Not-so-dainty dishes, marvellous maps and a lovable otter by various authors – children’s book reviews

Discover some of the weirdest and wackiest food in the world, explore a mapped-out planet as you’ve never before seen it, enjoy a rhyming tale from the riverbank with Oliver the Otter, immerse yourself in a gloriously atmospheric gothic fantasy adventure, and join a web-toed boy on a deep sea mission in a sunshine collection of May children’s books.
Disgustingly Delicious by Soledad Romero Mariño and Montse GalbanyDisgustingly Delicious by Soledad Romero Mariño and Montse Galbany
Disgustingly Delicious by Soledad Romero Mariño and Montse Galbany

Age 7 plus:

Disgustingly Delicious: The surprising, weird and wonderful food of the world

Soledad Romero Mariño and Montse Galbany

Frog shake, fermented birds, wriggling live octopus, fried tarantula... if these gruesome dishes were spotted on a menu, many of us would turn tail and flee!

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But in a fascinating new book exploring some of the world’s most disgusting-sounding delicacies, author Soledad Romero Mariño and illustrator Montse Galbany invite youngsters to get a taste of how history and culture have shaped popular food items from different countries around the world, and why they might not be so gross after all.

So if you think eating broccoli or anchovies sounds unappealing, just wait until you hear what’s on the dinner table in other countries... stewed cow’s intestines, jellied eels, gigantic tuna eyeballs, maggot cheese, poo coffee, blood soup, hairy caterpillars, and, this writer’s favourite, stinky tofu (a cross between rotten rubbish and smelly feet according to experts!)

These might sound more like the ingredients to make witches’ potions, but no, they are, apparently, delicious and exclusive dishes served in countries as diverse as Cambodia, Tanzania, Greenland, Sweden, Japan and Southern Africa.

Whilst every page might not make your mouth water, the aim of Disgustingly Delicious is to question what we consider disgusting and to show the incredible diversity and creativity of the world's cuisine.

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Dish by dish, readers also discover surprising stories and historical facts like the lucrative nature of the hairy caterpillar business in Africa, the very healthy nutrients that can be obtained from using blood as food, and the sheer expense of lashing out on a meal that includes ant larvae in Mexico.

Filled with weird and wonderful food, fun discoveries, and giant helpings of the gross factor, this brilliantly offbeat book will help you keep an open mind – but maybe a closed mouth!

(Orange Mosquito, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus:

Marvellous Maps: Our changing world in 40 amazing maps

Simon Kuestenmacher and Margarida Esteves

Did you know that the Pacific Ocean is so big that you could fit all the countries in the world into it?

Prepare to explore our world as you’ve never before seen it – and enjoy a veritable treasure trove of quirky facts – in a spectacular new book featuring amazing stories of planet Earth.

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Marvellous Maps, written by Australian Simon Kuestenmacher, a rising star in data animation and interpretation, and illustrated by London-based artist Margarida Esteves, contains a wealth of information and fabulous artwork, all laid out in a fun, fascinating and unique map form.

Maps are a powerful, visual way of exploring information but, even so, Kuestenmacher reminds us, each of the maps in the book displays just ‘a small portion of the endlessly complex world we live in.’ From nature to history, and from mythology to technology, these beautifully illustrated maps bring all kinds of information to life.

Find out why you need to travel the world to make a pepperoni pizza, how much of the moon Neil Armstrong explored, why the world looks like a cat playing with Australia, how Odysseus made his legendary journey and where to see the Northern Lights. Learn about the amazing travels of Marco Polo, and if you want to know where the world’s dog and cat breeds come from, what the Earth looked like 170 million years ago, where the best place in the world is to put up a solar panel, how to find the hidden scene in the map of the USA, who brings Christmas presents across Europe, and even what the Earth looks like to dolphins, then dive into this coruscating cornucopia of knowledge.

Reading fun all magically mapped out...

(Welbeck Editions, hardback, £20)

Age 3 plus:

I am Oliver the Otter: A Tale from our Wild and Wonderful Riverbanks

Pam Ayres and Nicola O’Byrne

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‘I am Oliver the otter, and my fur is thick and glossy, I live along the riverbank where rounded stones are mossy.’

Poet, writer, broadcaster, entertainer and nature lover Pam Ayres is back to win hearts and minds with an otterly beautiful new rhyming picture book which celebrates otters – one of the best-loved stars of the natural world – whilst highlighting the environmental challenges that these endearing creatures face.

Brought to life by the outstanding and exquisite illustrations of artist Nicola O’Byrne, I am Oliver the Otter will enchant readers young and old as we follow Oliver from his days on the riverbank to his meeting with the adorable Ottilie and the birth of his family of little otters.

