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Book reviews: A cunning emperor, two madcap pranksters and a neon chameleon

The Chinese Emperors New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine and David Roberts
The Chinese Emperors New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine and David Roberts
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There’s laugh-out-loud fun, super space adventure and fantastic fairy tale twists in a dazzling collection of new children’s books to brighten up the January gloom.

Age 6 plus:

The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine and David Roberts

Award-winning author Ying Chang Compestine brings youngsters an enchanting twist on the much-loved classic tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes in this entertaining picture book with an Eastern flavour.

Instead of the more familiar story of two sly tailors fooling a vain emperor into believing he is wearing magical clothes when in fact he is naked, Compestine turns the central motif on its head and delivers a clever, vibrant story with its roots in her childhood home in Communist China.

Ming Da is only nine years old when he becomes the emperor of China and his three advisers take advantage of the young emperor by stealing his rice, gold, and precious stones. Ma Ding now has no money to clothe the poor and no food to feed his hungry people but he does have a plan. With the help of his tailors, he comes up with a clever idea to outsmart his devious advisers.

He asks his tailors to make ‘magical’ new clothes for him. Anyone who is honest, the young emperor explains, will see the clothes’ true splendour, but anyone who is dishonest will see only rice sacks. The emperor puts on a sack and the cheating, scheming ministers can’t help but fall for his cunning trick!

Compestine, who now lives in California, grew up hungry during the Cultural Revolution and read banned Western books in secret. She reveals in her author’s note that if she had been caught, her family would have faced public humiliation and the risk of being sent to a labour camp.

‘Like the boy emperor,’ she tells us, ‘I always searched for ways to outsmart the officials.’ She hid the banned books between newspapers, wrapped them in lotus leaves and even disguised a book with the jacket of a government propaganda book.

This classy, witty and clever retelling – packed with David Roberts’ colourful, eye-catching illustrations – provides plenty of food for thought for young readers.

Compestine’s unique perspective in this ingenious retelling is explained with humour and insight for young readers at the end of the book and, as an added bonus, children learn how to make their own Chinese New Year robe by decorating a white pillowcase or old T-shirt.

(Abrams Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 12 plus:

Second Best Friend by Non Pratt

Young adult novelist Non Pratt focuses on healthy friendships and the thorny topics of social media and politics in a book that has been specially designed to be dyslexia-friendly.

Printed on heavy paper in two colours – black for the text and yellow Pantone® for the page background – this combination reduces the contrast between text and paper, and hides the ‘ghost’ of the words printed on the other side of the page. The book also uses a unique typeface that is more legible to dyslexics.

Billed as ‘super readable’ in every sense, and part of a gorgeous collectable series which includes Unboxed, Second Best Friend is witty, fearless and astute, combining themes of friendship, self-discovery, tangled relationships and political back-stabbing.

Jade and Becky have always been best friends, inseparable and often indistinguishable. But when a spiteful comment from her awful ex-boyfriend pushes Jade to the edge, she begins to see that she has always been second best to Becky in everything.

When the school election arrives and Jade is voted in as party leader, it means she can stand against Becky and finally get the chance to be number one. But soon Jade will have to decide how far she is willing to go to be better than her closest friend...

Ideal for dyslexic readers, this is also a clever and compelling story with contemporary overtones that are relevant to all youngsters. It comes from Barrington Stoke, a publisher on a mission to inspire and help struggling, reluctant and dyslexic readers and to unlock a lifelong love of reading.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Terrible Two Go Wild by Mac Barnett and Jory John Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Hold on to your sides, kids, because American superstar authors and friends Mac Barnett and Jory John are back with the third instalment of their hilariously funny Terrible Two series.

Fans of a Wimpy Kid have fallen hook, line and sinker (or should that be stinker!) for arch prankster Miles Murphy and his rival-turned-partner Niles Sparks, the brilliant ‘naughty boy’ creations of a dynamic deadpan comedy duo who make kids’ reading what it should be… laugh-out-loud fun.

Authors and friends Barnett and John, both noted for their entertaining and educational children’s books, are a tip-top comedy partnership and this wacky series is the perfect combination of their talents – aided and abetted by Kevin Cornell’s superb black and white illustrations.

Everyone’s favourite pranksters and founders of the International Order of Disorder are at it again! Miles and Niles find themselves marooned for the summer at Camp Good Times, which is all about peace and good vibes. (Can you say BOR-ING?)

With no clear prank-ortunities, the Terrible Two fail to see what is so good about all of this. But when kids from the nearby Yawnee Valley Yelling and Push-Ups Camp raid Good Times’ super-secret candy stash, the campers look to Miles and Niles for help.

Will our heroes break free from the feckless feel-goodery of Camp Good Times? Are their sharp minds and close friendship a match for the fists of the rival campers? And why has Stuart changed his name to Tree?

With short chapters and plenty of illustrations, The Terrible Two series engages reluctant readers and appeals to a wide range of children. Packed with brilliant characters, schoolboy humour and devastatingly devilish pranks, your youngsters might just want to try them out themselves…

(Amulet Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Search and Find: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and Federica Frenna

Let youngsters discover for themselves the wonderful world of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, a fabulous collection of animal stories set in a magical Indian forest.

Part of the popular Search & Find Classics series from Studio Press, this fabulous new book is brimming with interactive fun and each scene has been brought to stunning life by the Sicilian-born freelance illustrator Federica Frenna.

