Singing whales, a teeny genie and a master of disguise by various authors - book reviews -

Discover the amazing life of the giants of the ocean, join the hunt for a golden carrot, step into the enchanting Smile Shop, track down a dastardly dognapper, and enjoy madcap adventures with a teeny, weeny blue genie in a new selection of children’s books.

Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 3:45 pm
The World of Whales: Get to Know the Giants of the Ocean
The World of Whales: Get to Know the Giants of the Ocean

Age 5 plus:

The World of Whales: Get to Know the Giants of the Ocean

Darcy Dobell and Becky Thorns

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Did you know that humpback whales sing underwater songs with lots of verses?

Dive in and explore the amazing life of whales… the most majestic mammals that inhabit our oceans, and one of the most fascinating animal species on the planet.

Whales have intrigued us for thousands of years… they are huge, mysterious and powerful, but also gentle and sociable, and in some ways, are very like humans. Whales, dolphins and porpoises all belong to the whale family, and some members are acrobats and singers, some like to stay close to home, while others are great travellers.

Written by Darcy Dobell and filled with the stunning blue-tone illustrations of Becky Thorns, this fantastic book – from German-based publishers Gestalten – brings us up close to the special habits and characteristics of these marine giants, and reveals mind-blowing facts that make the multiple species of the whale family so special.

You might already be aware that whales aren’t fish, but did you know that, as mammals, they need to breathe and hold their breath under water, just like us humans? And did you know that the massive adult blue whale is longer than three buses, that orcas can live with their families for their whole lives, or that bowhead whales can live for more than 200 years?

From the stealthy orcas that traverse the seas, to the beautiful songs of humpbacks and the booming calls of the blue whales, all the family will have a whale of a time exploring the lives of these grandiose swimmers.

So don your diving suit, join the exciting subaquatic expedition, and marvel as these marine giants rise to the ocean’s surface and reveal the secrets of their remarkable lives.

Discover more about The World of Whales, shortlisted in the AOI's World of Illustration Awards 2020 (Children’s Publishing category), at

(Little Gestalten, hardback, £16.95)

Age 9 plus:

The Extraordinary Elements: The Periodic Table Personified

Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía

Put a face to the periodic tables and you’ll find that learning is fun!

Rock out with Roentgenium or get fizzy with Francium in this lively and fascinating book which presents the extraordinary elements as you have never before seen them.

With the help of Alice Cooper, Freddie Mercury, Kurt Cobain and a whole host of weird and wonderful characters, both real and imagined, The Extraordinary Elements depicts each of the chemical elements as a person to help children understand its properties.

Amazing facts and easy-to-access information – written by Colin Stuart, a renowned astronomy speaker and author – are accompanied by the personified elements, some chemistry basics, and illustrator Ximo Abadía’s stunning, full-colour infographics.

And to make the book fun as well as informative, Ruthenium is presented as a Russian doll, Sulphur as a magician, Mercury as the well-known Queen singer Freddie Mercury, and Antimony as an Egyptian-style queen.

The superbly designed pages are filled with fact boxes and other fascinating information, and explore the history of elements from millions of years ago through to the present day, and cover every known element in the periodic table.

With eye-catching illustrations, a section that show how elements are relevant to human beings and everyday life, and a history section detailing how and when an element was discovered, this is an ideal introductory science book to use both at home and at school.

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Royal Rabbits: The Hunt for the Golden Carrot

Santa Montefiore and Simon Sebag Montefiore

Husband and wife team Santa and Simon Sebag Montefiore have combined their considerable writing talents again for the fourth book in their outrageously entertaining Royal Rabbits series.

And the exciting news is that the 20th Century Fox animation of the books is moving ahead as a hybrid-animated live-action feature film with Will Davies confirmed to write the script.

These terrific, high-octane adventures are set in a secret society of rabbits living under Buckingham Palace. Our hero rabbits are Special Forces commando Thumper rabbits who get caught up in conspiracies which pit them against evil rodent enemies.

And this time, our hero Shylo is off on a new adventure to track down a golden carrot, and he’ll need all the help he can get from his Royal rabbit friends and his fellow bucks back home in the countryside.

Shylo might be a Royal Rabbit but he still misses his mother and family so he jumps at the chance to visit his home warren. But as soon as he arrives, he finds something strange and dark going on. A mysterious bunny called Harlequin is on the farm, attracting many followers with his crazy singing and loopy dancing. But Harlequin is also digging for the golden carrot which, says an ancient legend, will give him power over all humans and animals.

