Woodland anarchy, an accidental witch and a cave bear by various authors - book reviews -

Get ready to laugh your socks off with two foxy foxes, enjoy a race to the death in Ancient Rome, meet a young witch who is casting a spell, and share adventures with an orphan girl and her pet bear as they search for a new home in a sparkling selection of September children’s books.

Sunday, 3rd October 2021, 12:30 pm

Age 7 plus:


Nadia Shireen

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

You can never be too young to enjoy a bit of anarchy!

Youngsters (and their parents) will be grinning, guffawing, snorting and sniggering when they get their hands on one of the funniest new series to hit the book shelves this year.

Grimwood – a sort-of Watership Down with foxes which evokes tears of laughter rather than of sorrow – is the work of author and illustrator Nadia Shireen who has won awards for her picture books and been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

This fully illustrated debut middle grade series stars two fox cub siblings who are on the hunt for a new home amidst what they thought would be the safe, bucolic charms of the countryside, only to find that rural life has its own hilarious and riotous perils.

Ted and his older sister Nancy are on the run from Princess Buttons, the scariest street cat in the Big City, after Ted accidentally ate her tail. They flee for Grimwood, expecting to find refuge in the peaceful countryside. Instead, they are met with thieving eagles, dramatic ducks, riotous rabbits and a whole host of bizarre characters.

Their new rural home is more weird than idyllic, it seems, but when Princess Buttons tracks them down, Nancy and Ted and the animals of Grimwood must unite in a mind-bending race against time…

Shireen serves up an irresistible blend of glorious gags, hilarious comedy routines, boundless madcap escapades, and a memorable cast of quirky characters that young readers will be longing to meet again from the moment they turn the last page.

With a side helping of zany, high-energy black and white illustrations, which bring both the animals and the action to life, Shireen is firmly in the driving seat for a series heading straight to the top of the bestsellers list.

(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Circus Maximus: Race to the Death

Annelise Gray

Danger, mystery, adventure, horses, and the greatest show on earth… where else but the fabulous Circus Maximus!

If you’re in search of a truly extraordinary adventure – a classic in more ways than one – then head off to Rome and share the thrills and spills of a girl whose dream is to be the first female charioteer at the greatest sporting stage of the ancient world.

Classics scholar and Latin teacher Annelise Gray plays a blinder with her heart-pounding debut novel which brings the Roman world to life with a vibrancy and breathtaking brand of authenticity guaranteed to capture the hearts and minds of readers young and old.

Circus Maximus: Race to the Death is a magical blend of real history, dazzling fiction and amazing horses which transports us back to the perilous reign of the brutal Emperor Caligula in the first century AD whilst delivering a terrific and inspirational adventure story.

Everyone knows that the towering Circus Maximus is where the best horses and charioteers compete in a race to the death, and where men are the only competitors. But that doesn’t stop twelve-year-old Dido dreaming of becoming the first female charioteer… and she has lost her heart to Porcellus, a wild, tempestuous horse which she longs to train and race.

Putting her ambitions to one side for now, she must be content with helping her father Antonius, the trainer of Rome’s most popular racing team, The Greens, and teaching the rules of racing to Justus, the handsome young nephew of the Greens’ wealthy owner.

When her father is brutally murdered, she is forced to seek refuge with an unlikely ally. But what of her dream of Circus triumphs and being reunited with the beloved horse she left behind in Rome? And the threat to her own life isn’t over as she faces a powerful and terrifying new enemy... the Emperor Caligula.

Ben Hur meets National Velvet as the brave, intelligent, loyal and passionate Dido battles to secure a foothold in a world dominated by men and must find hope, courage and redemption in the face of revenge, betrayal and cruelty.

From the exciting cast of human and horse characters and a storyline that gallops along as fast as the prize stallions, to intriguing snippets of real Roman history and all the sights and sounds of the ancient city, Circus Maximus is a thrill ride from start to finish.

Saddle up, climb aboard, and don’t miss the show!

(Zephyr, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Midnight Hunt

Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

Expect laughs, madcap mayhem and spine-shivers aplenty as we are plunged into the third shape-shifting adventure in Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder’s magical Midnight Hour debut trilogy which looks destined to be a modern classic.

In this final epic chapter, Emily is locked out of the Midnight Hour, and things have grown dangerously dark in Victorian London. Her friends and family are on the run from the terrifying Midnight Hunt, while the foul Make Britain Dark Again party schemes to break the spell that keeps both worlds safe.

It’s going to take more than just Emily’s big mouth and her officer-in-training Tarkus to fix this one. But how’s a girl meant to save the day (and night) when she’s all out of snacks and her stowaway pocket hedgehog Hoggins is hibernating?

Read and Trinder deliver breathless action, fantasy, guffaws, spooks and an ingenious finale as fearless, feisty Emily battles monsters, her evil adversary Nocturne, and some timeless problems that we all know so well.

A wickedly witty, marvellously magical and hugely imaginative series which has already been optioned for TV and films… watch this space!

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Diary of an Accidental Witch

Honor and Perdita Cargill, and Katie Saunders

Bea-ware… there’s a new witch in town and she’s going to cast a spell over readers young and old!

