Talking animals, explosive changes and a body-swap dog by various authors – book reviews –

Enjoy swashbuckling fun and danger on an animal island, prepare to be blown away by the unexpected ‘ripples’ from a royal event, meet a boy and a dog on a magical body-swap adventure, and celebrate the super-style of a hairdresser bear with an entertaining new collection of children’s books.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 19th May 2022, 4:55 am
The Animal Lighthouse by Anthony Burt and Ciara Flood
The Animal Lighthouse by Anthony Burt and Ciara Flood

Age 7 plus:

The Animal Lighthouse

Anthony Burt and Ciara Flood

Do you like magic, fantasy and talking animals? If you do, you’re going to LOVE this super, swashbuckling pirate adventure from seasoned scriptwriter and exciting debut middle grade author Anthony Burt.

Do you like magic, fantasy and talking animals? If you do, you’re going to LOVE this super, swashbuckling pirate adventure from seasoned scriptwriter and exciting debut middle grade author Anthony Burt.

Inspired by his childhood near the Portland Bill lighthouse in Dorset, and hours of fun playing in the sea, Burt was determined to write an epic pirate story with a lighthouse as his guiding light. The result is this thrilling cross between Jungle Book and Treasure Island… a rip-roaring, fun-filled tale with a dynamic cast of humans (some good and some bad!) and enchanting animals.

Brought up by a wonderful group of animals on a hidden island somewhere deep in the Caribbean, 12-year-old Jim knows no other life or who his real parents are. He washed up on the island as a baby in a barrel of rum and treasure, and has been helping run its special lighthouse at Black Eel Rock with the animals ever since.

But now, trouble is brewing... someone, or something, has stolen the lighthouse bulb filaments. If Jim, Oskar the orangutan and the rest of the animals can’t get the lighthouse beams working again, the hidden island will no longer be a secret.

And with a pirate ship on the horizon, bringing unwanted and dangerous answers to Jim’s past, they must do everything they can to stop the pirates smashing apart their tranquil island.

With the fabulously piratical and action-packed illustrations of Ciara Flood adding life and soul to the party of island pals and the band of cut-throat intruders, Burt’s sparkling seafaring saga comes packed with humour, suspense, adventure, and poignant themes of family, friendship and belonging.

Fun and accessible for new and emerging readers, and imbued throughout with the author’s love of animals, lighthouses, the sea and pirates, this is the perfect book for little landlubbers with their eyes fixed firmly on the far horizon! (Guppy Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Fart that Changed the World

Stephen Mangan and Anita Mangan

Hold your breath and step into the second fun-filled adventure from the sensational sibling team of much-loved actor Stephen Mangan and his talented artist sister Anita Mangan.

After the runaway success of last year’s joint debut novel, Escape the Rooms – a cracking adventure starring two unlikely friends trapped in mysterious rooms – the dynamic duo return with a high-energy, brilliantly imaginative and laugh-out-loud tale that is guaranteed to blow away young readers.

It’s the most important day of the year for King Fabian as he is hosting all the neighbouring rulers. Everything simply must go perfectly. King Fabian wakes up, stretches, and farts and his wife’s fury is so huge that he panics and blames the butler, who is carted off to the dungeons. But it leaves behind a big problem… Fabian isn’t really the brains behind the crown. It’s actually the butler. So how will dithery King Fabian manage to pull off this high-pressure event alone? His small and smelly fart looks like it will kick off a crisis... Enter Frank, a kitchen boy with a big imagination, who is drafted in as an emergency butler. As the banquet descends into a food fight and processions catapult out of control, Frank finds himself in an all-out farty farce. Can he save the day?

Anita Mangan’s quirky and characterful illustrations are the perfect pairing for her brother’s wild, witty and wonderful story which reminds youngsters in the most delightful way that the unexpected ‘ripples’ from a small event can bring explosive changes!

Add on a celebration of youthful ingenuity and heroics, and a brand of humour that will have mischief-makers giggling all the way to the last page, and The Fart that Changed the World is set to be another ‘resounding’ success.

