delightful picture book from the talented Rowboat Watkins.

Watkins, the award-winning author of Rude Cakes and Most Marshmallows, makes everyone laugh out loud in an inspirational and warm-hearted tale about two quirky pals discovering that being true to yourself is what really matters.

Unlike the rest of her family, Mabel the mermaid doesn’t have a moustache, and Lucky, with his seven legs, isn’t like the other octopuses… but when they find each other, they discover that true friendship isn’t about how you look, and that sometimes what we are searching for is right under our noses.

Watkins’ stylish, distinctive artwork is the perfect match for an uplifting story about friendship, self-acceptance, individuality… and the rare and exotic treasures that can be found beneath our oceans.

Ideal for reading aloud, and with warm messages for the very youngest children, this is a fun-filled treat for all the family to enjoy!

(Chronicle Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

ABC of Kindness

Patricia Hegarty and Summer Macon

It’s never too early to learn about the importance of being kind…

Learning the alphabet while learning about compassion is as easy as A-B-C with this beautiful, illustrated board book full of cute animal characters and a gentle, rhyming text.

A is for all of us – be everyone's friend, B is for believing – things will turn out well in the end, C is for being caring in everything you do, D is for dear ones – who mean the world to you!

The ABC of Kindness is a delightful alphabetical journey through the many ways we can be kinder to ourselves and others, be they friends, family or strangers. Add on Summer Macon’s pastel palette of adorable illustrations and you have the perfect teaching tool for home or nursery.

(Caterpillar Books, board book, £6.99)