Book review: A beetle diva, a mad mummy and mirror magic

A beetle diva, a mad mummy and mirror magic
A beetle diva, a mad mummy and mirror magic
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There is plenty of exciting reading for young thrill-seekers as the spring books season gets underway.

Beetle-mania returns with the second book of M.G. Leonard’s dark and humorous trilogy, a Victorian adventure is simply out of this world, enjoy a magical new series for young animal lovers and join in the fun of some anarchic picture books.

Age 10 plus:

Beetle Queen by M. G. Leonard

Young readers will be beetling off to the shops this month when they get scent of the second book in M.G. Leonard’s brilliantly dark and addictive Beetle trilogy.

Beetle Queen arrives hot on the tail of Beetle Boy, the first in the trilogy which was shortlisted for the 2017 Waterstones Children’s Book Award and has been longlisted for this year’s Branford Boase Award and CILIP Carnegie Award.

These fast-paced, atmospheric adventures are positively teeming with nasty ninjas, seriously creepy crawlies and vindictive beetles but also provide a fascinating and fun lesson in coleopterology… beetle studies to the uninitiated!

Proud owner of a pet rainbow stag beetle, Leonard confesses she is still overcoming her fear of all things creepy crawly and that element of doubt may be why Beetle Queen stars the nearest thing to Cruella de Vil you will find in a book about beetles.

Beetle Boy introduced us to Darkus, his friends Virginia and Bertolt, and their superhero beetle companions but now fiendish fashionista villainess Lucretia Cutter takes centre stage in an epic story which explores the importance of entomophagy (eating insects) and explains why munching on bugs might just help to save the planet.

Cruel beetle fashionista Lucretia Cutter – parading as a human with the help of special pockets for her extra legs and a pair of oversized sunglasses – is at large with her yellow ladybird spies who have eyes all over the city… and she has a devious plan.

When Darkus, Virginia and Bertolt – who have already fought off Lucretia and an army of belligerent beetles – discover further evidence of the dastardly diva’s evil scheme to release a terrifying new batch of genetically modified and super intelligent beetles into the world, they are determined to stop her.

But the three pals are in trouble. Darkus’s dad, the enigmatic Dr Batholomew Cuttle, has forbidden them to investigate any further and disgusting crooks, Humphrey and Pickering, are out of prison. Hope rests on Novak, Lucretia’s actress daughter, but the nasty Beetle Queen is always one scuttle ahead…

There is menace aplenty in Leonard’s deliciously dark and dystopian beetle blockbuster but there is also laughter, learning and nasty nestfuls of intriguing mystery and high octane adventure.

Lucretia is a dazzling beetle baddie and her extraordinary escapades make for thrilling reading… and with a dictionary of entomological terms in the back of the book to guide youngsters through the wonderful world of insects, anticipation is already building for the third and final book, The Battle of the Beetles.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 10 plus:

The Mummy’s Revenge: S.C.R.E.A.M. by Andrew Beasley

Primary school teacher and author of the fantastic Battles of Ben Kingdom series, Andrew Beasley’s Victorian-themed, all-action adventure books are simply out of this world!

And now he’s back to send tingles up the spine of young readers in the first book of a funny, fast-paced and drama-filled paranormal crime series, full of fascinating historical detail, monster-sized belly laughs and a super clever, super sarcastic detective duo.

In the dark and winding streets of Edinburgh, a burglar is on the prowl. But this is no ordinary thief. Three thousand years old and risen from the grave, this rampaging robber is a rotting Egyptian Mummy with a stink more disgusting than putrid fruit, overripe cheese and decaying fish. And that’s not all… he’s terrifying the Scottish gentry and he wants rubies and revenge!

But the Mummy is controlled by the mysterious Sandman who plans to create an evil potion using a human heart. There’s only one crime-fighting force who can deal with a menace like this… detectives Billy Flint and Charlotte (‘Charley’) Steel AKA S.C.R.E.A.M. The dynamic duo are top-secret investigators with the Supernatural Crimes, Rescues, Emergencies and Mysteries squad who operate out of a crypt deep beneath Westminster Abbey in London.

