Sea mystery, art for the heart and fun on the farm by various authors – book reviews –

Set sail on a thrilling high seas adventure, discover an island ruled by whales, learn how art can brighten your life, join a princess and a pig in muck, and meet a farmer chasing his runaway cows in a super springtime array of new children’s books.

By Pam Norfolk
Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 12:30 pm
The Riddle of the Sea  by Jonne Kramer, Laura Watkinson (translator) and Karl James Mountford
The Riddle of the Sea by Jonne Kramer, Laura Watkinson (translator) and Karl James Mountford

Age 8 plus:

The Riddle of the Sea

Jonne Kramer, Laura Watkinson (translator) and Karl James Mountford

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Batten down the hatches for a thrilling sea adventure featuring a lost father, a cursed ship and a grumpy pirate!

The Riddle of the Sea – the outstanding debut novel of Dutch author Jonne Kramer – was nominated for several prestigious prizes in Holland and has now been beautifully translated into English by Laura Watkinson so that a new audience can revel in a terrific tale of friendship and overcoming fears.

When Ravian’s father doesn’t return home from sea for his son’s birthday, Ravian is certain he must be in danger. Hearing tales of a cursed ship, The Night Raider, that captures fishermen, Ravian goes in search of his father accompanied by his only friend, Marvin the seagull.

Before long, the pair find themselves trapped on a ship with a kindly boy and a bad-tempered pirate for company. The ensuing voyage is beset with battles with giant squid and fierce storms and despite uncovering wonders beyond his wildest dreams, Ravian despairs that he might never find his lost father.

Featuring the fabulous black and white illustrations of acclaimed artist Karl James Mountford, this suspense-packed and atmospheric story, with its exciting cast of characters and splashes of dark humour, is the perfect read for adventure-loving middle graders.

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 10 plus:

Day of the Whale

Rachel Delahaye

On an island ruled by whales, one boy is searching for his missing father, another is refusing to forget the past and a girl is on the run. In a fabulous flight of imagination, novelist Rachel Delahaye transports youngsters to Cetacea, an island in a flooded dystopian future where ruling whales speak to the population through a giant screen and three youngsters embark on an adventure of discovery that could anger the whales and crack their community apart. ‘Follow the big blue. Tell the Truth.’ That was the last thing Cam’s father said to him and it was important. Cam follows Big Blue… everybody does on the island of Cetacea. Their lives take place within his rules, delivered to them by enigmatic whale-talker, Byron Vos. Byron was once a marine scientist but is now organising an epic clean-up operation to revive the ocean after centuries of human greed and neglect. And yet Cam wonders if there is a more complex truth… a truth that may be connected to his father’s disappearance. Cam’s quest to understand Big Blue leads him to new friends, Banjo and Petra, and shared adventures but the truth, when he finds it, is more dangerous than ever he could have imagined. In a story filled with danger, adventure, determination, daring and immense courage, Delahaye explores topical issues like climate change, truth, history and freedom as the three curious youngsters unravel some dark secrets. Gripping and moving in equal measure.

(Troika, paperback, £8.99)

Age 8 plus:

Every Cloud

Ros Roberts

The transition to high school is always an anxious and pressured time for children so here’s a funny, reassuring and uplifting story that will help to ease the fears and lighten the load. Every Cloud – a sensitively written and heartfelt exploration of fresh starts and new friends – comes from the pen of Ros Roberts, an author whose magical debut, Digger and Me, proved an instant hit. Here we meet Amy, who feels like everything is going wrong. For a start, she’s just found out she isn’t going to the same high school as everyone else. Add to that her annoying younger brothers, Pops’ worsening dementia and Cassie, her supposed best friend, being meaner than ever, and Amy’s summer is not looking promising. It’s even worse when Mum tells her they are moving in with Gran and Pops for the holidays… all the way over to the other side of town. But then she discovers who lives over the road from her grandparents… Jay, the kind, quiet boy from school. Soon Amy realises that friendship isn’t always about who talks the most and the loudest, who does the most exciting things or throws the coolest parties. Sometimes a friend is just someone to talk to, someone to listen. But when outside pressures start to creep back in, can Amy hang on to her summer of silver linings? Roberts explores issues like moving house and school, coping with dementia in the family, making friends, and accepting difference with a gentle and yet humorous touch. Full of wisdom, empathy and hope, this is a story that will resonate and comfort many worried youngsters as they prepare for their own new school adventures this autumn.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Art for the Heart: A Fill-in Journal for Wellness Through Art

