Preston football legends, a thrill-ride and word power By various authors - book reviews -

Meet the Lancashire girls who made footballing history, enjoy a heart-thumping train adventure, discover the trickiest and funniest words in the English language, and share fun with a little yak with big ambitions in a super September collection of children’s books.

Thursday, 3rd September 2020, 7:00 am
Kicking Off
Kicking Off

Age 9 plus:

Dick, Kerr Girls: Kicking Off!

Eve Ainsworth

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They were the team of ordinary working girls from Preston who made footballing history…

And now those plucky munitions workers from the Dick, Kerr factory in Strand Road – whose first match was played before an astonishing 10,000 spectators at Deepdale on Christmas Day in 1917 – are the stars of a thrilling new children’s series from Carnegie-nominated author Eve Ainsworth.

Kicking Off! is the first book in a three-part Dick, Kerr Girls series and was written by Ainsworth with the help of Preston author and historian, Gail Newsham, to create a retelling of the events leading up to the formation of the famous Preston football team which went on to play in front of crowds the size of today’s men’s Premier League teams.

It’s 1917, and Britain is at war. Shy 15-year-old Hettie from Spa Road, who watched her beloved brother Freddie head off to the dark, brutal world of the frontline in France, wants to help the war effort too, and signs up to work in the local Dick, Kerr & Co munitions factory. She’s nervous, but she has no idea quite how much her life will change.

Because inside this factory are young women who are about to make sporting history. Can Hettie find the courage to join them, and in doing so, find her own place in the world?

Ainsworth, who is also a creative workshop co-ordinator and public speaker, reveals: ‘Not only am I huge football fan, but I’m also a working class author who was exhilarated and moved by these women’s stories and the obstacles they overcame to be one of the most successful football teams of all time. Young readers need to be told their story so that they can be inspired and motivated too.’

Meticulously researched and brimming with the excitement and determination of those footballing legends, Kicking Off! also reminds us of the obstacles these young women faced, and the release that sport offered them from their dangerous and exhausting work in the factory.

From making ammunition to making new friendships and making history, this is an inspirational tale of the skill and fortitude of a group of unforgettable women whose story is sure to resonate with today’s generation of aspiring female footballers.

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Kidnap on the California Comet (Adventures on Trains)

M.G. Leonard, Sam Sedgman and Elisa Paganelli

Enjoy an adrenalin-fuelled thrill-ride across America on the California Comet as a heart-thumping, all-action train adventure leaves the station!

Kidnap on the California Comet is the second book in Adventures on Trains, the captivating middle-grade series from mystery-writing duo M.G. Leonard, prize-winning author of the Battle of the Beetles trilogy, and Sam Sedgman, a writer and lifelong train enthusiast, with Elisa Paganelli’s vibrant black and white illustrations providing the extra bells and whistles.

So sit back and enjoy the heart-stopping chase as we join 11-year-old Harrison Beck on his quest to solve another mystery full of puzzles, train facts galore, and lots of fascinating clues to solve.

After the excitement of his adventures aboard the Highland Falcon Thief, budding young artist Harrison (Hal) Beck can’t wait for the opportunity to go on another amazing train journey. And when his travel-writer Uncle Nat invites him aboard the California Comet as a 12th birthday treat, for the iconic three-day train journey from Chicago’s Union Station to San Francisco, he leaps at the chance to travel.

But when Marianne, daughter of famous billionaire entrepreneur August Reza, goes missing en route, Hal, along with his new friends Hadley and Mason, must use all their detective skills to solve the mystery. Can they uncover the kidnapper and find the missing girl before journey’s end?

This witty, clever and suspense-packed series is certainly on the fast track to success. With a cast of sparkling characters, a train-load of fascinating facts, adventure at every junction, and a baffling mystery to solve, Leonard and Sedgman are pulling out all the stops as they take youngsters on one of the wildest and most wonderful reading journeys of the year.

The train is now waiting for all young adventurers!