Magic is in the air from the moment you open the pages of this brilliantly funny and enchanting adventure which comes straight out of the bewitching minds of daughter and mother partnership, Honor and Perdita Cargill.

Illustrated throughout by skilful artist Katie Saunders, Diary of an Accidental Witch is billed as The Worst Witch meets Tom Gates, and time spent with trainee witch Bea Black certainly delivers a perfect potion of magic, mayhem and mischief.

‘I’m at witch school! Now would be a really good time to discover I can do magic…’

Bea Black has just moved to Little Spellshire, a town with a magical secret. When her dad accidentally enrols her at the local witch school, she has to get to grips with a load of black cats and some interesting new classes.

And what else is on Bea’s to-do list? Make friends, look after Stan the super grumpy class frog, levitate stuff, AND do everything humanly magically possible to stay on a broom. But with the Halloween Ball on the horizon, will she be able to master her wand skills in time? And more importantly can she keep her new-found magical abilities a secret from dad?

The Cargills make a truly wizard writing team as Bea’s exceedingly different (and hilarious!) life at witch school comes with a cauldron full of comedy and moving moments of heartwarming magic.

Totally spellbinding!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Puffin Portal

Vashti Hardy and Natalie Smillie

If mystery, monsters, maps and dangerous missions set your pulse racing, head off to a land called Moreland and join a crime-fighting girl on a fantastical adventure!

Produced in a super readable format by innovative publisher Barrington Stoke, and especially suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers, The Puffin Portal is the second book of an exhilarating, fantasy-fuelled steampunk series from Blue Peter award-winning author Vashti Hardy and talented illustrator Natalie Smillie.

Grace’s family are wardens of the Griffin Map which was invented by her Great Grandma and is the most important piece of technology in the city of Copperport. The Griffins use the map – which shows the entire country of Moreland – and its teleport technology to fight crime and keep law and order across the land.

Right now it’s all systems go at Griffin HQ where 13-year-old Grace, her mum and her brother Bren have their hands full answering a huge number of calls for help. They could really do with another warden on the team but Mum believes their important work should be kept inside the family.

Meanwhile, Grace is investigating a series of puzzling petty thefts. The clues lead her to a ramshackle castle on a lonely island where the mystery only deepens. Will Grace be able to track down the thief?

Adventure is certainly the name of the game in this thrilling and inventive series which has all the hallmarks of Hardy’s rich imaginative powers… a stunningly created ‘other’ world, brilliantly inventive kids, a charismatic supporting cast , and a story full of twists, turns, kindness and big-hearted family values.

Add on Smillie’s superbly detailed and evocative black and white illustrations which bring the story to life, and you have a reading treat for all fantasy-loving middle-graders.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Nell and the Cave Bear

Martin Brown

From truly horrible histories to a truly heartwarming adventure… renowned illustrator Martin Brown delights with his adorable young fiction debut.

Best known as illustrator of the outstandingly successful Horrible Histories series, in which he teamed up with author Terry Deary, Brown proves to be just as adept as writing, with this tale of an orphan girl and her pet bear in search of a new home.

A long, long time ago, a girl lived with her tribe in a cave. As she had no parents of her own, her pet cave bear was her best friend. He followed her everywhere and comforted her whenever she grew weary of all the chores she was given.

So when Nell overhears some of the grown-ups planning to give Cave Bear to another tribe, she decides they must run away. So together they embark on a great adventure, following the stream from their cave down the mountain to wherever it will lead them.

Together they encounter huge mammoths and wild hunters, face hunger and thirst, and all the time hoping to find somewhere safe to be together.

Nell and the Cave Bear has all the right ingredients for early readers… an exciting, easy-to-follow adventure full of new friendships, fun escapades, gentle humour, diverse animal and human characters, and all beautifully brought to life by Brown’s exquisite two-tone artwork.

A moving tale of togetherness with a message for the modern world…

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Cookie!: Cookie and the Most Mysterious Mystery 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 brilliantly entertaining 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 third book in the series, Cookie finds mysteries everywhere… but can she solve them, and save the science show? Meanwhile, Cookie’s Nani is coming to stay from Bangladesh but she doesn't speak English and Cookie is the only one in the family who doesn’t speak Bengali.

Fortunately, science-mad Cookie realises that her coding lessons at school might help her crack the language code and help her bond with Nani. Other mysteries are harder to solve, though… like, why is Jake’s mum acting so weird, who is the mystery gamer who keeps levelling-up in Cookie’s computer game and who is the Woodburn Hacker who keeps posting teachers’ secrets on the school website?

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 saving the planet and the importance of coding, and an enchanting lead player who inspires girls to get on board with science, this is the perfect all-round adventure for middle grade readers.

(Piccadilly Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 5 plus:

Football Superstars: De Bruyne Rules and Mané Rules

Simon Mugford and Dan Green

Kick off a new season of soccer action with two new books in an enthralling series of highly visual first football biographies featuring some of the world’s most famous faces.

You can collect your favourites and build your knowhow with stats and expert tips about today’s biggest global football heroes with these on-goal Football Superstars books specially created by Ipswich Town fans Simon Mugford and illustrator Dan Green to engage reluctant young readers.