Xavier Leopold

Use art to brighten your life with Xavier Leopold, the city trader who picked up a paint brush during lockdown in 2020 and found a whole new world of communication for feelings. Leopold had no prior art training but his unique abstract portraits were instantly admired and now the founder of ByXaviArt, he has exhibited at London’s OXO Tower Wharf, and runs workshops to spread awareness of causes like Black Lives Matter and mental health issues to young people. Aimed at children aged seven plus, Art for the Heart is a wellness journal with a difference, featuring a fill-in art journal with ideas and inspiration. Young readers can use art to brighten their day, find calmness and confidence, and show how they really feel. Using his own story to show readers how to use art for self-expression and wellbeing, the journal explains how anyone can put their thoughts and dreams on paper, no matter what training they have. Themed around key wellness topics like healthy living, positive thinking and expressing emotions, each chapter contains lots of inspiration for art from the heart. And readers can make the journal their own by filling the pages with their art and they can join a free online art club. The ideal book to put your feelings in the picture.

(Welbeck Children’s Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus:

Unipiggle: Camping Chaos

Hannah Shaw

Somewhere over the rainbow… madcap Princess Pea is off a right royal camping trip! Get ready for more fun-filled anarchy with a princess who loves breaking the rules and her Royal Unicorn who just happens to be a smelly pig… sorry, a Unipiggle! Award-winning author and illustrator Hannah Shaw welcomes back her readers to Twinkleland Kingdom where everyone is 100 per cent perfect… except for the irresistible Princess Pea who doesn’t like rules, thinks being perfect is boring and would rather wear wellies than a frilly frock. In their fifth adventure, Princess Pea and Unipiggle are very excited to be attending Royal Camp for the first time. They are looking forward to meeting other princes, princesses and royal companions, and staying in a tent. But someone is out to ruin Royal Camp. Things are going missing and the activities are all spoiled. Even worse, it looks like Princess Pea and Unipiggle have done it. Can Unipiggle and Princess Pea find the real culprit and stop the camping chaos? Like a pig in muck, Shaw has fun, games and muddy magic with this wonderfully madcap and imaginative series which is filled with high-energy pictures in all the colours of the rainbow, includes knockabout comedy and a draw your own llamacorn section, and perfectly bridges the gap from picture books to chapter books. Laugh-out-loud antics all the way!

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Farmer Llama

Donna David and Fred Blunt

Forget the old nursery rhyme about the cows in the corn… the cows are on the run and accident-prone Farmer Llama has his work cut out to round them up again! Enjoy a laugh-out-loud, rhyming picture book from clever author Donna David and seasoned illustrator Fred Blunt. ‘Alarm-a-Llama bolts awake and bashes his poor head. Pyjama-Llama rubs his eyes and climbs out of his bed. Banana-Llama grabs some food. He's ready for the day!’ And so the scene is set for a day of madcap antics as Farmer-Llama starts his truck and heads out to collect hay. Little ones will adore joining the irresistibly lovable Farmer Llama for this hilarious farmyard adventure which comes complete with pesky cows who just won’t get out of Farmer Llama's way. With its simple phonics-based text, Donna David’s rhyming romp is perfect for reading aloud and developing early reading skills while the bright, bold and eye-catching artwork of Fred Blunt is the icing on the storytelling cake!

