Mapmaking magic, a famous friendship and a werewolf teacher by various authors – book reviews –
Age 8 plus:
Which Way to Anywhere
For twenty-five years, former Waterstones Children’s Laureate and bestselling author of the How to Train Your Dragon series, Cressida Cowell, has had a story lying quietly in her shed and waiting patiently for its time to shine.
And now it has burst on to our bookshelves in a shower of out-of-this-world magic, marvellous mapmaking, a gallery of Cowell’s amazing, atmospheric artwork, and much-deserved critical acclaim. Featuring a charismatic family with a magical secret and a child with a powerful gift, Which Way to Anywhere is the first book of a fantastic new series and a thrill ride through breathtaking worlds with hundreds of moons, dense jungles, robot assassins, daring, danger and spine-tingling adventures.
K2 O’Hero is a seemingly ordinary boy... after all, he and his twin sister Izzabird have been sworn to keep their family’s magical history a secret. Not even their infuriating stepsiblings, Theo and Mabel, know that magic exists. They believe K2 to be the most hopeless person they have ever known, but K2 has a secret gift... he draws maps of worlds that are beyond the wildest of imaginations. Worlds with six hundred moons, burning rivers and dark, twisty jungles alive with plants that hunt by the smell of fear. But what K2 doesn’t know is that the maps he draws are real. When their baby sister Annipeck is kidnapped, the warring stepsiblings will have to use K2’s gift to find a crossing point into one of those worlds and embark on a daring rescue mission. With a terrible beast and a petrifying robot assassin in their way, they must learn to work together quickly... because the future of their family is at stake.
Youngsters will be holding their breath as they join the assorted siblings on this first outing for K2 and his family in a story in which fantasy has no bounds. Cowell’s gift for mesmerising world-building and her creation of characters you can see and hear is central to this action-packed story which comes with timely eco messages, her trademark humour, and rich imaginative powers.
All maps lead to fun and adventure in this magical masterpiece!
(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)
Age 8 plus:
Kew: Darwin and Hooker
Alexandra Stewart and Joe Todd-Stanton
When Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking book, On the Origin of Species, was first published in 1859, it sent shockwaves around the world and became an instant bestseller.
Transforming our understanding of life on Earth, Darwin’s theory of how nature had created and shaped every single species cemented him as one of the greatest biologists of all time and turned him into a household name.
However, Darwin couldn’t have done it without the support, encouragement and advice from those who believed in him, and none more so than Joseph Hooker, his friend, confidant and fellow collector, who supported and helped Darwin when he didn’t dare ask anyone else.
And their inspirational and heartwarming story of friendship, curiosity, and a discovery that changed the world, is celebrated in this fascinating and revealing book written by journalist and speechwriter Alexandra Stewart, lavishly illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton and published by Bloomsbury in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
And Hooker, we learn, had his own adventures and made his own discoveries, many of which not only aided Darwin, but went on to change what the world knew about plants. As head of Kew, he came to be one the world’s most influential botanists.
Across many years, countless adventures and numerous letters, this captivating and wonderfully illustrated book tells the story of one of greatest friendships in the history of science and shows children how teamwork, curiosity, openness and trust can be the greatest tools a scientist will ever need.
Reading their remarkable story might make you a world-changer too!
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)
Age 3 plus:
Convertible Ice Cream Shop: Sit In Ice Cream Shop, Interactive Playmat & Fun Storybook
Rosie Neave and Sophia Touliatou
Is it a story book, is it an activity centre, or is it an ice cream shop?
This ingenious, flat-pack invention from Miles Kelly, an independent publisher noted for its inspiring and interactive books, is all three… a convertible story book full of spotting and counting activities that easily unfolds into an interactive playmat and a pop-up shop to let youngsters make their own role play.
The Ice Cream Shop is the latest in Miles Kelly’s much-loved Convertibles range and is an exciting new addition to their successful sit-in vehicles which let little ones put their imaginations into gear and pretend to be the driver.
Ideal for children aged over three to play shops with their friends or on their own, and packed with the bright and colourful illustrations of Sophia Touliatou, this fun-filled ice cream parlour is made out of six sturdy card panels and is easy to put up, fold down and play with wherever you want.
As well as simple question-based activities based on a key vocabulary of colours, numbers and counting, the outside of the shop shows brightly coloured ice cream tubs and ice cream cones in stands, ready for the slot-together ice cream scoops to be added on top.
The inside is set up like a real shop, with tubs of ice cream to serve, bowls of toppings including fruit and sprinkles, and even a till point to complete the sale. Simply use the 15 slot-together ice cream pieces to build all sorts of creations, using ice cream scoops of every flavour, cones, ice lollies and even a cherry for the top.