Oliver spends his life pottering on the riverbank. He likes to chat and sometimes whistle like a bird, but like most otters, he is a solitary creature... until he meets a lady otter called Ottilie, the silkiest and nicest otter he’d ever seen. The rest, as they say, is history!

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Come on down to the riverbank, and discover a wild and wonderful world! Oliver, like most otters, is happy enough living alone, swimming, chatting, whistling like a bird, or scampering along the twisty-rooted waterways. Until one day, among the green rushes, he meets a lady otter called Ottilie, and his life changes forever!

With a serious environmental message lovingly and gently imparted in Ayres’ beautiful verse, items for youngsters to spot, a sprinkling of fascinating facts about otters and a fuller end section with more detail about their way of life, how to spot them and the threat to their habitats from pollution, this glorious book acts as both entertainment and education.

Add on O’Byrne enchanting illustrations of the natural world, and a gorgeous foiled jacket, and you have the perfect picture book!

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

Age 9 plus:

Lily Grim and The City of Undone

Andy Ruffell

Get ready to be transported into a dark and dazzling mystery set in a dystopian world where a terrifying villain stalks a girl with a powerful gift... and danger lurks at every turn.

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Born and raised in Kent, Andy Ruffell studied English Literature at Sheffield University and stayed on in Yorkshire to work as a teacher and head teacher for nearly 18 years. And now this honorary Northerner has won the Hachette New Writing North Prize for his scintillating middle grade debut novel Lily Grim and The City of Undone.

A gloriously atmospheric gothic fantasy adventure, with friendship at its heart, this tale of a girl abandoned on a doorstep in the eerie city of Undone when she was a baby, and now battling to discover just who she really is, is packed with chills, thrills and a sense of menace that will enthral young readers.

Lily Grim's life is a mystery. She has lived with her elderly guardian Gabriel in their rundown, second-hand shop in the City of Undone for as long as she can remember. For years, the city dwellers have lived in uneasy discord with The Others, a community of wanderers forced to shelter within the city walls after years of severe floods drove them from their nomadic camps in the wilderness.

But Undone is a dark and dangerous place to live, especially if you’re an Other. Feared for their special gifts, they are persecuted by the cruel Master of the City, and taken to the Ring... a prison from which few ever return. When the Master captures Gabriel and throws him into the Ring, Lily is saved by a young Other boy called Dekka. He introduces her to a whole Otherworld that exists beneath the City of Undone. To her astonishment, Lily discovers she is an Other too – with powerful gifts – and is now in grave danger because the Master wants her dead. But why? Can Lily find answers about who she is, and where she’s from, and can her new friends rescue Gabriel... before it’s too late?

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Ruffell packs in all those ingredients that children love... fast-paced adventure, breathtaking world building, compulsive storytelling, more twists and turns than a snakes and ladders board, and a cast of amazing creatures and characters that will stay long in the memory. Don’t miss it!

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

Age 9 plus:

Son of the Sea

Richard Pickard

Youngsters are set to fall hook, line and sinker for this marvellous and magical tale of a mysterious web-toed boy from the talented Richard Pickard whose debut novel, The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy, won the inaugural Times/Chicken House Chairman’s Choice Award in 2019 and was longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2022. In this second whimsical, wondrous novel, set in a mysterious and atmospheric seaside town, we are plunged not just into the ocean, but into the life of Casper Delmare who (though he doesn’t yet know it) was born to swim. His feet were the first clue... Casper dreams of swimming the Channel. Surely, he was born to use his webbed toes but instead, he is strictly forbidden to go near water... not even in the neighbour’s pond. But when his parents have an unlucky accident, Casper is sent to stay with a grandmother he’s never met... and it’s there that he discovers his special tie to the sea. Once again, Pickard impresses with his ability to conjure up a unique and magical storyline powered by the might of the sea, the endless attraction of a dark and seemingly impenetrable mystery, and the heartwarming dynamics of family life. Overflowing with its sense of adventure, warm wit, LGBTQ+ representation and a message of acceptance, Son of the Sea is guaranteed to float the boat of all young adventurers!

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Boy Who Stole the Pharaoh’s Lunch

Karen McCombie and Anneli Bray

A naughty school prankster finds himself transported back in time to Ancient Egypt in a fun (and cleverly educational!) adventure from Karen McCombie, bestselling author of over 90 books for children, and illustrator Anneli Bray. While awaiting punishment in the headmaster’s office for his latest piece of mischief, prankster Seth picks up an Egyptian amulet from the desk and is whisked back in time to Ancient Egypt. In a village by the Nile, Seth finds a place for himself, working for the local tradesmen and playing with the local children. One of his new friends, Mery, has a pet hyena that Seth grows to love, so when he hears that the hyena is going to be roasted as part of a feast for the visiting pharaoh, Seth decides to save him. But what consequences will Seth have to face from angry villagers and for stealing the pharaoh’s lunch? And will he ever be able to escape and find his way back to his own time? McCombie’s all-action and highly imaginative time-slip romp speaks volumes to children about the importance of character building and addressing learning challenges. With its strong curriculum links, and the clever balance of fascinating facts about Egypt with McCombie’s rich and engrossing storytelling, The Boy Who Stole the Pharaoh’s Lunch is published in Barrington Stoke’s dyslexia-friendly format and ideal for use in the classroom.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Surprisingly Sarah