Harlequin believes it’s buried somewhere on the farm. Then, as more followers flock to the warren, Shylo wonders if the hunt for the golden carrot is a fun game or if Harlequin is plotting world domination. And when the quest turns deadly, Shylo calls in the Royal Rabbits. Can they stop power-mad Harlequin? And who will find the carrot first?

The non-stop action in this exciting and beautifully imagined world of heroic rabbits and rogue rodents, which seduces with its air of nostalgia and chivalric charm, is brought to life by the lively, atmospheric illustrations of Kate Hindley.

Empowering, fun-filled and fantastical, this is ideal holiday reading for all middle-graders.

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £10.99)

Age 7 plus:

Dream Team: A Case of the Jitters

Tom Percival

Join the Dream Team… and turn nightmares into incredible adventures!

Children can suffer from anxiety in the best of times but in the current coronavirus crisis, stress levels have the potential to soar.

So calm their fears and dry their tears with author and illustrator Tom Percival’s clever, all-action Dream Team adventure series which offers a fun and engaging way to reassure youngsters and help them cope with their anxieties.

In the second book in the series, Erika’s friend Kris is hilarious. She thinks he should perform in their school’s talent show, but he’s far too nervous.

And when Erika gets a call from the Dream Team to help on a mission, she meets another girl who is struggling with confidence. Chanda’s dream is being attacked by the jitters and nothing seems to be going right.

Try as they might, the team can’t get control of her dream – until Erika realises that there is a connection between Chanda and Kris. Can she help Chanda to find some confidence before the jitters take over completely?

Brimming with action, adventures, subtle lessons offering advice and information, plus Percival’s high-octane, two-tone illustrations, this series is the perfect way to explore anxiety and behavioural issues, and to learn how to conquer them through rip-roaring adventure stories.

These superbly creative books are perfect for sharing at home to guide children through periods of anxiety, or for reading in schools as guidance with behavioural problems and anger management.

Sweet dreams are made of this!

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

Age 7 plus:

Cookie!: Cookie and the Most Annoying Girl in the World

Konnie Huq

Get ready for chaos, comedy and a cast of quirky characters as much-loved BBC Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq returns with her hilarious children’s series.

Written and illustrated by Huq, the Cookie! books star adorable science-obsessed girl Cookie Haque, from a Bangladeshi family, who is ready to take on the world… and won’t take no for an answer!

With her chaotic family life, drama queen attitude and her love for madcap school science projects, geeky Cookie also has an uncanny ability to get herself into almost constant scrapes, and her riotous adventures are winning the hearts of mischievous youngsters.

In the second book in the series, Cookie, Keziah and Jake are best friends and life is good. And when Cookie’s birthday approaches, she has a fantastic idea for a Save the Planet Party where everything is recycled and no plastic is used.

Before long, Cookie is buzzing with plans, but then disaster strikes and Suzie Ashby totally swipes Cookie’s ideas and sends out invitations for her own Save the Planet Party. And when Cookie finds herself with two tickets to see popstar Aliana Tiny, Suzie Ashby suddenly wants to be her best friend. One small problem… Suzie is the most annoying girl in the world.

So how is that Cookie has managed to fall out with Jake and Keziah, and become best buddies with Suzie instead? Can she win them back, ditch Suzie and save the planet in the process?

Huq’s inspiration for this anarchic comedy series – illustrated throughout with her own doodle-style, black and white illustrations – was her own childhood, a lingering feeling that she ‘didn’t quite fit in,’ and her own propensity for embarrassing disasters.

With a fresh, funny and joyful warmth permeating the story throughout, subtle lessons about negotiating friendships, an enchanting lead player who is both clever and playful, and fascinating facts about everything from science to saving the planet, this is the perfect all-round adventure for middle grade readers.

(Piccadilly Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 4 plus:

The Smile Shop

Satoshi Kitamura

Money can’t buy you happiness!

Award-winning Japanese author and illustrator Satoshi Kitamura encourages us all to discover the rewards of a smiling face in an enchanting picture book full of life, love and humanity.

An excited little boy has saved all his pocket money and is visiting the market to buy himself something for the very first time. But the market is full of busy, bustling people, he can’t decide what to buy and when disaster strikes, he loses his money and feels devastated. But wait, what’s that he sees? It’s a Smile Shop. He could really do with a smile but what will happen if he goes inside?