A clever and entertaining tool to encourage learning through play, children can practise social interaction, problem-solving, motor skills, imagination, creative ideas and confidence as they talk about ice creams, ask questions, and put ice creams together.
Written by Rosie Neave, an experienced editor and author for young children's books, the Convertible Ice Cream Shop is ideal for toddlers and pre-schoolers, offering offer hours of fun, learning and imaginative play… and handy for parents and carers who can simply fold it away at the end of the day.
The perfect gift for all little shopkeepers!
(Miles Kelly Publishing, board book, £12.99)
Age 3 plus:
Billy Brute Whose Teacher Was a Werewolf
Issy Emeney and Chris Mould
Any classroom bad boy out there will never be quite the same when they get their naughty paws on this brilliantly funny and anarchic picture book from full-time folk musician and songwriter, and now exciting debut picture book author, Issy Emeney.
In perfect tandem with the gorgeously gallery of gothic illustrations from the talented Chris Mould, Emeney sets free her imagination and wicked sense of humour on a rhyming romp that delivers a decidedly devilish back-to-school message.
After Billy Brute burns down his old school – and gets away with it – his parents have to find him a new one. St Lemons say they will take him, but little does Billy know that St Lemons have a secret weapon! Enter Miss Wanda. ‘Her glasses are spectacular. Her dress so prim and neat. But what big eyes, and what big ears… And what big hairy feet!’ Perhaps Billy won’t get away with EVERYTHING after all.
With a dark and delicious sting in the tail that will leave youngsters, good and bad, gulping and gaping, Emeney and Mould cannot fail to win hearts (and giggles galore!) as they have lashings of verbal and visual tasty fun with this comical cautionary tale.
And the good news is that this all-round laugh-out-loud winner is just the first of a Twisted Tales for Devilish Darlings series. The perfect picture book equivalent of Roald Dahl’s twisted tales!
(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)
Age 7 plus:
Charlotte’s Web: 70th Anniversary Edition
E.B. White and Garth Williams
The rare, beautiful and unlikely friendship between a pig, a spider and a little girl springs to glorious life in a stunning new hardback edition to celebrate the late US author E.B. White’s classic book Charlotte’s Web.
Written with moving tenderness, and in the most perfect prose, and memorably illustrated throughout by Garth Williams, one of America’s best-loved illustrators who died in 1996, this superb, gift edition book is new to Puffin’s Clothbound Classic series which comes with an eye-catching foiled, clothbound cover and a ribbon marker.
When Fern Arable pleads for the life of the runt of a litter of piglets, her father gives her the pig to nurture and she treats him as her pet and names him Wilbur. But soon, Wilbur is no longer small and is sold to Fern’s uncle, and he realises his life is in even more danger. Snubbed by the other animals, Wilbur is befriended by Charlotte A. Cavatica, a beautiful large grey spider whose web overlooks Wilbur’s pen. As the summer passes, Charlotte is determined to keep Wilbur from the chopping block and comes up with an ingenious way to do just that.
Still counted as one of the most famous and captivating stories, Charlotte's Web is a poignant, funny and heartwarming tale about the joys of friendship and the uncertainties of life, and a gentle introduction to questions about mortality.
Ideal for reading aloud... and the perfect gift for book lovers of any age.
(Puffin Classics, hardback, £12.99)
Age 9 plus:
Curse Breaker: Choose your own story
Simon Tudhope and Tom Knight
Choices, choices… do you dare to enter a strange and magical world and choose your own danger-packed adventure?
Author Simon Tudhope grew up with the fantasy gamebooks of the 1980s and his memories of the dark, enthralling gameworlds, and the chance to set off on an adventure not knowing what dangers lie ahead, inspired him to write his own… and the result is this fabulous Shadow Chaser series.
Curse Breaker is the second classic ‘choose your own story’ book in the series and is packed with exciting challenges, choices and decisions which will delight thrill-seeking youngsters who want to put their own skills and imagination into play.
Fabulously illustrated by Tom Knight, this atmospheric and engrossing gamebook plunges you into a story with a difference… one where the hero is YOU and you can learn to master the exciting combat system by rolling a dice and testing your puzzle solving skills.
As you stare out at the stars from your prison cell window, you’re not feeling very heroic. You, a city guard, have been thrown in jail because someone whispered a word in your ear. Just a single word... Then your cell door creaks open, and you’re let loose on an epic adventure where every choice is yours, and your survival depends upon the decisions you make. Who to fight? Who to trust? In a world that’s unravelling before your eyes, the mystery goes deeper than you could possibly have dreamt.