(Scholastic, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Poisoned Pie Mystery

Nicki Thornton

Young readers who couldn’t get enough of Nicki Thornton’s fantastic Last Chance Hotel books have been enjoying more thrilling mysteries and magical moments with this talented author’s sparkling spin-off series. These new, spine-tingling adventures feature Nightshade, everyone’s favourite talking cat, and after a cracking opener with The Howling Hag Mystery, Thornton is back to thrill and chill with another fantastic page-turner. Is Oakmoss Hornbeam the unluckiest boy in the world, or has someone cursed him? Oakmoss has been told that he’s an accident waiting to happen and when a black cat crosses his path, mysteriously blown in by a storm, he is convinced it’s his worst omen yet. But Nightshade, a cat of considerable investigative talents when it comes to magical crime, knows when it’s game on or game over. With the help of newshound Veena Vale, and magical crime investigator Dexter Stormforce, she sets out to become a lucky charm for one very unlucky boy. Thornton excels at building a rich and exciting world full of bizarre and extraordinary characters, but with the authentic atmosphere of a classic timeless tale, and a trail of intriguing clues that will keep young readers guessing right through to the last pages. Cosy and threaded through with humour but still alluringly edgy, this fabulous blend of mayhem, magic and mystery is a winner all the way!

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

How I Became a Dog Called Midnight

Ben Miller and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

A boy, a dog, a magical body-swap and two truly villainous villains! You’d have to be barking mad not to adore this classic doggy adventure from actor, comedian and bestselling author Ben Miller. How I Became a Dog Called Midnight is packed full of fun, friendship and canine capers as Miller uses his trademark wit and creative storytelling to deliver a story that will tug at the heartstrings of both children and adults. George has always wondered what it’s like to be a dog. One night, a magical mix-up with an enchanted fountain means he swaps places with Midnight, a huge and lovable hound. Becoming a dog is an amazing adventure, until George uncovers a plan that could threaten Midnight’s home. Can the two friends save the day before the clock strikes twelve and leaves them stuck in each other’s bodies forever? Miller lets loose his prodigious imagination on this magical race-against-time escapade for action boy George and his four-legged best friend Midnight. Also featuring the beautiful, atmospheric black and white illustrations of Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, Miller’s terrific adventure is set to become a favourite with dog lovers of every age!

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

Age 5 plus:

The Bear Stylist

Steven Butler and Jacob Souva

When picture books are too babyish and middle grade books too hard, just what can a young in- When picture books are too babyish and middle grade books too hard, just what can a young in-betweenie read? The answer is a highly illustrated, full-colour fiction range from the creative book boffins at Little Tiger Press. With their enchanting stories and highly illustrated, glossy pages, these chapter books are ideal for newly independent young readers. In The Bear Stylist, we meet Ludo who comes from a long line of famous bear stylists. He loves giving his customers sensible haircuts, whether it’s a tidy trim or a perfect perm… until Leonardo arrives in town. Soon Ludo’s clients are having their feathers flapped and their curls combed by him instead. But only one bear can be named Bear Stylist Supreme! Sainsbury's Children’s Book Award-winning author of The Nothing To See Here Hotel, Steven Butler delivers a delightfully quirky and humorous celebration of ingenuity and teamwork, all brought to vivid life by Jacob Souva’s gallery of vibrant, colourful and action-packed illustrations. A fun-filled book to read alone or share with the family.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Agent Llama

Angela Woolfe and Duncan Beedie

Meet Palmer, Charlie Palmer… awesome spy and fluffy llama! Her top-secret mission is to save the world and rescue a pair of… underpants! Get ready for a super stylish sleuthing adventure, billed as James Bond for little ones and guaranteed to get your little ones giggling and guffawing all the way to the final, explosive showdown. Move over, Bond, there's a new hero in town… Charlie Palmer. Charlie is a hotshot secret agent. Saving the world, fighting goons and looking cool while she does it is no big deal for her. Right now, she’s on a top-secret mission to rescue a pair of the prime minister’s banana-printed underpants. The gadgets are ready, her sunglasses are on. Watch out, baddies, no villain is a match for this legendary llama! Woolfe’s streetwise, savvy llama spy proves to be the perfect sleuthing hero as she fights crime and villainous crooks with laugh-out-loud antics, super-suave swish and some ingenious gadgetry. Beedie’s dynamic, cinematic illustrations bring the laughs, action and rhymes to life, ensuring their mission to entertain is accomplished with style.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Music in Me

