Making history, exploding facts and a scary bear by various authors – children’s book reviews –
Making history, exploding facts and a scary bear
By Pam Norfolk
Celebrate thirty glorious years of the brilliant Horrible Histories books, enjoy science lessons in an amazing exploding encyclopedia, get ready for thrills, spills and a scary bear in the adventure of a lifetime, immerse yourself in a classic story written sixty years ago, and discover toilet humour on a roll in a hilarious picture book as a super springtime selection of children’s books arrives in store.
Age 7 plus:
The Worst in the World
Terry Deary and Martin Brown
When it comes to history (horrible history that is), 2023 is a very special year!
You might not believe it but it’s thirty years since the brilliant Horrible Histories books started hitting our shelves and not only changed the way youngsters look at history, but became what has been described as a ‘cultural phenomenon.’
And to celebrate these uniquely funny and irresistibly moreish books – the work of master of making history fun, Terry Deary, and his equally talented cartoonist team-mate Martin Brown – is a brand new book in which Deary awards gold, silver and bronze in truly horrible categories including battles, kings, punishments, sports, foods and more from the Savage Stone Age to the Terrifying Twentieth Century.
These foul facts take in the best worst bits of history with this dynamic author and illustrator duo’s trademark wit and sense of fun. Readers can discover what made the cut for the worst job in history (spoiler alert, it involves a king, a toilet in a stool and some bottom wipes), or the worst ever pirate (must be the one who tied his own noose for his neck).
Fully illustrated throughout and packed with horrible stories, with all the horribly hilarious bits included with a fresh take on the classic Horrible Histories style, this hilarious new book really does dish up history at its absolute worst.
Perfect for fans new and old, and packed with Deary’s priceless wit and Brown’s perfectly pitched illustrations, the past has never been so winningly horrible and so hilariously entertaining!
(Scholastic, paperback, £7.99)
Age 12 plus:
Explodapedia: The Gene: What Makes You, You?
Ben Martynoga and Moose Allain
Science certainly isn’t boring when you take lessons from the fun-filled pages of an amazing exploding encyclopedia!
Explodapedia is a unique non-fiction science series from David Fickling Books which delivers everything you need to know... one book at a time. This exciting, innovative approach takes key scientific subjects and presents them in a way that is hugely entertaining and readable, whilst still providing reliable, serious, in-depth information that will help readers gain a true and lasting understanding of crucial topics.
Packed with accessible and funny cartoon illustrations, and superb double-page spreads which seamlessly integrate facts and art, these touchstone books are the work of Dr Ben Martynoga, a neuroscientist and science writer, and artist and cartoonist Moose Allain.
In Explodapedia: The Gene, this dynamic author and illustrator team bring young readers a definitive guide to what makes you, you! Through engaging words and pictures, the book clearly and accessibly explains the code that all life uses to make more of their species... and how mutations make every single one of us individual and unique! Find out how today’s scientists can ‘edit’ genes... will these breakthroughs harm or help our future?
And Explodapedia: The Cell: The Heart of All Life is the definitive guide to cells. None of the fabulously diverse range of all life on Earth could exist without the astonishing workings of cells. Full of up-to-date science, The Cell confronts the biggest mysteries of the microscopic marvels that sustain the living world. It also asks the question... can cells save our planet next? Don’t miss the fascinating story of life’s building blocks!
These richly detailed and thought-provoking books offer an appealing and fully accessible way to learn about fascinating discoveries as well as inspiring young readers to enjoy a lifelong love of science.
(David Fickling Books, paperback, £7.99 each)
Age 9 plus:
The Boy Who Saved a Bear
If your idea of reading fun runs to thrills, spills, a scary bear and the adventure of a lifetime, then you’re in for a fantastic rollercoaster ride to faraway Sri Lanka.
Nizrana Farook, who was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, but now lives in Hertfordshire, steals our hearts again with another exhilarating and atmospheric odyssey set in the beautiful landscapes of her home country which always find their way into her stories.
Farook’s debut novel, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, was Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month in January 2020 and her second, The Boy Who Met a Whale, was Indie Children’s Book of the Month in January 2021.
And now her fourth book, The Boy Who Saved a Bear, illustrated by David Dean, sweeps us back to a fictional and fantastical Sri Lanka for another adventure steeped in rich detail, wonderful storytelling, and jam-packed with peril, thieves and that fearsome wild bear.
Nuwan works at the library, delivering books but one day, he accidentally takes away the very valuable and stolen Key of Nissanka which has been hidden inside one of the books, and in the process foils the plans of some very dangerous thieves. On the run, he hides in a cave, only to discover in the middle of the night that he is sharing it with a big hairy bear! After some terrifying moments, he and the bear, called Karadi, reach an understanding and they travel on together, evading the bad guys and hoping the key will unlock the answers to the mystery so that they can stop running and return home.