Full of puzzles to solve and choices to make, each one leading to different adventures and endings, Curse Breaker brings together a thrilling story, beautifully illustrated and richly detailed picture puzzles, and a fascinating dice-based combat system.
A full-on adventure full of chases, challenges and choices that is guaranteed to keep youngsters gripped from beginning to end!
(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)
Age 12 plus:
Steep yourself in the atmospherics and breathtaking beauty of Stone, the second novel from Finbar Hawkins whose outstanding debut novel, Witch, was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award and nominated for the 2022 Carnegie medal. A story of fathers and sons, and a boy gripped by the spell of myth and old magic to soothe his grief, this superbly written story is guaranteed to pluck at your heart strings. When Sam, who is grieving the death of his father, finds a silver-flecked stone, ice-cold to the touch, strange and eerie things begin to happen. Myth, legend, magic and witchcraft mingle on the ancient hillside where the chalk white horse has galloped for centuries. Ravens wheel, wolves prowl and, as Halloween draws close, witches dance and Odin gathers brave, fallen warriors to his side. Only the mysterious new girl, Oona, can heal Sam’s heart, revealing tarot secrets with her bewitching ways. Using the rich landscape of his Wiltshire home, and Norse mythology as his inspiration, Hawkins explores the anguish of a boy whose soldier father has died on service in Afghanistan, and the unexpected bonds, new and old, forged by dark and benign magic. With Hawkins’ delicate artwork enhancing the pages, this is a moving story with a powerful message.
(Zephyr, hardback, £14.99)
Age 9 plus:
Rules for Vampires: Ghosts Bite Back
Alex Foulkes and Sara Ogilvie
Straighten your cape and sharpen your claws because the ghosts are biting back! If Lemony Snickett and Skulduggery Pleasant tickle your spook buds then dive into the second wickedly dark and funny tale in Alex Foulkes’s debut series which comes packed with the atmospheric illustrations of the award-winning Sara Ogilvie. Stars of these gorgeously gothic adventures are the hilarious Leo, a vampire girl who finds that being a vampire is harder than it looks (particularly when you have protect the balance between the worlds of the Living and the Undead) and her unlikely friend Minna the ghost. Despite these two factions having despised one another for all eternity, Leo and Minna are battling together side-by-side as sisters-in-arms and best friends. And they will have to team up again to vanquish a new and deadly threat. Summoned to the Ghostly Realm for the murder of the Orphanmaster, Leo must complete three tasks to prove herself worthy of her unlife, each more treacherous than the last. Can Leo convince the Ghostly Realm of her innocence and earn her freedom, or will she be trapped there forever? Spectacularly spooky, hauntingly humorous and ferociously frantic, this is an underworld romp no ghoul fan should miss!
(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)
Age 9 plus:
The Day My Family Disappeared
Jo Simmons and Lee Cosgrove
Meet Bob Bunyon... and prepare to laugh out loud! There is fun on every page of children’s author Jo Simmons’ The Day My Family Disappeared, a madcap adventure full of hilarious misadventures, and billed as Home Alone meets Adrian Mole. Illustrated by picture wizard Lee Cosgrove, and published by Barrington Stoke in their trademark dyslexia-friendly format, youngsters will be giggling all the way to the last page. Bob is fed up. In a family full of artists and performers, he’s the one with no talent, the one bypassed by the creativity gene – and his four siblings just won’t let him forget it. Finally sick of being taunted for being so ‘normal,’ Bob wishes that his family would all just disappear, but he doesn’t really expect his wish to come true. When he wakes the next day to find everyone gone, Bob’s initial delight quickly turns to worry. Does he have supernatural powers? Is he the only survivor of a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion? Gathering all his courage, and employing survival skills learned from TV endurance shows, Bob sets out to find his missing family. Despite Bob’s misdirected wishes, family really does come first in this riotous romp of search as survival as Bob faces down all-comers in his bid to solve the mystery. Perfectly pitched for reluctant readers!
(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)
Age 9 plus:
Meet Clementine... she’s a mouse, she’s a genius and she’s on the run! Lab mouse meets cruel (and not so cruel) world in this offbeat tale with a resonant message in its tail from US author and animal lover Carlie Sorosiak. Billed as Letters from a Runaway Mouse, this funny, wise and heartwarming story about a tiny mouse – truly a one-of-a-kind hero – carries big messages about animal testing. ‘I am an optimist. A very difficult thing to be, sometimes, at three inches tall.’ Clementine is a genius. She can calculate pi to 69,689 places, remembers the exact moment she was born, and dreams in Latin. She's also a mouse. And when she escapes from the lab which has bred her, Clementine discovers that it’s not enough to be the smartest mouse in history if she wants to survive in the real world... especially while the scientists who kept her are trying to recover their prize specimen. So, together with her new human friends, Clementine must find a way to earn her freedom... for good. Beautifully written, and with a heartfelt poignancy that brings added sparkle to Clementine’s adventures, this is a story to inspire, move and fill you with wonder.