Billy and wheelchair-bound Charley might come from very different backgrounds – chalk and cheese, spit and polish – but one is a scientific genius with a flair for deductive reasoning, and the other is ‘sensitive to the spirit realm.’ Together they make a formidable team who can outwit most adults… and any villain!

Beasley’s aim was to mix all his favourite ingredients… adventures, detective stories, monsters and humour. But this master storyteller has also added a few exciting extras like thrills, chills and devilishly clever children.

Dark but not too scary, and packed with humour, hieroglyphics and horror, The Mummy’s Revenge is a sparkling opener to what promises to be an addictive new series.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 10 plus:

Girls Can Vlog: Hashtag Hermione Wipeout! by Emma Moss

Vlogger extraordinaire Abby and her online friends are back online, and ready for more digital adventures.

Emma Moss’ Girls Can Vlog series, which features fun, modern stories about the world of vlogging, are pitch-perfect fiction for aspirational vloggers, digital devotees and readers with a passion for all things online.

Video blogs – or vlogs as they are known to addicts – are all the rage among the new generation of savvy youngsters and Moss, herself a digital devotee, has created this insightful and entertaining four-book fiction series which explores the online life of four very different girls. Each entertaining story explores family life, young friendships, making the most of your creativity and being true to yourself.

Since Abby and her friends Lucy, Jessie and Hermione set up the Girls Can Vlog YouTube channel, their lives have been a whirlwind.

But now Hermione’s parents are separating and although they are trying to deal with everything in the best way possible, it’s difficult for Hermione not knowing who she will end up living with, or where her home will be. At least she has got the school skiing trip to France to look forward to for a break from all the stress of being at home.

The Girls Can Vlog gang are all excited and busy vlogging about what to pack and how to look good and stay safe on the slopes. Unfortunately for them, Dakota (the prettiest and meanest girl in school) is also coming on the trip, and she is planning to do everything she can to cause trouble. Will the Girls Can Vlog holiday fun be over as soon as it has begun?

With tips for making your own vlogs, a story packed with contemporary issues and plenty of giggles and gossip, this exciting story portrays the fun of vlogging and the power of friendship.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Lost Magic: The Very Best of Brian Moses

Children’s poet Brian Moses has been entertaining and inspiring youngsters and their teachers since 1988… in fact, his percussion-filled school visits are legendary.

Lost Magic is a collection of his very best children’s verse and each beautifully crafted poem is guaranteed to win the hearts and minds of a new generation of readers.

There are over a hundred poems here, including favourites like Walking with My Iguana, The Lost Angels, Aliens Stole My Underpants, Behind the Staffroom Door, Lost Magic, The Sssnake Hotel, A Feather from an Angel, Cakes in the Staffroom and many more.

Poetry in motion!

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Star Friends: Mirror Magic by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming

What young dreamer could resist an enchanting combination of magic, friendships, adventure and animals?

Linda Chapman, author of over 200 books for younger children, reaches for the stars in this wonderful and whimsical new series just made for little girls and animal lovers.

Do you believe in magic? Maia and her friends do and when the amazing Star Animals come into their lives, a whole world of magical adventure unfolds. When Maia meets Bracken, a fox with indigo eyes, she is amazed at how beautiful and unusual it is. Then she realises that she can hear the fox speaking to her.

Maia and her friends 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 now trouble is brewing in the human world. Maia’s older sister has started acting strangely and the Star Animals sense dark magic at work. Can the girls use their new-found Star Magic to help them put a stop to it?

Lucy Fleming provides the gorgeous, contemporary illustrations for a story packed with dreams, dramas and dilemmas as the friends battle to overcome evil using their magical powers.

With animal characters, awesome adventures and a lively group of Star Friends to get to know and like, there is fun and adventure on every page but with important messages about wildlife and the environment.

Exciting reading for young thrill-seekers!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Alphamals A-Z by Graham Carter

See the natural world in a striking, lyrical and colourful new way in this beautifully illustrated A-Z of the animal kingdom.

Artist and print-maker Graham Carter uses his bold and stylish prints to bring to glorious life animals of every shape, size and colour in a picture book featuring the gentle verse of Ruth Symons.