Prepare to be whisked away to the lush landscapes of Sri Lanka in this captivating and empowering story which delivers lots of fast-paced action, an adventure full of heroes and villains, messages about bravery and resilience, and a flight of imagination all the way to a magical land!
(Nosy Crow, paperback, £7.99)
Age 7 plus:
Stig of the Dump: 60th Anniversary Edition
Clive King and Edward Ardizzone
The story of a young boy who falls into a chalk pit and discovers a ragged Stone Age boy called Stig became an instant winner when it was first published sixty years ago.
Stig of the Dump – written by Surrey-born Clive King who died in 2018 aged ninety-four and illustrated by award-winning artist Edward Ardizzone – has become a much-loved children’s classic and this gorgeous anniversary edition is set to delight a new generation of readers.
Packed with the simple, youthful joys of playing in the great outdoors and having fun away from the grown-ups, this fresh outing for a timeless tale of friendship and adventure has a new introduction by award-winning author Phil Earle for whom the book has remained ‘a cultural and personal touchstone.’
Barney spends a lot of time by himself while he is staying with his grandparents on the chalk Downs of southern England. He often goes wandering off alone and one day, as he is exploring by the edge of an old chalk-pit, it gives way. Finding himself in some sort of cave, Barney is astonished to discover a ‘somebody’ living there... somebody with a lot of shaggy hair and two bright black eyes, wearing a rabbit skin, no shoes or socks, and speaking in grunts. Barney names him Stig, and the two quickly become best friends. Of course nobody believes Barney when he tells his family all about Stig but Barney doesn’t care. He and Stig are far too busy having a brilliant series of unforgettable adventures!
The years have not wearied or taken the shine off this warm, affectionate and far-reaching story which is packed with King’s humour, social commentary and wise observations about bravery, acceptance, the power of the imagination and, most importantly, friendship... however unlikely that friendship may be. A true classic!
(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)
Age 7 plus:
Magic Keepers: Spirit Surprise
Linda Chapman and Hoang Giang
Magic needs protecting... who’s up for the job? Join the Magic Keepers, the charismatic young stars of a spellbinding series from Linda Chapman, author of the much-loved Star Friends books. Packed with the power of magic and friendship, these books – full of Hoang Giang’s vibrant black and white illustrations – deliver excitement and adventure at every turn. In the second book of the series, we meet up again with Ava who is settling into her new home, Curio House, a creaky Victorian villa inherited by her mum. And it’s there that Ava has discovered a room filled with unusual objects and a box of ‘magic’ crystals which give her and her friends, Sarah and Lily and Ava’s Tibetan terrier, Pepper, real magic powers. When strange things start happening at home and around town, the friends suspect magic must be at play. Despite it being the middle of autumn, Ava’s mum’s hay fever is acting up, plants are growing wildly out of control, and vines have begun to cover houses, entangling people in their path! Can the girls use their new-found knowledge to uncover what is causing nature to run wild before the whole town is taken over? Newly independent readers will love this beautifully created first chapter book with its alluring mix of magic and mystery, and all the fun of shared adventures and friendship.
(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)
Age 5 plus:
Joseph Coelho and David Barrow
A missing budgie inspires an unlikely friendship between a young boy and his elderly neighbour in a heartwarming book from Joseph Coelho, a playwright, poet, award-winning children’s author and the Waterstones Children’s Laureate for 2022-24. Using a scene from his own childhood – the day he found a grounded budgie on a cold London street as he made his way to school – Coelho brings youngsters a moving tale of intergenerational understanding. Mr Buxton is always having a go at Miles and his friends for climbing the trees outside their tower block. Miles thinks he’s just a grumpy old man but when he finds a lost little budgie, Miles also discovers that he and Mr Buxton have more in common than he could ever have imagined. Illustrated throughout by David Barrow’s beautifully sensitive colour illustrations, Budgie is the latest book in publisher Barrington Stoke’s super-readable Little Gems series which brings together leading authors and illustrators, offers some extra activity fun inside the cover and delivers easy-to-read, first chapter books in a format ideal for little hands. Brimming with imaginative and lyrical writing, and the author’s natural empathy and compassion, Coelho’s charming and resonant story speaks loudly about the healing power of friendship across what can sometimes feel like a generational divide. The perfect package!
(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)
Age 3 plus:
Toilet humour is on a roll in this brand new, high-octane picture book series from Matt Carr, creator of several books for children including Spyder, Rhinocorn Rules and Superbat, which was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2018. Set to wipe the floor with all other superheroes is Captain Looroll whose mission is to save the world, one toilet at a time! Originating from the trunk of the magical everlasting oak tree, Captain Looroll is super strong, endlessly long, and brimming with courage. However, stuck in the deadly dull surroundings of the downstairs toilet, heroic adventures could not be further away. All that changes though when along comes Toilet-troll. There’s a dreadful stink coming from the toilet upstairs. Is it just another Number Two or is it the world’s Number One super-villain? Together with her band of trusty sidekicks, Captain Looroll must use her 3-ply powers to save the world from imminent – and extremely messy – destruction! Epic adventures are always just round the U-bend with this fabulously funny but foul-smelling new series from a master of comedy who is determined to prove that superheroes really come in all shapes and sizes!