(Nosy Crow, paperback, £7.99)
Age 8 plus:
Gross FACTopia! Follow the Trail of 400 Foul Facts
Paige Towler and Andy Smith
Did you know that sloths poo only once a week, or that poo from crocodiles was sometimes used as make-up in ancient Rome? Gross FACTopia! – a weird wonderland of fantastically foul and perfectly disgusting facts – comes from the fearless boffins at Britannica Books and is the fabulous follow-up to hit books FACTopia! and Return to FACTopia! So hold your nose and prepare to be grossed out as you choose your own path, and tread very, very carefully, through this dazzling maze of mucky, yucky facts. Learn how apes and monkeys sweat from their armpits just like humans do, discover why those ancient Romans sometimes purchased vials of gladiator sweat, laugh at the hippopotamus which spins its tail while it poos, marvel at a farm powered almost entirely by pig and cow poo, and don’t sniff at the revelation that a T.rex could sneeze out enough snot to fill a small fish tank. Every fact in this brilliant book is linked to the next in an ingenious trail of information in which you slither from topic to topic in surprising and stomach-churning ways. Sometimes your path branches, and you can catapult forwards or creep backwards 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 Paige Towler, an author and former 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 your curiosity (and your nose) through this ridiculously revolting mountain of facts!
(Britannica Books, hardback, £10.99)
Age 7 plus:
No Place for Monsters
When children go missing from a small, suburban town, nobody notices because nobody even remembers them! As Halloween draws near, revel in the spooky vibes of No Place for Monsters, a super fun and spine-tingling graphic novel from US author and illustrator Kory Merritt. Packed with fantastic illustrations, Merritt’s addictive story stars two unlikely friends facing down their worst fears in order to stop their small town – and themselves – from disappearing. Levi and Kat are about to discover a very dark side to their neighbourhood. Nothing ever seems out of place in the safe, suburban town of Cowslip Grove. Lawns are neatly mowed, pavements are tidy, and the sounds of ice cream trucks fill the air. But now, kids are going missing... and no one even realises it because no one remembers them. Not their friends, not their teachers, not even their families. But Levi and Kat do remember, and suddenly only they can see why everyone is in terrible danger when the night air rolls in. Now it’s up to Levi and Kat to fight the hidden evil and save the missing children before it swallows the town whole. Merritt lets his vivid imagination run wild – both verbally and visually – in this page-turning creep fest which comes with some welcome sparks of humour and a friendship that defies all the odds. Mystery, malign forces and bad dreams... this is a middle-grade adventure to savour!
(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)
Age 7 plus:
Weather, Camera, Action! : A Meteorologist's Guide to the Sky
Liam Dutton and Giordano Poloni
Grab your coat, sunglasses, umbrella and snow boots for an action-packed adventure through every kind of weather! Channel 4 News weather presenter, author and meteorologist Liam Dutton has had nearly two decades of experience in explaining the weather and proves the perfect guide through some of the planet’s wildest weather in this big, colourful and fascinating book. Lavishly illustrated throughout by Giordano Poloni, an award-winning freelance illustrator based in Milan and known for his cinematic vistas, Weather, Camera, Action! is globetrotting heaven for all young weather watchers. Discover whirling planetary jet streams, catastrophic hurricanes, torrential monsoons, blinding dust storms, volcanic lightning and other amazing phenomena all through the lens of Dutton’s knowledge and experience. From super-rare iridescent clouds to rainbows created by the smallest raindrops, this adventure through the atmosphere shows off the splendour of our skies in their most fierce and dramatic states and uncovers the science behind weather events. With important reminders about the impact of climate change and extreme weather, this fact-filled book proves that what’s going on around us has never been more important to understand. Sky high lessons for budding meteorologists!