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

Age 7 plus:

The Witches: The Graphic Novel

Roald Dahl and Pénélope Bagieu

If you love Roald Dahl’s darkly funny fantasy novel, The Witches, then get your hands on this fabulous, first ever graphic version of the master storyteller’s much-loved classic.

Eisner Award-winning French artist Pénélope Bagieu casts a spell over readers young and old with this dazzling colour adaptation which offers a dynamic new take on the tale featuring a sinister world where child-hating societies of witches secretly exist in every country.

The book marks the first time that any of Dahl’s works have been adapted into comic form and Bagieu, who has set the story in the present day, says she first encountered the book when she was aged about eight and that it was the catalyst for her love of reading.

Witches are real, and they are very, very dangerous. They wear ordinary clothes and have ordinary jobs, living in ordinary towns all across the world – and there’s nothing they despise more than children.

When a recently orphaned eight-year-old boy and his grandmother (a former witch-hunter, no less) come face-to-face with the vicious and powerful Grand High Witch herself, they may be the only ones who can stop the witches’ latest plot to stamp out every last child in the country!

First published in 1983, and still one of Dahl’s most popular books, The Witches gets an appealing 21st century twist in Bagieu’s exciting and eye-catching version which uses gorgeous artwork and a contemporary spin to bring the story to life, while staying true to the dark humour and spirit of the original.

And with a new film based on the novel – starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, and Chris Rock – due to be released in 2021, there could be no better time to introduce a new generation to those dastardly witches.

(Scholastic, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

365 Words Every Kid Should Know

Lauren Holowaty and Martina Motzo

Get word wise (and impress your friends!) with this coruscating cornucopia of the best, trickiest and funniest words in the English language.

From the tough-to-spell to the downright hilarious, this inspirational and educational book has a word for all 365 days of the year, and has been specially developed with the aid of an educational consultant to fit in with the curriculum’s Key Stages 2 and 3.

Some words have strange double meanings, others seem impossible to pronounce, and then there are the words that sound the same but mean something completely different when you change their spellings.

From words with unusual stories behind them to words stolen from other languages, each word in this entertaining guide has been selected to help youngsters understand how it’s spelled, where it comes from, or simply what it means.

There are handy example sentences so that readers can be confident they are using their new-found favourite words in the right way, and there are words that are needed at school, and others to use at home or with friends.

Fascinating and entertaining, the book is packed with new words, old words, silly words, sporty words, political words, slang words, musical words and foodie words, and covers topics from history, sport and politics to the weather, the human body and health matters.

And as well as simple definitions of each word, there are pronunciation tips, fun facts and handy mnemonics to help with spelling, and lots of inspiration to help children use new vocabulary in the right context.

The last word in fun reading!

(Buster Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

BOOT: The Creaky Creatures

Shane Hegarty and Ben Mantle

Since he went ‘all mechanical,’ Darkmouth series author Shane Hegarty has found as much fun and laughter with robots as he did with human-eating monsters!

The Creaky Creatures is the third, hilarious, warm-hearted story about Boot, a small robot which constantly finds itself on big adventures. With fantastic, eye-catching illustrations throughout by the award-winning Ben Mantle, Boot’s madcap mechanical world springs to vivid, anarchic life.

Toy robot Boot has come a long way since it woke up in a scrapyard with only two-and-a-half glitchy memories. It has a home with its robot pals in an abandoned amusement arcade, and has discovered what true happiness is, although it’s still not sure why humans have glued furry caterpillars over their eyes.

When Boot catches sight of a robot pet it used to know – Mr Piggles – our hero and pals follow it to a beautiful green square in the city of skyscrapers. Here they find not just real nature, but also a haven for broken and rejected pets.

They also meet the children who look after the pets, and for whom this green space is a sanctuary too. But Boot is distracted by strange emotions that swing from happy to sad ... maybe Boot is broken? Can it work out what is wrong, with the help of its friends?