There is an animal for every letter of the alphabet in this stunning collection of poems and prints. Graham Carter's Alphamals captures the strange and striking beauty of the animal kingdom, from the gauzy wings of a dragonfly to the chiselled jaw of a jaguar. With a read-aloud text and breathtaking art, this is an A-Z to mesmerise the whole family.

Marvel at a manatee marine mammal floating in a blue lagoon, enjoy the vivid colours of a rhinoceros pawing the ground and follow the giraffe’s long neck as he stretches into the treetops, grasping for leaves.

Carter, who has been at the forefront of his industry for the last 16 years, uses his artistic and print-making skills to give children a visually and verbally exciting new perspective on animals and their habitats in a gorgeous book bulging with colour and form.

A picture perfect gift for animal lovers of every age…

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 5 plus:

Little Legends: The Secret Mountain by Tom Percival

The dynamic digital heroes from the world of classic fairy tales are back to astound and amaze with another epic outing.

Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel and their fairy tale friends are heading for the mountains as Tom Percival returns with his new exciting, all-action Little Legends adventure.

The idea for Little Legends was developed through Percival’s remarkable imagination and the innovative illustrations provided by Made in Me, a digital creative studio which explores new ways for technology and storytelling to inspire a new generation.

A magical blend of action stories and technology, these super little books – ideal for both new and confident readers – feature classic characters from fairy tales and legends enjoying everyday adventures in Tale Town, but all set against the most extraordinary backdrops.

These all-action stories star favourite fairy tale heroes like Jack (of Beanstalk fame) and his talking chicken Betsy, Red (as in Red Riding Hood) and Anansi, the original Spider Man of West African legend.

The fifth book in this popular series sees the fairy tale friends on a thrilling adventure to the mysterious mountain home of the trolls. Everyone in Tale Town knows that trolls mean trouble, and now Mayor Fitch and his guards have captured a fearsome troll spy. But when Jack, Red and Anansi see the prisoner, they find out the so-called spy is just a lost and very un-terrifying troll child. Knowing that the mayor is planning more than capturing spies, the Little Legends and their friends decide to rescue the young troll and take it back to its secret mountain home. But what they find out when they get to Troll Mountain changes everything they’ve ever known!

If your little readers want even more fairy tale fun and all-action adventure, there’s a new way to enjoy the Little Legends by downloading the free app at littlelegends.club.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Swashbuckle Lil and the Jewel Thief by Elli Woollard and Laura Ellen Anderson

Batten down the hatches and all hands on deck! Pint-sized pirate Swashbuckle Lil is back on board for some rip-roaring adventures on the high seas.

Top team author Elli Woollard and illustrator Laura Ellen Anderson make a welcome return with their madcap star of the ocean Lil, an ordinary girl with an extraordinary imagination. The little adventurer is a pirate but a good sort of pirate and when there is someone to rescue, she does what is right… even if it takes her all night.

Both word and picture perfect, Lil’s adventures feature two high-energy, fully illustrated, rhyming stories in each book and contain everything a child needs to aid and encourage the transition from parent-led to independent reading.

Lil is no ordinary schoolgirl. While the other children are doing ordinary things, like watching TV or playing in the park, Lil is off fighting evil monsters and fishing for cod in the pond for her pirate lunch.

But being a swashbuckling pirate at school isn’t easy, especially when her teacher is always trying to get her to stop daydreaming, to be quiet and sit still. It’s not that easy for a girl pirate who lives on board a big ship with sails and has a trusty parrot called Carrot as her partner.

On a trip to the museum, evil pirate Stinkbeard tries to steal an old king’s ruby ring, and it’s up to Lil to stop him. And in their second adventure, Lil and Carrot are off to a birthday party. But when Stinkbeard and his pet croc turn up, it’s up to Lil to save the day yet again.

Woollard captures young imaginations with her super, snappy rhymes and Anderson’s lively illustrations add charm and charisma to this clever and creative series.

A bold and brave buccaneer with a heart of gold!

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Emma Jane’s Aeroplane by Katie Haworth and Daniel Rieley

Take off with Emma Jane, a fearless little flyer who has the whole wide world in her sights!