Terri Libenson

School is full of challenges and choices… just ask Sarah! She has to decide if she’s brave enough to ask out her crush, or set to lose her nerve and miss out on her big chance. Youngsters can make their own choices on this weighty matter in the brilliantly empathetic new book in the bestselling Emmie & Friends graphic novel series from bestselling US author and cartoonist Terri Libenson. In her much-loved, trademark style, Libenson’s latest look at middle school life is packed full of her lively illustrations and is perfectly pitched at the eight-plus age group who are just starting to learn the ways of the world. Here young readers can decide for themselves between two choices, two storylines, and one surprise ending as Sarah faces her ‘to do or not to do’ dilemma. Sarah and Leo have been BFFs since they were little. They share everything... until Sarah starts getting a crush on Leo’s friend Ben. And one day Sarah is suddenly faced with her big moment and big choice... ask Ben to the school dance OR chicken out! Either way, Sarah and Leo’s friendship will be put to the test. Which one would you choose? Libenson’s funny, tender and heartfelt story, which lets youngsters choose between one storyline in which Sarah finds the courage to approach Leo, and one in which she can’t face it, is full of relatable incidents, dialogue and friendship issues which are guaranteed to appeal to young readers.

(HarperCollins, paperback, £8.99)

Age 7 plus:

Max Magic: The Greatest Show on Earth

Stephen Mulhern, Tom Easton and Begoña Fernández Corbalán

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Put extra magic into your life with the second marvellous mystery in the amazingly good Max Magic series from TV presenter and magician, Stephen Mulhern.

Inspired by Mulhern’s own incredible story of his journey to becoming a magician, performer and TV star, and written with well-known children’s author Tom Easton, these fun-packed adventures celebrate friendship, family, never giving up... and magic, of course!

Here we meet up again with Max as he gets ready to win the national talent show, The Greatest Show on Earth. Max Mullers knows he’s got what it takes to impress the show’s judges – Willow Holloughby, Fox Blackshaw and Shussy D – and to wow the audiences with his illusions and magic tricks. And he’s not going to use his mysterious new magical abilities to do it, either... Max will compete fair and square! But not everyone is happy about Max’s moment in the spotlight. When masked magician Mr Mysterio enters the competition, Max suspects that something strange is going on. How is Mr Mysterio doing his tricks and why is a reporter sniffing around at Gran’s shop and asking questions about Max? With the help of his friends and his trusty dog Lucky, Max is going to give The Greatest Show on Earth everything he’s got.

Packed with Begoña Fernández Corbalán’s lively black-and-white illustrations, and with a dyslexic-friendly layout, this rip-roaring romp is not just an exhilarating ride through some terrific tricks, but a book that is ideal for every child to read and enjoy.

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Boats! (and other things that float)

Bryony Davies and Maria Brzozowska

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Ahoy there! Do you love lifeboats, would you like to dive deep into the ocean in a submarine, or would you fancy racing a dragon boat?

Youngsters will be raring to jump aboard and discover hundreds of seafaring vessels in this visually exciting introduction to sailing which lets young boat enthusiasts discover a huge variety of fantastic ships from around the world.

Written by Bryony Davies and colourfully illustrated by Maria Brzozowska, Boats! includes a gorgeous gallery of busy scenes with lots of rich detail to explore, large cut-away images, and spreads filled with different kinds of boats.

Each double-page spread features a different group of boats and other watercraft, such as helpful lifeboats, racing dragon boats, and super submarines. Discover gigantic schooners, towering cruise ships, rowing, fishing and record-breaking boats from around the world, plus hard-working ships such as icebreakers, powerful tugboats and fireboats. There’s also a chance to explore inside a car ferry, visit a floating market and find out just how a boat floats in the first place.

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Filled with hundreds of different boats, ships, subs, and other wonderful watercraft, even the most avid young boat fanatic will discover new vessels they haven’t seen before. So what are you waiting for... hoist the sail and let’s go!