Sophy Henn

Feel the rhythm in me! Award-winning author and illustrator Sophy Henn makes beautiful music in this clever and highly original picture book which puts emotions in the spotlight. Filled with fun, playfulness and the complex rhythms of a young child’s changing moods, The Music in Me is the perfect book to introduce little ones to a rainbow of emotions. Hey, have you ever stopped to think about all the different kinds of music that make you, you? There are happy tunes and slow beats, a marching stomp and a sleepy swoon. Maybe, some days, you can’t find your rhythm and you feel all out of sorts, and then on other days your music will come together and you’ll march to the beat of your own drum. With its reassuring messages about the natural swing of human emotions, Henn’s rousing, rhyming, foot-stamping, zigzag-zigging text, and an illustrative explosion of colour and the contrasting highs and low of youthful energy across every page, this extravaganza of words, colours and ideas is the perfect way to educate and entertain your pre-schoolers.

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

Age 3 plus:

I Love Me!

Marvyn Harrison and Diane Ewen

‘It’s easier to raise healthy children than it is to fix unhealthy adults.’ That’s the message that speaks loudly, clearly and with a skip in its step, in a beautiful and resonant picture book from Marvyn Harrison, founder of online male parenting community Dope Black Dads, and award-winning illustrator Diane Ewen. Billed as a first book to build confidence and self-esteem, I Love Me! is a verbal and visual delight as two young children are gently and joyously taught to celebrate the very best in all of us. Every morning, the two youngsters look into the mirror with Daddy and together they say words to help them feel proud and brave, powerful and strong, happy and loving. Brimming with positive affirmations and uplifting statements for each day of the week, and with the added bonus of an enjoyable routine to help prepare young children for the wider world of nursery and school, tips for parents and carers, a bright, fold-out ending, and Ewen’s bold and colourful gallery of illustrations, I Love Me! is perfect for inspiring and empowering even the youngest and shyest of children.

(Macmillan Children's Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Monkey Bedtime

Alex English and Pauline Gregory

Getting up to monkey business takes on a whole new meaning in this adorable picture book just made for bedtime reading. Author Alex English and illustrator Pauline Gregory have fun monkeying around with this funny and frantic rhyming tale of a little boy who gets more than he bargained for when he opens his bedroom window to a very small marmoset! ‘Suddenly I heard an EEK, a TAP TAP on the pane. A tiny little monkey face was peering through the rain. I’m sure my mom won’t mind, I thought. He’s really very small. One tiny pygmy marmoset could do no harm at all…’ What the boy doesn’t expect is the marmoset to bring in all its friends and when he is followed by six red-handed howlers, six macaques, ten capuchins and two great big baboons, there’s going to be trouble! Surely mum will notice the banana skins, the toothpaste, the handprints on the walls? Will he ever get to bed with all this monkeying around? English’s fun-filled rhyme – loaded with madcap mischief and mayhem as the monkeys run amok through the house – springs to glorious life with Gregory’s perfectly matched, anarchic and colourful illustrations.

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Otters vs Badgers

Anya Glazer

London-based author and illustrator Anya Glazer offers little ones a truly dainty dish in a perfectly baked picture book about the fine art of resolving conflicts. Funny, heartfelt, and packed with comical characters and richly detailed artwork, this gentle and entertaining lesson in tolerance, compromise and finding common ground will have youngsters licking their lips with delight. The otters and the badgers live on either side of the river, but they have never seen eye to eye. Neither group can cross to the opposite river bank. But one day shy otter-baker Francie accidentally ventures into the badger lands in search of a new ingredient. As the two sides begin arguing again, she has unwittingly set off a new chapter in their ongoing feud. But maybe Francie’s stunning new cookies – otter-baked but with badger-territory ingredients – may finally help them learn to get along. Glazer’s fabulous artwork help to win the day (along with peacemaker Francie) in a wonderful cautionary tale that manages to pack in pathos, humour, common sense, and a delicious recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Read, share and bon appetit!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)