Katie Haworth, an exciting new writing talent from New Zealand, has a wonderful way with words and this action-packed adventure is packed with light and lovely rhymes and a colourful cast of amazing animal characters.

Illustrator Daniel Rieley, who works in a range of media from pencils and watercolours to digital, provides the fantastic visual backdrop to a terrific tale that inspires youngsters to also aim high.

One bright night, Emma Jane sets off in her aeroplane over lakes and over hills, through the darkness calm and still, and off around the cities of the world. There are exciting places to see including London, Paris, New York, Beijing and Sydney, and along the way she gathers a crew of assorted creatures. And it’s just as well because the animal friends will be needed to save the day when the little plane gets into trouble...

Rieley’s wonderfully busy and atmospheric illustrations add extra life, vigour and colour to a sparkling rhyming story packed with fun, daring, friendship and discovery, and just made for little explorers.

A high-flying adventure story with a down-to-earth cast!

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band by Tom Knight

Get a wiggle on because something really wild is happening…

Author and illustrator Tom Knight, the magical master of gloriously comical picture books, has conjured up an anarchic odyssey of music and mayhem… and you might want to join in the fun!

Jimmy Finnigan’s village is the nicest place you have ever seen. The park is so nice that no one can walk on the grass, the school is so nice that children can go there on Saturdays and the police station is nice because there is hardly any crime. In fact, it’s so nice that nothing ever seems to happen. There’s only one place that isn’t nice… the wild wood where the grass hasn’t been cut in years and the toilets are woefully inadequate. Young Jimmy dreams of being a musician and wants to start a band, but no one in the village wants to join. So he starts to look further afield for band members… and ventures into the wild wood. Is his dream about to come true?

Little ones will be plugging in their guitars, waving their arms in the air, wiggling their bottoms and jumping for joy when they meet the wildest band in town and get stuck into Jimmy’s wild dancing extravaganza!

A beautifully illustrated, uplifting and inclusive picture book about making friends and discovering your wild side!

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Pirate Pete and His Smelly Feet by Lucy Rowland and Mark Chambers

Pirate Pete kicks ups a real stink in this super smelly tale of a pirate with pongy feet.

Author Lucy Rowland and illustrator Mark Chambers are on the scent of a picture book classic as they set sail with a cute but crusty buccaneer whose cheesy feet turn out to be his secret weapon.

The spick and span crew of pirates have had enough of Pete’s whiffy feet… they are still smelly even when he has been dipped in the tub! So he has been ordered to walk the plank and fall headlong into the sea where even the underwater creatures turn up their gills at his cheesy feet. But it turns out that hungry sharks don’t like the smell of cheese either. What will the pirates do without Pete’s feet to keep those snappy sharks away when the hungry creatures attack the ship? Will Pirate Pete and his smelly feet come back to save the day?

There is so much for cheeky youngsters to enjoy in this this riotous, rhyming romp which features a fun, fast-paced story illustrated with Chambers’ vibrant colour and charismatic pirate crew.

And when they reach the very smelly ending, kids can add their own touches to the story by sticking a pack of cheesy scratch-and-sniff stickers to the pirates.

A pungent parable of foul ‘feets’ on the high seas!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Splat! by Jon Burgerman

Wipe down the table top and brace yourself… this picture book is going to make a mess!

Internationally acclaimed doodle artist Jon Burgerman, a UK-born, Brooklyn-based artist famed for his instantly recognisable drawings, doodles, characters and murals, has been having fun putting together his delightful debut picture book, an anarchic visual experience full of splats, splashes and squishes.

Burgerman’s artworks are collected worldwide by several institutions, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and this original and outrageously messy fun book could soon become a collectors’ item for the under-fives!

Every time you turn the pages of this playful story, some object gets splatted on to the page opposite. From custard pies and sandwiches to water balloons and ice-creams, a whole series of outrageous splats build and build into a hilarious story that will have little mischief-makers roaring with laughter.

Burgerman uses his artistic skills to play with the physical boundaries of the book as an object, encouraging interaction and imagination, and making this the adventure ideal for sharing with young children.

(Oxford University Press, £6.99)