Illustrated throughout in atmospheric black and white shades by Mantle, this is a fast-paced, action-packed tale of resilience and hope for our riotous little robot, and comes packed with fun, friendship… and a large number of malfunctioning robot pets!

(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus:

Fiend of the Seven Sewers

Steven Butler and Steven Lenton

Welcome back to the hilarious hotel where bed and board means you’ll never be… bored!

Fiend of the Seven Sewers is our fourth, action-packed visit to The Nothing to See Here Hotel, a place full of magical creatures, where weird is normal for fun-loving troll boy Frankie Banister and his truly extraordinary parents, and where laughter is assured from the moment you check in.

This number one destination is the creation of top comedy team, inventive author Steven Butler and illustrator extraordinaire Steven Lenton, who bring to life a cast of the wackiest characters imaginable for rip-roaring adventures.

Frankie’s story began when his great-great-great-grandad Abraham Banister fell madly in love with troll girl Regurgita Glump (she’s still alive because trolls live hundreds of years!) and they married in the sewers under Brighton high street.

Fast forward a hundred years and here is Frankie… his dad Bargeous is a Halfling, his mum Rani is completely human, and Frankie is a quarterling (his pointy ears and copper-coloured eyes are the only outward signs of his troll blood).

In their new adventure, Frankie is kidnapped and dragged off to a secret cistern-city deep in the dookiest depths of the sewers, and things are destined to get a whole lot weirder!

What has Frankie done to offend the mysterious Boss? Is he doomed to spend the rest of his life griping in the piping, will he ever escape the dark and disgusterous dungeons, and what exactly is the gut-gurglingly named Poodly-Pipe?

One thing’s for sure, Frankie is going to have to outwit old enemies and rely on new friends if he ever wants to see his honkhumptious home again!

Starring a hotel that hosts everything from trolls, goblins and harpies to witches, puddle-nymphs and bogrunts, this brilliantly funny series offers room service with a difference as youngsters enter a wonderfully imagined and magical world in which humour, adventure and the totally bizarre are the order of the day.

You can check out any time you like from The Nothing to See Here Hotel, but you can never leave without laughing!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Nibbles: The Monster Hunt

Emma Yarlett

He’s back and he’s crunching his way into danger… Nibbles, the adorable yellow monster who has stolen hearts both young and old with his munching madness, is blasting off on a madcap new adventure in the wonderful world of books!

Multi-talented author and illustrator Emma Yarlett touches the funny bone of readers aged from nought to ninety as she rolls out her irresistible brand of clever, conceptual art and design work, and magical, fun-filled storytelling with her mischievous little book monster.

The Monster Hunt is the third Nibbles adventure and offers 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, facts, jokes and crazy capers.

Nibbles can’t help but cause chaos as he meets a dragon, takes a bite out of the moon, chases a cat, sinks a ship, goes for a ride on a rocket and makes a brand new friend...

Innovative, cleverly interactive, brimming with the kind of bright and lively illustrations that children love, and with fascinating facts about subjects as diverse as the sun and moon, cats and dogs, images and words, counting and colours, this a joyful and playful book that amuses, informs and entertains from first page to last.

(Little Tiger, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Just One of Those Days

Jill Murphy

Parents who grew up on the much-loved stories of Jill Murphy’s adorable Large Family picture books have a treat in store this autumn!

Forty years after we saw the lovable Bear family having a restless night in the hilarious Peace at Last, and bedtime adventures in Whatever Next!, Murphy – who is the author of the bestselling Worst Witch novels and has been called ‘one of the most engaging writers and illustrators for children in the land’ – is back with a brand new classic.

Just One of Those Days once again stars the stoical Mr and Mrs Bear, and their enchanting Baby Bear, and looks set to be another perennial favourite as the long-suffering parents face a day when anything that can go wrong, does go wrong!

It had been a long night... so Mr and Mrs Bear woke up late. And to make things worse, it’s raining outside and Baby Bear is late for nursery. Then Mrs Bear sits on her glasses at work and Mr Bear spills his coffee. Oh dear… it seems this is just going to be one of those days! But the lovable Bear family muddle through cheerfully, and there’s even a surprise for Baby Bear when Mr Bear gets home from work.