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

Age 3 plus:

Sunny Side Up

Clare Helen Welsh and Ana Sanfelippo

When you change the way you look at the world, the world you look at changes. Author Clare Helen Welsh and Argentinian illustrator Ana Sanfelippo combine their creative talents on a clever, novelty picture book which explores the power and strength that can come from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Using cut-outs and flaps to transform the world around us, this eye-catching book perfectly illustrates the impact that reframing your thoughts can have. When you put on your sunny-side specs, a bad mood can become a good mood, a goodbye can become a hello, and even the impossible can become possible! But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the sunny side seems far away. And that’s OK. Sunny things will be there to discover whenever you are ready. Welsh’s warm, emotional book empowers readers to take control of their thoughts and choose how THEY see the world, showing young readers the beauty of changing your perspective. Cleverly designed peep-through pages and the innovative flaps allow children to transform each scene. The final cut-out even lets readers hold up the book to try on their own sunny-side specs! With an accessible, empathetic text and stylish illustrations, Sunny Side Up is the ideal book for exploring difficult emotions.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

This Girl Can Be a Bit Shy

Stephanie Stansbie and Hazel Quintanilla

After meeting rumbunctious Ruby in Stephanie Stansbie and Hazel Quintanilla’s empowering picture book, This Girl Can Do Anything, we know that this feisty little girl most definitely knows what she wants, and that NOTHING is going to stop her. But in the second book of the series, we discover that some days Ruby is brave, bouncy and chat-chat-chatty but on other days, she is not – and that’s OK! Author Stansbie, a children’s books editor, captures the very essence of a child’s psyche in this funny and heartwarming story which celebrates the power of listening to your emotions and speaking up. Brought to life by Quintanilla’s exquisitely characterful, retro illustrations, lovable Ruby is the ultimate feisty role model to show young girls how to harness their voice and inner strength, and be the heroines of their own story. With an underlying message about setting boundaries and consent, This Girl Can Be a Bit Shy is filled with important messages – and lots of fun – and is ideal to share with both girls and boys.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:


Vashti Harrison

‘Once there was a girl/with a big laugh and a big heart/and very big dreams.’ The opening lines of US award-winning graphic designer and illustrator Vashti Harrison’s picture book sets the scene for a moving story inspired by the author’s own experiences of growing up as a Black girl in a ‘big body’ in a world that celebrates small. Filled with bold but exquisite illustrations, Big is a beautiful book about body positivity and self-acceptance whilst reminding readers that words can both empower and cause a legacy of pain. The big baby girl who was loved and feted eventually grew and grew and grew. And it was good... until it wasn’t. Because when the girl grows big, the world begins to make her feel small. She feels out of place and invisible, and soon she isn’t herself at all. But with the girl’s size comes huge inner strength... and this helps her look past the hurtful words to see how perfect she really is. Accompanied by striking artwork and a fold-out flap, Harrison’s quietly reassuring and accessible story explores the experience of being big and, in her author’s note, she reminds us all that in the end, the girl’s body isn’t a problem that needs fixing, but ‘the implicit biases we all hold.’

(Puffin, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

My Brother is an Avocado

Tracy Darnton and Yasmeen Ismail

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When there’s a new baby on the way, it’s hard for little siblings to contain their curiosity, enthusiasm... and patience! So here’s the perfect picture book to guide them through all the stages – and sizes – of growing a baby... using natural food items as a parallel. My Brother is an Avocado has been created by the exciting new partnership of acclaimed YA author and now picture book writer Tracy Darnton and award-winning author, illustrator and animator Yasmeen Ismail. It’s hard to wait for a new baby to join the family, especially when it’s still growing inside Mum’s tummy. But when Dad describes the size of the baby at each stage, one little girl imagines, while she waits, all the fun she can have with her baby brother as a teeny-tiny poppy seed, then a grape, then a lemon. But she’s not quite sure how she feels about having an avocado for a brother, or an onion, or – gulp – a watermelon! With its warm and funny stage-by-stage tour through all the sizes of a growing baby, this joyful and imaginative picture book playfully explores the loooong waiting game for a much-anticipated new sibling – and has an adorable twist at the end!

(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age one plus:

Grandads Are the Greatest

Ben Faulks and Nia Tudor

Grandads have a special relationship with their grandchildren and as Father’s Day approaches, it’s the perfect time to pay them a loving a tribute. Grandads Are the Greatest comes from the creative partnership of actor, presenter and children’s author Ben Faulks and illustrator Nia Tudor who loves filling her artwork with colour, texture and the small detail that keeps youngsters glued to the page. Every grandad is different ... but they’re ALL special! Is your grandad an adventurer or an explorer? Is he a builder, an inventor, or a magician? Whatever your grandad does, you can be sure he loves you! With a bouncy, irresistible rhyming text and wonderfully diverse range of grandads from many different backgrounds and professions to enjoy, Faulks brings us a joyous and playful celebration of wonderful grandads and the love they have for their grandchildren. Add on Tudor’s heartfelt and enchanting illustrations, and you have the perfect gift for all the generations.

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