Kitamura’s simple but emotive story speaks loudly about the power of kindness and its value to us as human beings in a shared world, while his richly detailed and carefully crafted illustrations are brimming with warm humour, compassion and acute insight.

With its playful story, subtle philosophy, and resonant messages about the infectious nature of a simple smile, this beautiful book is guaranteed to lift the spirits of readers young and old.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Albert Talbot Master of Disguise

Ben Manley and Aurélie Guillerey

Pretending to be someone else is fun… but sometimes just being yourself is even better!

Enjoy a brilliantly conceived picture book story of imagination and adventure from Ben Manley, acclaimed author of The Misadventures of Frederick, and super-talented French illustrator Aurélie Guillerey.

Who will Albert be next? The fearless mountaineer Rusti Buffels, a brilliant mechanical engineer or a galactic megalord? Anything is possible with an imagination like Albert’s as he powers through his day from getting up, going to school and finally going to bed.

As a schoolboy, Albert is nervous in a swimming lesson, but as Zandrian Delaclair, Antarctic submariner and slayer of the abominable Vampire Cuttlefish, he’s as brave and bold as can be.

Show and Tell in front of the whole class can be a bit scary, but by imagining himself to be Professor Octavius Pickleswick, he’s proud to show off his greatest invention yet.

Youngsters will love sharing Albert’s wildly imaginative adventures as he meets the challenges of a day at home and school. Laugh along as he hunts down a buffalo rustler, climbs mountains, invents robots, dives into the ocean and plays card with a quirky cast of characters.

Guillerey brings all Albert’s perilous missions to life with her gallery bold and colourful illustrations, perfectly matched to a funny, reflective story full of the inspirational joys of being whoever you want to be… and the comfort of sometimes just being you!

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

That Dog!

Emma Lazell

Watch out… there’s a dognapper about!

Rising star Emma Lazell burst into the world of publishing with her debut picture book, Big Cat, last year after being tipped as ‘one to watch’ by The Bookseller magazine.

And now the talented author and illustrator is back with her dazzling second book and this time it features the hilarious antics of a dastardly but dopey team of dognappers whose plotting is destined to end in disaster.

The cunning Penelope Dognapper has stolen lots of pooches and now she’s keen to get her hands on the latest rare breed… the lesser spotted woofer. Her big mistake is sending Patrick, her accomplice, to do the job. He has great difficulty identifying the right dog! And in a house that also contains a snake, rabbit and characterful cat, you can imagine the chaos that ensues as he tries to steal the dog.

This dog is a very smart one. He’s quick, clever and a bit of a detective in his spare time and he might just have worked out who’s behind the dastardly crimes. Will he avoid getting caught himself and rescue his fellow creatures?

With her sharp eye for wry humour, an addictive sense of mischief, and a sparkling gallery of bold and vibrant illustrations, Lazell fills her brilliantly entertaining story with rich comic detail and a quirky cast of characters – both human and animal!

Canine capers for all the family!

(Pavilion, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Teeny Weeny Genie

Julia Donaldson and Anna Currey

Be careful what you wish for!

Old Macdonald has more than just his animals to contend with in a brilliant new picture book – bursting with life, laughter and chaos – from world-renowned children’s author Julia Donaldson and talented illustrator Anna Currey.

The top team work their special magic on The Teeny Weeny Genie, a farmyard adventure which celebrates the familiar story of farmer Old Macdonald but adds a delightfully madcap twist to the children’s favourite.

Old Macdonald is cleaning out his farmhouse kitchen when he comes across a dusty old teapot. But what he doesn’t know is that inside that teapot lives a teeny weeny blue genie and no one could be more surprised than Old Macdonald when the wish-granting genie pops out of the spout.

The farmer wishes for a wife, who wishes for a baby. A baby who wishes for a dog, who wishes for a cat, who wishes for some mice! It doesn’t take long before the farmyard starts getting very busy, and VERY noisy!

Will the genie, who used to enjoy his calm and quiet life inside the dusty old teapot, ever get a break from granting wishes and find some peace? If only there was someone who could grant him a wish…

Currey’s gallery of charming, classic-style watercolour illustrations bring extra energy to Donaldson’s enchanting story which comes packed with favourite farmyard animals, and will have youngsters laughing all the way through the frantic antics… and maybe thinking twice before making their own wishes!

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