(Templar Publishing, hardback, £16.99)
Age 7 plus:
Sherlock Bones and the Curse of the Pharaoh’s Mask
Tim Collins and John Bigwood
It might all be elementary for super-sleuth Sherlock Bones but he is still going to need some help to crack his latest mind-bending case! Put on your thinking caps and sharpen your pencils for the second book in a fantastically fun interactive fiction series starring two crime-fighting (animal!) heroes. This thrilling Sherlock Bones adventure series is the work of award-winning children’s author Tim Collins and illustrator and graphic designer John Bigwood. Each one comes loaded with puzzle games, including logic conundrums, number puzzles, search-and-find challenges, spot-the-difference and shadow matching, all cleverly woven into the action so that readers feel part of the exciting detective plot starring Sherlock Bones and his trusty sidekick Dr Catson. In this second sleuthing case, featuring Bigwood’s brilliant artwork, the dynamic duo are on holiday and visiting the tombs of the ancient feline kings in Egypt when they discover that a precious mask has been stolen. They have to interview tourists from around the world – including a cowardly lion, a spoiled hippo and two secretive pandas – to discover who is guilty. But the mystery is not as straightforward as it first seems. It will take the pair on a thrilling adventure deep inside the Egyptian tombs and require all of Bones and Catson’s skills to solve the crime and catch the thief. Hours of fun for budding young sleuths!
(Buster Books, paperback, £6.99)
Age 5 plus:
Where in the World Are You?
Marie G. Rohde
Forget the yellow brick road and follow the little black cat! Discover your place in the world in an ingenious new title from those clever book creators at What on Earth Publishing as we travel the world from our own cosy homes all the way to the infinite universe. Where in the World Are You?, written and colourfully illustrated by Swedish-born Marie G. Rohde, was inspired by the strict Covid-19 lockdown when many were trapped inside and prohibited from connection with the outside world, and also her own young son’s contribution to a group storytelling activity. So where are you in the world, and can you imagine what your home would look like if you saw it from above and zoomed out further, and further, and further? Children will love joining the mischievous pet cat on a journey of discovery that encourages them to think about their place in the world. With a simple, charming and beautiful story that moves from cat’s blue rug at home, beyond its front door and on to the house, a street, the park and a crowded city, and then onward to a big country, a vast continent, planet Earth, the sun and the universe, this entertaining picture book reminds us that even when we are apart, we are all connected. The world keeps turning, a cat keeps purring and children will find their happy place in the world. Inspiring and inclusive, warm and wonderful, Where in the World Are You? opens up a big, wide world in which everyone can find their place!
(What on Earth Books, hardback, £11.99)
Age 3 plus:
Nibbles: The Bedtime Book
He’s back and he’s chomping his way through other people’s stories! Nibbles, the adorable yellow monster who has stolen hearts both young and old with his munching madness, is on the run at bedtime in a feast of flaps, mishaps and fairy tale fun. Multi-talented author and illustrator Emma Yarlett touches the funny bone of readers aged from nought to ninety as she rolls out her irresistible, bestselling brand of clever, conceptual art and design work, and magical, laughter-packed storytelling with her mischievous little book monster. Nibbles: The Bedtime Book is the fourth Nibbles adventure and Yarlett delivers the same captivating mix of imaginative storytelling, innovative flaps to lift, and intriguing cut-out holes to peep through as youngsters embark on a journey of fun, mixed-up fairy tales, comedy and crazy capers. It’s bedtime, but where’s Nibbles? Instead of counting sheep, Nibbles is munching through bedtime stories. He’s making a splash in The Ugly Duckling and stealing the spotlight from Cinderella. Come back Nibbles! It’s time all little monsters were tucked up snug in bed. Innovative, cleverly interactive, brimming with the kind of bright, lively illustrations that children love, and with lots of intriguing story-within-a-story flaps to lift and a hilarious mish-mash of familiar tales to enjoy, this is another joyful, exuberant Nibbles adventure that entertains from first page to last.
(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)
Age 3 plus:
Mazy the Movie Star
Isla Fisher and Paula Bowles
From pampered pooch to street dog, Mazy’s lazy, hazy days of movie stardom appear to be a thing of the past. Comic actress and bestselling author Isla Fisher sweeps youngsters away to Hollywoof (a comical canine version of Hollywood populated entirely by dogs!) in a gorgeous picture book pitched perfectly for little ones who love celebrity, adventures... and dogs. Mazy the Movie Star is based on Fisher’s own glamorous pooch and is filled with the adorably characterful illustrations of Paula Bowles. Mazy is a famous film star who has her fur fluffed twice a day. While other dogs chase sticks at the park, Mazy chases her acting dreams. Then one morning Mazy’s agent delivers bad news. Hollywoof has changed, the movie makers only want street dogs now and there are no jobs for Mazy any more. Can Mazy hit the streets and embrace what it is that makes her special... and can she find her perfect role? There’s fun and giggles on every page as Mazy gets down with the street dog gang and discovers that her new friendships have brought her a new and more successful career. With its reassuring vibes about gaining the confidence to be yourself and reaping the rewards, this is a captivating story that educates as well as entertains!
(Welbeck Flame, hardback, £12.99)