A lost pony, ghost dogs and an army of giant nits - book reviews

It's horses for courses this month as a super-sparkling selection of new children's books puts an extraordinary menagerie of animals '“ both large and small '“ at centre stage.

Monday, 20th August 2018, 1:19 pm
Updated Monday, 20th August 2018, 1:25 pm
Seaview Stables Adventures: The Pony With No Name
Seaview Stables Adventures: The Pony With No Name

Age 8 plus:

Seaview Stables Adventures: The Pony With No Name by Tracey Corderoy

Family, friendship, adventures and horses take starring roles in the first book of a big-hearted and enchanting new series from award-winning children’s author Tracey Corderoy.

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Corderoy, who trained as a primary school teacher and has published over 45 books since 2010, works her storytelling magic on the Seaview Stables Adventures which introduce young readers to pony-mad Bryony May who has left city life for a new home in a seaside village called Brook Dale.

Ten-year-old Bryony’s dad died six months ago and her mum is moving the family, which includes Bryony’s twin brother Josh, to her grandpa’s quaint cottage in a little village by the sea. Bryony is not too happy about the move, particularly when she has to leave everyone behind, including her school friends and her four-legged friends at the local riding stables.

But while exploring the woods near her new home, Bryony meets a beautiful chocolate brown bay pony with a hint of sadness behind his eyes. The pony has been seriously spooked which caused him to bolt but luckily Bryony is able to calm him down using her natural ability and an instant connection with him.

Days later, she can’t stop thinking about the little pony so when she sees an advert in the local post office from a lady wanting help with her daughter’s new pony, she immediately answers. When Bryony turns up at Brook Dale Manor House, she is delighted to see that it is indeed the same pony and knows that she and this pony were meant to be.

All seems to be going well until she meets Georgina Brook… Georgina is supposed to be the pony’s owner but she doesn’t seem to care about him one bit. She hasn’t even given him a name and for some reason she is determined to keep Bryony away. Will Bryony ever get close to the dream pony she has secretly called Red?

Bryony is an appealing and exciting heroine… caring, loving and determined, she puts her family and friends first, and her warm, responsible relationship with animals is an inspiration to young readers.

The coastal backdrop, a hint of mystery, plenty of dramas and a charismatic bay pony ensure that this beautifully written series will delight both animal and adventure lovers!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Hounds of Penhallow Hall: The Secrets Tree by Holly Webb and Jason Cockcroft

Pack your bags and prepare for a magical journey of discovery as Holly Webb sweeps us back to ghostly Penhallow Hall in Cornwall.

Adventure, animals, mystery and magic are proving a seductive mix for young readers as the Penhallow books – brought to life by Jason Cockcroft’s beautiful, expressive black-and-white illustrations – whisk them away to a memorable coastal setting, rich in history and legend, where Poppy and her ghost friends solve exciting puzzles from the past.

In The Secrets Tree, we meet up again with Poppy who lives at haunted Penhallow Hall with her mum who manages the stately home but, once the last of the visitors leave for the day, the place is all theirs.

And Poppy has discovered that the house is full of ghosts and memories and her unexpected new friends include Rex, an Irish wolfhound who lived at Penhallow many decades ago, another dog ghost called Magnus, and William Penhallow, a boy from the past who also lived at the hall.

In their new adventure, it’s Halloween and while celebrations are in full swing at the stately home, Polly and Rex are in search of a new ghost dog. Down in the old stable block they come across a dog’s head carved in a wooden door and wake a terrier called Patch.

The little dog is terrified of the changes to his old home and runs off. When Polly and Rex find Patch hiding in a hollow tree, they are soon on the trail of an even greater mystery.

Inside the tree is a coded message from Patch’s master, Jack, to his older brother. From Patch’s description, Polly and Rex realise that Jack’s brother must have been a highwayman. But the message remains unread. Can Polly and Rex discover what happened to the brothers?

Webb, who has written over 100 books for children, works her trademark storytelling wonders with this bewitching series, creating thrilling, all-action, atmospheric stories with a special appeal for young readers.

With its intriguing mysteries, fun-filled adventures and canine stars, Penhallow Hall is fast becoming the most popular destination in children’s fiction!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Gremlins and Pesky Guests by Karen McCombie and Becka Moor

There’s only one school where a new term means riotous fun rather than boring old lessons… St Grizzle’s School for Girls of course!

Comedy and chaos are on the curriculum again as Karen McCombie welcomes us all back to the batty boarding school for girls (and strange interlopers!) which is giving the wild antics of St Trinian’s a run for its money.

St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Gremlins and Pesky Guests is the fourth book in this brilliantly anarchic series featuring the funny and fantastic illustrations of Manchester-based Becka Moor and starring Dani, her best friend Arch and crazy Granny Viv.