As well as enjoying this simple reimagining of Kipling’s timeless tale, children can search and find the boy Mowgli, his adopted wolf family and all the other amazing jungle animals on each page, and follow them through the story.

There are so many intriguing details to spot in the busy scenes, from ‘man-cub’ Mowgli learning the laws of the jungle and the monkeys causing chaos in the temple, to Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther meeting the python Kaa, and the defeat of the feared tiger Shere Khan.

The beautiful illustrations, brimming with master storyteller Kipling’s spirit of adventure, are accompanied by an abridged text, perfect for sharing with young readers and the ideal introduction to a much-loved classic story first published in 1894.

Search and Find: The Jungle Book will be published on February 8.

(Studio Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Little Red Reading Hood by Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle

Head off into the deep, dark wood to read between the lines of a classic fairy tale which makes books the star attraction!

Little Red Reading Hood – from top team author Lucy Rowland and illustrator Ben Mantle – is a bewitching celebration of the magic of books and reading with a fun, fairy tale twist. Rowland provides the jaunty, rhyming text and Mantle brings the story to life with bold, busy and appealing illustrations.

Whilst leaving footpaths should NEVER be done, Straying from stories is all sorts of fun!

Little Red Reading Hood loves reading books and making up stories of her own… she reads in the bathroom, on the porch and at night by the light of a torch. When she meets a cunning wolf while on her way to the library, he talks her into straying from the path and stopping to read for a little while. But hasn’t she read this in a story before? Perhaps it’s time she came up with a new ending…

A clever, comical and contemporary take on the fairy tale, Little Red Reading Hood turns a librarian into the hero of the hour as she helps Little Red to foil the hungry wolf and convinces him that changing a story’s ending is much more creative… and much more fun.

With its entertaining twist and fabulously funny illustrations – from the silly, scheming wolf to the brave librarian and feisty Red – this is a laugh-out-loud adventure that will have kids rethinking and rewriting some of those golden oldie classics!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Tiny Little Rocket by David Fickling and Richard Collingridge

5 4 3 2 1 Blast off! Head for the skies on a cinematic space adventure that puts little ones in the driving seat!

Tiny Little Rocket is an out-of-this-world picture book from acclaimed illustrator Richard Collingridge who has teamed up with editor and publisher David Fickling to produce a fabulously child-friendly and original space odyssey.

Page after page of thrilling illustrations lets youngsters step into the cockpit of a rocket ship as it zips through meteors, round the stars and the planets, and back home again to Earth where little travellers are greeted by a giant fold-out of our world!

‘There’s a tiny little rocket that will take you to the stars.

It only flies there once a year but zips you out past Mars.

Its fins are solid silver with a door made out of gold.

There’s a cosy pilot seat inside for a person, young or old.’

With a gorgeous rhyming text by Fickling, a gallery of atmospheric illustrations and some fascinating facts and figures about the Earth at the back, this gorgeous book is guaranteed to leave young readers over the moon and on top of the world!

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Neon Leon by Jane Clarke and Britta Teckentrup

Leon the sad neon chameleon is on a hunt to find the perfect match in this gorgeous, eye-catching picture book filled with colour and interactive fun.

This sparkling, second to none, neon story is the imaginative creation of much-loved author Jane Clarke and the multi-talented illustrator Britta Teckentrup who work their special magic as young readers join Leon on his quest to find a sense of belonging.

Everyone knows how hard chameleons are to spot as they cleverly change their colour to match their surroundings. But not Leon. Leon is neon! He always has the brightest and zaniest of colours, so bright in fact that he keeps all the other chameleons awake at night. But what he really wants is to blend into the background like all the other chameleons. Poor Leon is lonely so he goes off in search of somewhere he can blend in… but will he ever really be able to fit in?

Filled with Teckentrup’s vivid, vibrant neon artwork and Clarke’s heartwarming, gentle text, this lovely book encourages children to help Leon on his journey by counting his steps, sending him to sleep and giving him lots of reassurance when he’s feeling down.

Beautiful, uplifting and with a free Stories Aloud smartphone audio book, this is destined to be a firm family favourite…

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Lionel and the Lion’s Share by Lou Peacock and Lisa Sheehan

A greedy, grasping lion learns the error of his ways in a beautiful new picture book from Lou Peacock and Lisa Sheehan.

Full of fun and important messages, and with Sheehan’s appealing and stylish artwork, this vibrant, colourful picture book explores universal themes of friendship and the rewards of sharing.

Lionel the lion does NOT like to share. After all, lions always get the lion’s share. He buys all the best instruments from the music shop, all the smartest hats from the hat shop and all the brightest balloons from the balloon stall. But at Chloe the kitten’s birthday party Lionel goes too far and eats ALL the cake. That’s when Lionel’s friends decide that enough is enough and that it’s time to teach Lionel a lesson by telling him what a mean lion he really is!

This clever, wise and gentle cautionary tale is imbued with warmth, and the cast of adorable animal characters will have a special appeal to little readers. Lionel’s journey from a lion that always takes the lion’s share to a lion that learns to share is subtle but persuasive for pre-schoolers learning their own lessons about sharing.

Lionel and the Lion’s Share also comes with a free Stories Aloud smartphone audio book. Just scan in the code inside the front cover.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)