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

Age 3 plus:

Sunshine at Bedtime

Clare Helen Welsh and Sally Soweol Han

A little girl’s curious questions about why the sun is still shining when it’s her bedtime becomes the springboard for a magical journey across space and its wonders in an informative and inventive picture book. Sunshine at Bedtime comes from Storyhouse Publishing, founded by Rachel Lawrence and dedicated to producing beautiful picture books to inspire positivity, care and wellbeing for a bright future, including ideas about friendship, collaborative play, kindness and conservation. In this inspirational new book, author Clare Helen Welsh – who writes stories that mix of fact and fiction through clever storytelling – aims to reassure children with fascinating, simple science about the reason for lighter bedtimes in spring and summer. Curious Macie notices that the evenings are brighter in summer and wants to know why. Together Mummy and Macie soar high into the sky to discover the wonder of the sun, stars and planets, just in time for bed. With the gorgeous, lyrical illustrations of Sally Soweol Han and a double-page spread of non-fiction facts at the end, this is the perfect wind-down story at the end of a busy day!

(Storyhouse Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Let’s Go Outside!

Ben Lerwill and Marina Ruiz

The spirit of youthful exuberance – and the joys to be found in the great outdoors – shine through with dazzling colour and clarity in a beautifully emotive picture book from author Ben Lerwill and illustrator Marina Ruiz. ‘Let’s go outside! Let’s run as fast as our legs can carry us. Let’s make the best den in the whole wide world.’ The wonders of the great outdoors are waiting, ready to be filled with excitement and imagination whatever the weather in this inspirational story about spending time outside every day. Explore the fun that can be found outdoors in all weathers and count how many children have gone outside to play in this joyful and picture perfect celebration of imaginative play. Lerwill’s lyrical story puts the simple pleasures of spending time outside and cosying up indoors at the end of the day at centre stage and Ruiz’s colourful illustrations bring all the action to glorious life. And with discussion prompts and outdoor activity suggestions at the end of the book, parents and children will be champing at the bit to say… let’s go outside!

(Welbeck Children’s Books, paperback, £8.99)

Age one plus:

Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes: A Complete Collection of All Your Favourites

Axel Scheffler

Get ready to read, sing – and simply share – this joyously collated and illustrated treasury of over fifty traditional and much-loved nursery rhymes. Brought to vivid and colourful life by the exquisite full-colour illustrations of award-winning Axel Scheffler, illustrator of The Gruffalo, this fabulous gift anthology includes classic nursery rhymes, traditional lullabies and favourite action songs. Mother Goose and her three little goslings act as guides through this nursery rhyme journey while Scheffler’s warm and funny illustrations bringing the tales to life. With the rhymes linked together by enchanting original stories about Mother Goose and the goslings as they learn to waddle, swim and fly, this beautiful book gives a unique and fresh twist to the traditional favourites. From Humpty Dumpty to Jack and Jill, and from Baa Baa Black Sheep to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, there’s something for everyone in this beautiful gift treasury …a must-have for every family bookshelf!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 2 plus:

One Tiny Dot

Lucy Rowland and Gwen Millward

Let kindness grow! That’s the heartwarming theme of a gentle, caring and reassuring picture book from the top team of author Lucy Rowland and illustrator Gwen Millward. Kindness is represented as a simple dot which grows bigger with each kind act that is performed by an assortment of people. ‘There once was a dot, who was really quite small, walking along and not minding at all that it wasn't that big or that bold or that tough, for this dot was kindness and that was enough.’ Rowland’s charming story imagines that kindness comes in all shapes and sizes, starting out as a dot and morphing into all sorts of different forms as it spreads joy wherever it goes. Millward’s colourful, evocative and vibrantly eclectic illustrations reinforce messages about the ability of kindness to uplift, comfort and unite, as well as to help overcome anger and sadness. Deceptively simple in its clever wording but powerful in its messaging, One Tiny Dot will be loved by all the family.

(Templar Publishing, paperback, £6.99)