When a flood closes the village school, Lulu invites the staff and pupils to come and join them at St Grizzle’s. Dani and her friends can’t believe their bad luck – it was awful enough bumping into Spencer and his cronies in the village but now they’ve got to share lessons with them.

Before long pupils are clashing with pupils, there are pranks aplenty and even the teachers aren’t getting along. Rehearsals get underway for the school show but with tempers fraying it’s soon looking like a big failure.

Determined that the show will go on, Lulu calls on Dani and co, as the oldest children in the school, to set a good example and make friends. But with Spencer up to his usual tricks, can the two rival groups put aside their differences long enough to turn a disaster into a triumph?

The outrageous antics of a madcap cast of characters and extra big servings of off-the-wall humour are the winning formula for this boarding school farce which is proving a huge success with a new generation of mischief-making youngsters.

With madness and mayhem on every page, and all the shared fun of being at boarding school, this wonderfully wacky series really is a class act!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Star Friends: Night Shade by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming

Mystery, magic, adventure and danger… the perfect mix for young readers getting to grips with reading alone!

Linda Chapman, author of over 200 books for children, has her finger firmly on the pulse of little girls and animal lovers in the fifth book of her wonderfully warm, exciting and tender Star Friends series which has won the hearts of thousands of youngsters.

Maia and her pals are Star Friends – girls who can use magic to keep the world in harmony, looking after the environment, healing things and people, but most importantly conquering evil. And when they meet the Star Animals, a whole world of magical adventure unfolds.

Ever since Maia and her friends stopped Auntie Mabel from using dark magic to cause trouble in the small seaside village of Westcombe, life has been peaceful for the girls and their Star Animals. But it seems that peace was only temporary. The forces of dark magic are back and poisoning plants in the girls’ special woodland. Lottie and her star animal, a squirrel called Juniper, and the other girls are going to have to use all their special Star Magic skills to battle against the latest threat…

Chapman’s imaginative story – ideally pitched for building reading confidence – transports children into the wonderful Star World through her gentle narrative and enchanting characters while Lucy Fleming provides the appealing and contemporary illustrations for a story packed with dramas and challenges as the friends battle to overcome evil using their magical powers.

With captivating animal characters, enchanting adventures and a lively group of Star Friends to get to know and like, there is fun, love and adventure on every page as well as important messages about wildlife and the environment.

A spellbinding series that inspires a love of reading…

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Shine: Chloe Centre Stage by Holly Webb and Monique Dong

Raise the curtain and let the show begin!

Welcome to the Shine School for the Performing Arts and the first book in a sparkling, revamped series of dance, drama, dreams and friendship stories from favourite children’s author Holly Webb.

Dance and drama classes are hugely popular among young children and for many, full-time stage school is the ultimate dream. So step into the limelight and share the captivating ups and downs of stage school and friendships with a talented cast of girls you will love to meet.

Getting into the Shine School for Performing Arts is a dream come true for Chloe Ford… she will be taking classes in dance and drama every day and will be surrounded by people just as passionate as she is. But while the talented and extroverted Chloe was the star at her old school, at Shine it’s much harder to stand out.

Although the other girls in her year seem nice, she finds it trickier to make real friends than she had expected. Chloe starts to mess about in class and finally finds herself the centre of attention… but for all the wrong reasons. And when a prank goes wrong, rumours that she is about to be expelled begin to fly. Can Chloe turn things around before it’s too late?

This glittering, perfectly-pitched series, featuring stage, performance and friendship dramas, is being reissued with gorgeous new covers and redesigned pages, including fabulous new contemporary illustrations by Monique Dong.

Pirouettes, pliés and plenty of tantrums!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Pet Defenders: Invasion of the Giant Nits by Gareth P. Jones and Steve May

What do you get when a courageous cat and a daring dog form an unlikely friendship… the dynamic Pet Defenders of course!

Fans of Gareth P. Jones and Steve May’s outrageously funny Pet Defenders series will know by now that when we humans aren’t around, our pets aren’t snoozing or snoring, they are actually saving the world from evil aliens!

But if you haven’t yet discovered the madcap fun and fast-paced antics of these brilliant books, then now could be the perfect time to meet Mitzy and Biskit, the cat and dog duo who work together for the good of mankind… and pet-kind.

The Pet Defenders are secret agents with a difference. The Earth’s safety is their primary goal; they must defend it at all costs. The second imperative is to protect humans from the truth, and that isn’t always easy.

In this new adventure, Biskit and Mitzy are confronted by a large alien spider who plans to destroy the planet. Worse, she has an army of nits (Nano Inventive Trained Soldiers to be more precise) that she can enlarge with a blast from her own invention… the Relativisor. She can also shrink things with it, and suddenly Mitzy is the size of a louse and clinging to Biskit’s head. Can the Pet Defenders stop the nits ripping the Earth apart? It’s a head-scratching challenge they must win at all costs!