(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)
Age 3 plus:
The Princess With The Blazing Bottom
It’s bottoms up again with a wind-blown fairy tale series that delivers fart-tastic fun and explosive action in rhyming spadefuls! The Princess With The Blazing Bottom – which follows on from the hilarious The Dragon with the Blazing Bottom and The Knight With the Blazing Bottom – is the work of former pizza chef and now children’s author and illustrator Beach whose anarchic comedy is winning the hearts and minds of thousands of young mischief-makers. Once again we meet Sir Wayne and Dragon... and this time they’re out to rescue a princess held captive by a Big Bad Beast. But WHO exactly will save her? Will it be Sir Wayne, who can climb every wall – no moat is too deep, no tower too tall? Or will it be Dragon who’s so muscly and lean – he can fly and fart flames, he’s a fighting machine! If ONLY there was a way to get the best of both... Youngsters will be blown away by this new chapter in the lives of the chaotic Sir Wayne and Dragon which comes with lots of fiery adventures, a gallery of bold and colourful illustrations, and an explosive finale starring a princess who really does trump the rest!
(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)
Age 3 plus:
Rain & Shine: A Flip-Flap Book of Weather
Molly Littleboy and Nia Gould
Little ones will be in a flap when they get their hands on this super fun and informative flip-flap book which lets them watch the weather change at the flip of a page! Little hands will love turning the split pages and young eyes will light up as children transform each scene and journey through the world of weather. Written by Molly Littleboy and gorgeously illustrated by Nia Gould, Rain & Shine explores different weather scenes featuring stunning artwork, accessible information and wildlife to spot on the facing page. With bite-sized facts on sun, rain, snow and storms – plus a section on the seasons – each flip-flap page creates an immersive experience as little ones are introduced to the wonderful world of nature. Simply flip, flap, find and discover! And look out for Bees & Beetles: A Flip-Flap Book of Bugs, the next in this clever and informative series.
(Little Tiger Press, board book, £9.99)
Age 3 plus:
Harriet Evans and Linda Tordoff
Uncover the mysteries of the natural world in a super-stylish board book written by Harriet Evans and beautifully illustrated by Linda Tordoff. From rain to rainbow and from waxing to waning, young readers will love looking at all the amazing changes which take place in the natural world. Tactile flaps and Tordoff’s gentle artwork, which presents wildlife in a soothing way, offer a journey of discovery through wildlife’s most miraculous wonders from the life cycle of a frog to the changing of the seasons. With its easy-to-understand yet engaging introduction to the wonderful world of animals, plants and nature, and intriguing flaps on every page to teach little one the amazing processes which take place from the seasons changing to the sun rising and setting, there is so much to enjoy in All Change! The perfect wind-down book for bedtime reading. Also available is A-Z An Alphabet of Animals, and Big and Little: A Book of Animal Opposites.
(Little Tiger Press, board book, £8.99)
Age 3 plus:
The Eyebrows of Doom
Steve Smallman and Miguel Ordóñez
Raise an eyebrow and get ready to giggle because comic genius Steve Smallman is back with a riotous rhyming romp! The Eyebrows of Doom will have youngsters laughing all the way from first page to last as Smallman has fun with his wizard wordplay and award-winning illustrator Miguel Ordóñez puts a pair of renegade eyebrows at centre stage of his gallery of zany illustrations. ‘In some woods in a cave, a big bear called Dave Was sweeping his floor with a broom, When two clumps of hair leapt into the air and cried ‘We are the Eyebrows of Doom!’ The Eyebrows of Doom are trying to take over the world. Join Dave and his friends as they try to stop them leaping from one unsuspecting animal to the next. And just when it looks as though the eyebrows’ antics have been thwarted… all is not as it seems! Smallman bewitches and bedazzles us once again with his crazy capers and Ordóñez’s fabulous palette of colours bring extra zest and zip to the kind of hilarious, eyebrow-raising adventures that will have little ones begging for more!