Murphy’s beautiful story, full of enjoyable repetition and rhythm, and bold, colourful and exquisitely emotive illustrations, speaks loudly, playfully and warmly about the importance of family, shared experiences and mutual comfort, and teaches valuable life lessons to pre-schoolers about appreciating our loved ones.

A book to treasure… and ideal for reading aloud and sharing with groups.

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

Age 2 plus:

The Littlest Yak

Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley

Small is big in a huggable, lovable new picture book from exciting debut author Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley, one of the nation’s most talented, contemporary illustrators.

The Littlest Yak is joyful, playful, rhyming caper starring a pint-sized yak who longs to be tall, and whose daring escapade on a narrow mountain ledge teaches little ones to celebrate their own unique talents… however big or small they might be.

‘On the tip of the top of a mountain all snowy, where the ice-swirling, toe-curling blizzards were blowy, in a herd full of huddling yaks, big and small, lived Gertie… the littlest yak of them all.’

Gertie is feeling stuck in her smallness. She has the grippiest hooves for clip-clopping up cliffs but what she really wants she wants is to grow up right now and have the bigness and tallness of her fellow yaks. But when it turns out that there are some things that only Gertie can do, she finally understands that she is perfect just the way she is.

Fraser, who has a natural empathy with the fears of foibles of little ones, turns on the magic in this fun but warm and reassuring story which springs to colourful and vibrant life through Hindley’s gallery of richly detailed and characterful illustrations.

Big messages for little readers!

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Oi Aardvark!

Kes Gray and Jim Field

Baboons sit on balloons, crocs sit on clocks and donkeys sit on long keys…

The exciting team of writer Kes Gray and illustrator Jim Field are up to their wonderful word tricks again as they spring lots of colourful surprises in their new rhyming extravaganza.

The bestselling, multi-award-winning creators of Oi Frog!, Oi Dog!, Oi Goat!, Oi Duck-billed Platypus! and Oi Puppies! will have children laughing their socks off as they join in the fun of a riotous romp starring a cast of outrageously funny and quirky creatures looking for a place to sit.

A masterclass in the absurd, this clever, sweetly satirical picture book stars our familiar friend Frog who is writing a new Alphabet Book for animals who haven’t been told where to sit. The big question is… can he get from Aardvark all the way through to Zebra, and not stumble when he gets to X?

With Frog, Dog and Cat orchestrating the madness, a special fold-out surprise, increasingly inventive word combinations on each page, and a hilarious gallery of Field’s bold and amazingly expressive illustrations to enjoy, youngsters will be joining in the rhymes, laughing out loud and begging for more the moment the last page has turned.

Comedy conundrums and capers for all the family!

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

Age 2 plus:

We Planted a Pumpkin

Rob Ramsden

How does a tiny seed turn into a big, fat, orange pumpkin?

Discover the wonders of nature and the joys of growing your own food and plants in an enchanting picture book from author and illustrator Rob Ramsden who is on a mission to encourage a new generation of green-fingered youngsters.

Ramsden teaches graphic illustration and animation to both children and adults, and We Planted a Pumpkin is the third book in a deceptively simple but appealing series of stories from Scallywag Press which lets children enjoy and appreciate the natural world through words and pictures.

Two children dig a hole to plant some seeds but will their pumpkin be ready in time for Halloween? As the children tend to their plant, readers explore their range of emotions… from enthusiasm, anxiety and joy, to the need for patience, and a finally a glowing sense of achievement.

Ramsden’s thoughtful and charming story encourages an increasingly important human empathy with the natural world and will inspire children to plant their own seeds and watch the plants grow and regenerate for another year.

Colourful, contemporary illustrations and a short, rhythmic story help to convey the magic of nature, the joys of friendship, and the fun of shared activities, making this the perfect book for home, school and nursery.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)