With a simple narrative text that has been graded and approved by an educational expert, and easy-to-digest facts and figures, youngsters can find out about each player’s rise to glory, top scoring moments and club transfers.

Is Kevin De Bruyne your ultimate football hero? One of the best playmakers in the game, De Bruyne is part of the star-studded Manchester City team and, playing for Belgium, he was also a third-place winner at the 2018 World Cup.

And if Sadio Mané is your favourite football superstar, discover how he was part of the Liverpool side that won the Champions League in 2019 and then the Premier League in 2020. Mané also played for the Senegalese national team, helping them reach the quarter finals in the 2012 Olympic tournament, and was part of the national team at the 2015 and 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Growing up in a poor family in the small village of Bambali, he was inspired to become a footballer after he saw his country’s performance at the 2002 World Cup.

Each book is filled with fun quizzes, stats and little-known facts, and features a supporting cast of players, managers, TV pundits – and even the authors themselves – chipping in with quotes, jokes and comments to add to the playful and informative fun.

Add on cartoons and visual jokes, presented with an energetic, graphic look, a glossary of top words young fans need to know, whether that is the Ballon d’Or or the Copa Rey, and you have reading heaven for your own little football stars.

(Welbeck Publishing, paperback, £5.99 each)

Age 3 plus:

The Fairy Dogmother

Caroline Crowe and Richard Merritt

Wagracadabra… meet the Fairy Dogmother who makes wishes come true!

The joys of friendship and the rewards of putting others first speak loudly and clearly in a captivating picture book from the inspirational team of author Caroline Crowe and illustrator Richard Merritt.

Cinders loves living at Woofington’s Dog Shelter. He has fantastic food, a cosy bed, fabulous friends and lots of holes to dig. So when, one day, Priscilla Paws, his Fairy Dogmother appears, whatever will he wish for? His pals all have their own ideas… sausages, a bone and being able to finally catch his tail. But the clock is ticking for Cinders to make a decision and with everyone else’s wishes coming thick and fast, Cinders might run out of time!

Crowe’s fabulously fresh and funny story has a delightful twist in its fairy ‘tail’ as Cinders unexpectedly finds his forever family… and the happy ending he longs for.

Ideal for reading aloud, and with pups aplenty and Merritt’s gallery of brightly coloured, bold and adorable illustrations, this magical blend of woofs, wags and wishes cooks up the perfect picture book recipe for your young dog-lovers!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

It’s Only One

Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal

Just one sweet wrapper leaves a bitter taste in an imaginative and timely picture book from the top team of author Tracey Corderoy and illustrator Tony Neal.

In a world that can so easily be blighted by litter and thoughtlessness, here’s a clever, cautionary story which teaches youngsters that a little care and consideration from everyone makes a joyful world for all.

Sunnyville is a perfect town. It twinkles with total loveliness and friendliness until Rhino, without thinking, drops a toffee wrapper! ‘What? It’s only one!’ he says. But soon all the animals are throwing down their sweet wrappers, picking flowers in the park, playing their music loudly and making the whole town feel grumpy. It’s up to one little mouse, with a bright idea, to save the day.

It’s Only One is the ideal book to teach young children to think about the consequences of their actions, whether that is disposing of litter or considering how their behaviour impacts on the happiness and welfare of those around them.

Using a cast of delightful animals characters, all brought to life by the magical brush of artist Tony Neal, and with tips and advice on being good citizens from both author and illustrator, this a lesson in caring that will be shared and loved.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Home: where our story begins

Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup

There’s no place like home!

See nature in its many shapes and guises in this enchanting picture book journey across the world to discover some of the fascinating places where animals make their homes.

A beautiful rhyming text from Patricia Hegarty and the spectacular illustrations of award-winning artist Britta Teckentrup add extra magic to the voyage of discovery as little ones learn about migration, hibernation and all the wonders of the natural world.

‘Wherever we may choose to roam, We need a place to call our home.’ Follow a little bear as he discovers a host of animal homes… squirrels lining their drey with leaves, beavers building a home from sticks, and rabbits keeping their warrens warm and dry.

With exciting, peep-through pages, teeming with birds and animals as they work by day and night, and packed with Teckentrup’s emotive illustrations, this is a picture book to enchant both children and adults.

(Little Tiger, paperback, £7.99)

Age one plus:

Hello Baby Animals!

Amelia Hepworth and Cani Chen

Happiness is… a board book bursting with colours!

Little Tiger Press, a publisher which has made entertaining and informative children’s books its mission, brings babies and toddlers a bright and beautiful Happy Baby series featuring visually arresting high-contrast board books.

Babies can see black and white images from birth, and this captivating series has been specially designed to delight even the youngest readers.

Little ones will love to experience again and again the minimal text alongside appealing and contrasting illustrations which blend simple black and white pictures with eye-catching splashes of neon colours.

With a tactile cut-out cover and super-bright fluorescent inks on every page, this clever book has been specially designed to capture children’s attention as they meet a host of friendly and adorable baby animal characters.

The magical art of learning!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £5.99)