(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)
Age 2 plus:
Lou Peacock and Ingela P Arrhenius
What could be better than a slice of cake... and a big helping of kindness? Spring into spring with this adorable picture book debut from Stockholm-based Ingela P Arrhenius, the gifted artist behind the best-selling Felt Flaps series. Marvellous Margot, a delightfully simple but resonant tale written by editor and anthologist Lou Peacock, comes packed with empathy, love and Arrhenius’ gorgeous ice-cream coloured pictures. Margot is cheerful, helpful and kind... the very best kind of friend! And today it's a marvellous day in the big city. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and Margot is busy, busy, busy. She has made a delicious cake for her best friend, Oscar. Margot takes her little red wagon and off she goes with the special cake in tow. But by the time she reaches Oscar’s house, after having helped all her friends along the way with a slice of Oscar’s tasty treat, will there be ANY cake left to share? Filled with Arrhenius’ signature richly detailed and bustling city scenes, retro characters, and eye-catching pastel palette, Marvellous Margot is both a thing of beauty and proof that kindness and cake is always the best recipe for friendship!
(Nosy Crow, hardback, £12.99)
Age 2 plus:
I Heard a Bird
Listening to a robin singing sets in motion a young girl’s journey of music, mindfulness and meditation in the fourth and final book of the breathtaking In The Garden series from Scallywag Press. The wonders of the natural world and the joys of growing your own food and plants have taken centre stage in these enchanting picture books from author and illustrator Rob Ramsden who is on a mission to encourage a new generation of green-fingered youngsters. Ramsden’s deceptively simple but appealing stories let young children enjoy and appreciate nature through words and pictures. In I Heard a Bird, a little girl hears a bird which is frightened away by some cats fighting. As she searches for her bird, she encounters many other intriguing animals and insects... woodlice wandering, caterpillars crawling, centipedes strolling and ants patrolling. And then, after sitting down to listen to and enjoy the sounds of nature all around, the girl’s bird suddenly comes back! Full of rhyme, rhythm and the fun of repetition, Ramsden’s charming text is a pleasure to read aloud and helps to convey the magic of nature, the virtues of patience, and the rewards of keeping your senses alert. Add on the minimalist and mesmerising illustrations, and you have the perfect mindful book for home, school and nursery.
(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)
Age one plus:
Squishy McFluff’s Camping Adventure!
Pip Jones and Ella Okstad
Squishy McFluff the invisible cat takes star billing on a camping trip in the second picture book of Pip Jones and Ella Okstad’s purrfectly created series starring Ava and her invisible cat. These romping, rhyming and highly imaginative stories – filled with Norwegian illustrator Okstad’s quirky, characterful illustrations – are fast, funny and have a special appeal for any child who has their own imaginary friend. Ava is off on her first camping holiday and of course Squishy will come too. But when Ava repacks Dad’s bags with FUN camping accessories like her teddy, she forgets to include... the tent! Luckily Idris and his puppy Farida are staying at the same campsite and they are expert camp builders. But when Idris explains that his puppy is the best and he says he can’t see Squishy, Ava decides to introduce him to a giant invisible... BEAR?! Jones’ impish humour and jaunty rhyme captures the zest of youth, and perfectly reflects those competitive conversations that we all know so well. With a happy ending, and a new friendship gained, this madcap adventure is sure to win hearts and inspire a love of camping holidays!
(Faber & Faber, paperback, £7.99)
Age one plus:
Miss Dotty’s Potty School
Tracey Corderoy and Ali Pye
Say goodbye to nappies and learn to love your potty with a delightfully heartwarming and comic new picture book from the top team of award-winning author Tracey Corderoy and illustrator Ali Pye. This fun-filled, comforting and gently informative story celebrates all things toilet training, from the many accidents to the great successes. It’s potty training time... and Miss Dotty is here to show you how! Every day in Miss Dotty’s Potty School is tons of fun, and everyone’s a potty superstar. With simple steps that toddlers can read along to, and a cast of adorable little animal characters, Miss Dotty’s Potty School celebrates toilet training time and reassures toddlers that it’s okay if accidents happen. Filled with humour, common sense, reassurance and cute illustrations, this entertaining and invaluable potty picture book will help children to feel comfortable and excited about their own toilet training journey. So three cheers for potties... hip, hip hooray!
(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)
Age one plus:
Isabel Otter and Sophie Ledesma
Join Gigi the giraffe and her students as they explore the colour gallery in this joyful and interactive first art book. From a red hall of mosaics to a cafe full of purple abstract art, this brilliant book introduces little ones to two learning topics... art and colour. Lively illustrations from Sophie Ledesma and an engaging story from Isabel Otter take youngsters on a journey of colours, art and learning. With gatefolds, peek-through holes and shaped pages, Colour Gallery is perfect for little hands as they explore the mesmerising world of art, from sculptures and portraits to landscapes and still life, and have fun spotting the little mouse in every scene. Packed with subtle lessons about the key concept of colours in a fun and original way, and with cute animal characters and interactive text encouraging readers to engage in the gallery tour, the book makes children feel like part of the class. The ideal fun and stimulating first art book to share with your toddlers.
(Little Tiger Press, board book, £8.99)