Book review: Cute creatures, a wild witch and a gripping galaxy

Cute creatures, a wild witch and a gripping galaxy
Cute creatures, a wild witch and a gripping galaxy
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Keep the kids busy this half-term with a super selection of colourful books from Oxford University Press.

Share the adventures of a gregarious guinea pig called Olga, join an epic quest to root out evil, take the train to a distant, dangerous galaxy, help to save a poorly rabbit and laugh at the antics of everyone’s favourite witch.

Age 5 plus:

Olga da Polga by Michael Bond and Catherine Rayner

Lovable Paddington Bear is not the only animal star creation of veteran author Michael Bond… a guinea pig called Olga da Polga has also been stealing children’s hearts for over 40 years.

Olga, a tall tale teller with a colourful cast of quirky friends who made her first appearance on the pages of children’s book in 1971, was named after the Bond family’s real guinea pig and her adventures are the stuff of legend.

And from the very beginning there was not the slightest doubt that Olga da Polga, a cheeky, fun-loving, curious creature, was the sort of guinea pig who was destined to go places.

Following the style of famous 18th century German storyteller Baron Munchausen, exaggeration is what Olga does best and it is this entertaining facet of her irresistible personality that makes her so loved by parents and children alike.

This sumptuous, beautifully produced gift edition is packed with over 100 pictures from award-winning illustrator Catherine Rayner who brings new life and her own special animal magic to the amazing adventures of the gregarious guinea pig.

In this collection of stories from Bond, now aged 89, Olga has left the pet shop to start a new life with her owners, Mr and Mrs Sawdust and their daughter Karen. Her home is now a large and airy hutch and it’s not long before she meets Noel the cat, Fangio the hedgehog and Graham the tortoise. Her garden companions soon discover that Olga loves an audience and from the moment she arrives she tells them tales about her wild and exciting adventures. Although they are not always sure whether to believe everything Olga says, one thing is certain… since Olga moved in, life is never dull!

Nosy, mischievous, boastful and permanently hungry, Olga da Polga is as unforgettable as her stories.

Ideal for reading aloud and sharing, or as a read-alone book for more confident youngsters, this is the perfect present for all animal lovers.

(OUP, hardback, £12.99)

Age 12 plus:

Railhead by Philip Reeve

Don’t miss the train! Carnegie medal-winning author Philip Reeve is back in the driving seat with his long-awaited new blockbuster novel and this is a journey no teen reader would want to miss.

For ten years, Reeve has been imagining and planning Railhead, a fantasy science-fiction story set in an advanced futuristic galaxy of worlds linked by a system of rail networks.

In a deliberate move away from post-apocalyptic stories, Reeve brings us a universe peopled by incredible intergalactic trains and extraordinary beings like Motorik robots, spy and maintenance drones, Station Angels and sentient trains.

The girl in the red coat had said ‘Come with me, Zen Starling.’ But how did she know his name? The Great Network is a place of drones and androids, maintenance spiders and Station Angels. It’s the place of the thousand gates, where sentient trains criss-cross the galaxy in a heartbeat.

Zen Starling is a petty thief, a street urchin from Thunder City. So when mysterious stranger Raven sends Zen and his new friend Nova on a mission to infiltrate the Emperor’s train, he jumps at the chance to traverse the Great Network, to cross the galaxy in a heartbeat, to meet interesting people… and to steal their stuff. But the Great Network, governed by an elite class with the shadowy consent of Guardians, a god-like group of intelligent beings, is a dangerous place, and Zen has no idea where his journey will take him...

Fast moving, packed with scintillating science-fiction and all set in a world that is wonderfully immersive, emotive, scary and exciting, Railhead is a brilliant piece of writing for readers both young and adult.

And with the film rights already sold to Warner Brothers, expect to see more of Zen and his wild and dangerous world…

(OUP, hardback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus:

Lucy’s Magic Snow Globe by Anne Booth

It’s never too early to get into the Christmas spirit… particularly in the company of one of Anne Booth’s warm-hearted festive fantasies.

Following on from last year’s winsome winner, Lucy’s Secret Reindeer, Booth sprinkles her stardust again over the adventures of little Lucy, a girl who loves to help sick or abandoned animals.

With beautifully atmospheric black-and-white illustrations by Sophy Williams, this is an irresistible tale for youngsters starting to read on their own and perfect for sharing with parents on cold winter nights.

Lucy has found a tiny baby rabbit, injured and all alone. With a house full of visitors from Australia, looking after him is going to be difficult, and it seems like only a miracle can save him. But with the help of her special snow globe, and a sprinkle of magic stardust, Lucy might just reunite him with his own family in time for Christmas Day.

Packed with the magic of Christmas time and the traditional, warm-hearted spirit of goodwill, Lucy’s Magic Snow Globe is written in simple language and short chapters making it an easy and enjoyable read for younger children.

And with its sparkly cover to add an extra glow and pages of fascinating facts, activities and pet care information, this is the perfect stocking filler for all little animal lovers…

(OUP, paperback, £4.99)

Age 4 plus:

Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long

Five brave heroes, an epic quest through forests, graveyards, dungeons and frozen wastelands…

Soon all will be ‘crystal’ clear… this outsized book and outsized adventure has already been dubbed Tolkien for toddlers!

Where do you start telling the story of major new picture book talent Matty Long whose distinctive, quirky and funny debut has got everybody talking… not least about his incredibly detailed artwork.

There is so much to see and talk about on every page of this amazing story about five unlikely heroes (a unicorn, a gnome, a fairy, a faun, and a mushroom) who go on an epic quest to save their home, the amazing Super Happy Magic Forest, after the happiness-giving Mystical Crystals of Life are stolen. Our five brave adventurers will have to dig out the root of all evil if they are to restore the crystals, and peace and tranquillity, to the forest…

Children will love exploring the illustrations and getting to know the outlandish cast of characters and an irreverent fantasy world which pays homage to the landscape of Tolkien. To help youngsters on their way, the inside cover features a map that allows readers to follow the adventure through the Super Happy Magic Forest world.

Every busy, bold page features new ideas and concepts but the story remains simple, highly imaginative and carefully crafted.

A true work of art…

(OUP, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Winnie’s Haunted House by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

What better way to spend Halloween than in the company of everyone’s favourite witch?

Winnie’s latest madcap adventure with her accident-prone black cat Wilbur was just made for reading on dark, spooky nights.

The adventures of Winnie and Wilbur have provided spellbinding reading for youngsters for 25 years now. The latest collaboration between Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul, who provides the distinctively anarchic and charismatic illustrations, ensures that the duo’s escapades continue to be mad, bad and dangerously hilarious.

Winnie is enjoying a bit of peace and quiet one afternoon when suddenly there is a loud crash. Wilbur has accidentally smashed a vase and unleashed a whole chain of laugh-out-loud events and a spooky side to Winnie’s house that readers have never seen before. Could it be a ghost or is there a reason why Wilbur is looking a little bit sheepish? With a wave of her wand, Winnie is sure to put things right again…

Winnie books have sold over five million worldwide and are a firm favourite with children. Scatterbrained Winnie is not as simple as she seems and always conjures up some important life lessons amidst all that magic and mayhem.

A super Halloween treat for your tricky little customers…

(OUP, hardback, £11.99)