Packed with laugh-out-loud comedy, out-of-this-world adventures, May’s zany illustrations and stories positively bubbling with Jones’ energy, imagination and irreverent sense fun, these full-on adventures are ideal reading for all young mischief makers.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Scaredy Bear by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

Sometimes the world can be a very frightening place… so here’s a gentle and inspirational picture book that helps to put fears into the right perspective.

Scaredy Bear is the work of award-winning Steve Smallman, who has taken up writing his own stories after illustrating children’s books for over 30 years, and the very talented Caroline Pedler whose bold and yet tender illustrations will melt the hearts of both children and adults.

‘Gosh!’ gulped Big Bob the bear, ‘How can you be so brave when you are so small?’ ‘Because,’ Little Bob the bunny whispered, ‘I’m big on the inside.’ There’s a monster in the forest and fearless Little Bob has crept out of his bed one night to find him… but instead, he finds a very scaredy bear who doesn’t want to be on his own if there is a monster around! Will the bear be happy to join in the hunt for the terrible forest creature they call the Big Hairy?

Smallman’s delightfully appealing and playful story celebrates new friendships with adorable animal characters and gentle humour while Pedler’s illustrations add warmth, vibrancy and that special ‘aaah’ factor to the gentle theme about overcoming doubts and fears.

A beautifully creative and exquisitely illustrated story about new friendships and finding you are braver than you ever thought possible.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 3 plus:

Mind Your Manners by Nicola Edwards and Feronia Parker-Thomas

‘If we want to be happy together,

We need to have all of the tools.

Good manners make life so much better.

They’re not just some silly old rules.’

It’s never too early to start teaching little ones the importance of good manners and this clever, colourful picture book provides life lessons with both love and laughter.

Young readers will get a gentle jolt of recognition when they step into a noisy, nightmare jungle full of squawking, squealing and tears! It’s full of misbehaving animals, from messy monkeys and rude tigers to grumpy grizzly bears. But with the help of some quirky, memorable rhymes from Nicola Edwards, lessons in being good team players and adorable animal illustrations from Feronia Parker-Thomas, children will enjoy learning how good manners really do make the world go round!

Through upbeat, exhilarating rhymes and a playful animal adventure, Edwards provides little readers with a fun introduction to manners and the importance of being polite. Parker-Thomas’s jungle animals are portrayed with humour and whimsy while the light-hearted tone lets little ones learn the lesson of minding your manners through visual and verbal enjoyment.

The politics of politeness perfectly portrayed…

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 3 plus:

What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo? by John Kelly and Steph Laberis

Choosing the right pet isn’t as easy as you might think…

Author John Kelly and illustrator Steph Laberis have fun with this wonderfully anarchic picture book story about a boy who advertises for a new pet and gets a lot more than he bargained for when a madcap menagerie of strange creatures start arriving on his doorstep!

Oscar is over the moon because his mum and dad have finally said he can have a pet. The problem is he can’t decide which pet he should pick. So what could be better than an advert in the paper? ‘Could you be the perfect pet for me? If so, contact me, Oscar, at: 99 Ice Cream Drive, Little Bumbling.’ And after a deluge of replies and a dizzying choice of pets, including a gorilla and a whale, some of them make an unexpected appearance. What on earth will he do when they all move in? His house has turned into a zoo!

Kelly’s hilariously funny and inventive story ramps up the comedy action as everything from mobilised meerkats and dam-building beavers to race horses and space monkeys come tumbling through Oscar’s front door.

Children will love the joyful sense of chaos that runs throughout this crazy but essentially warm-hearted story and the wonderfully funny letters that arrive in response to Oscar’s advertisement. And with Laberis’ quirky, cartoon-style illustrations on every page, this is the perfect caper for animal (and fun!) lovers of every age.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Only Lonely Panda by Jonny Lambert

How do you find a friend when you are lonely little panda bear?

Author and illustrator Jonny Lambert certainly knows how to tug at our heartstrings and this enchanting picture book – featuring a riot of vivid spot colour illustrations on a silver grey metallic backdrop – is guaranteed to become a firm family favourite.

Deep in the dewy forest sits an only, lonely panda bear. ‘I wish I had a friend,’ Panda sighs, as playful sifaka lemurs, beautiful butterflies and graceful flamingos dance around him. Panda wants a friend but he doesn’t know how to go about finding one. Imitating them doesn’t seem to be working but, hang on, who is that peeking through the bamboo? And can Panda work out how to be her friend?

The Only Lonely Panda is a stunning story, both visually and verbally, with Lambert’s collage style illustrations providing a feast of textured colour. Panda’s attempts to find a friend are portrayed with wry humour and moving simplicity, providing an uplifting and reassuring celebration of friendship and learning to be yourself.

A joy to behold… and ideal for little ones who are learning to make friends at a new nursery or school.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)