Book reviews: A magical rainbow of summer reading with Usborne

Thats not my unicorn... by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells
Thats not my unicorn... by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells
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A touchy-feely unicorn is the shining star of a glittering collection of books from Usborne as the summer holiday countdown begins.

From the fabulous 50th title in the much-loved That’s not my... series for babies to an interactive exploration of space, a trip back in time to Pompeii and exciting holiday activity pads, there are books here to educate, entertain and amuse.

From birth:

That’s not my unicorn... by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

It’s hard to believe but the playful, winged unicorns in this multi-coloured landmark edition mark the 50th book in an award-winning series that has been delighting parents and children for nearly two decades.

The bestselling touchy-feely series has sold over 20 million books worldwide. The simple text, bold, colourful illustrations and tactile patches are irresistible to little children and their parents. Babies and toddlers love turning the pages and touching the ‘feely’ patches, and what better than an up-close look at a magical unicorn?

Written by Fiona Watt and illustrated by Rachel Wells, this sparkly new title, with its pearlescent cover, holographic foil and rainbow sprayed edges, makes the unicorn adventure a unique addition to this fantastic series of brilliantly tactile books.

Touchy-feely board books allow the youngest family members to have a hand in all the fun of reading as they touch the textured patches, follow the story and look for the little white mouse on every page.

Specially designed to develop sensory and language awareness, the distinctive That’s not my… board books really are a vividly visual and hands-on treat for inquisitive babies and toddlers.

A summer sparkler for all the family!

(Usborne, board book, £6.99)

Age 10 months plus:

Baby’s Very First Nature Sounds Playbook by Fiona Watt and Stella Baggott

Interactive play for babies just got better and better with Usborne’s wonderful new Nature Sounds Playbook.

Usborne’s Baby’s Very First Books series was crowned winner of the Best Preschool Publishing Range category in the first ever Progressive Preschool Awards and it’s easy to see why. These appealing and sturdy board books come with a panel of buttons for little fingers to press and play tunes or sound effects. Share the words, enjoy the sounds and watch the magic of a baby’s smile!

In the Nature Sounds Playbook, babies and toddlers will love looking at the bright pictures, listening to the sounds, following the finger trails, lifting the flaps and running their fingers over the touch-feely patches.

They can match the sound buttons to the pictures to hear gentle music and ten different animal sounds, including an owl hooting, birds singing, bees buzzing and a frog croaking.

Watch little faces light up as they lift the flaps and then press the buttons to bring the woodland animals and their world to life. Perfectly designed for little hands and inquisitive minds, this book appeals to the senses and provides an opportunity for babies to start exploring the world around them.

(Usborne, board book, £14.99)

Age 6 plus:

See inside Space stations and other Spacecraft by Rosie Dickins and Kellan Stover

Aim high this summer and blast off for an amazing inside view of spacecraft!

From the early days of the Space Race to building a space station and exploring Mars and beyond, this fantastic interactive, lift-the-flaps book is just the ticket for all starry-eyed youngsters yearning for an exciting sky-high mission.

Published in association with the UK Space Agency, See inside Space stations and other Spacecraft gives children the inside story on the history of space travel as they lift over 70 flaps to reveal fascinating facts and figures, and follow links to websites with video clips and more detailed information.

Learn about some of the earliest spacecraft, like the Russian-built Sputnik which housed space dog Laika, the first animal to go into orbit, and the US Mercury Capsule which carried Alan Shepherd into space in 1961.

Explore inside the Apollo 11 rocket which took three astronauts to the Moon and back in 1969, and take a close-up look at the Lunar Rover, a buggy which let the astronauts to travel about on the Moon.

Youngsters can also marvel at the International Space Station which is the biggest space station to date and covers an area roughly the size of a football field, or discover the workings of the planet rover Opportunity, designed to look for traces of water. It landed on Mars in 2004 and is still going strong.

The sky really is the limit with this exciting, innovative armchair journey into the wonders of space, the perfect ‘vehicle’ for making your own exploration of the quest to discover the universe.

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Pompeii Picture Book by Struan Reid

Not everyone gets the chance to visit Pompeii, the amazing Ancient Roman city in southern Italy where time has stood still for nearly 2,000 years…

So do the next best thing and take a trip back in time with this superb Usborne book, an exciting mix of facts, figures, maps, wonderful illustrations and photographs of the bustling city that was buried and forgotten under a layer of ash, rock and mud after a volcanic explosion in 79AD.

In the pages of this beautifully designed and easy-to-read book, children can discover the history of the bustling Roman city, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and the wealth of historical information that was left behind.

The detailed facts, photographs and illustrations bring the fascinating story to life and there are contents and index pages, plus internet links to specially selected websites with more information.

On that terrifying day in August, the city of Pompeii was destroyed by a catastrophic volcanic eruption and remained buried for the next 1,700 years. The Pompeii Picture Book follows the dramatic story and reveals the lives of the people who lived there and the treasures they left behind.

At the time of its destruction, Pompeii was a flourishing city of the Roman Empire, full of contrasts. Splendid public buildings and luxurious villas with magnificent gardens were crammed in alongside narrow, dirty streets lined with shops and overcrowded apartment blocks.

Youngsters will love learning where and how the Romans lived. They can see the Forum, the open area in the heart of the city and the headquarters of their religion, politics and business, or drop in at a grand villa with its ornate fixtures and fittings, fantastic mosaic floors and the amazing gardens and fountains that helped to keep them cool in summer.

Discover the Roman trades and crafts, like metalworking, carpentry, pottery design and woollen goods manufacture, and marvel at the Roman-style entertainment like the notorious bloodthirsty games, thrilling chariot racing and the splendid theatres.

And when you have seen Pompeii in its living glories, learn about the day of destruction when the volcano rained death and entombed its stricken inhabitants until the city was rediscovered in 1599 and then extensively excavated in 1748.

The ideal way to explore history at home, and a wonderful addition to any picture book library…

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

Map Mazes by Sam Smith

And if travelling gives your kids a buzz, let them take a trip across continents, walk the streets of world-famous cities and explore long-lost lands with this super map-themed maze book.

Each maze in this chunky book is more challenging than the last, from navigating a safe path through icebergs to taking a complex whirlwind tour of Great Britain and Ireland. And don’t worry if you can’t map out the way in each puzzle because all the answers are at the back of the book.

Make a map across Europe using dotted trails for ‘Motorcycle Mike’ as he cruises to Valencia for some fresh oranges and flamenco, help the captain of the Polar explorer ship Snow Goose to find Base Camp by mapping out a clear route between ice floes, and Rory needs your helps to find a route to the zoo’s rare red pandas but is afraid of animals with wings.

And if that’s not enough, take a trip Down Under and see the wonderful sights of Australia, travel through the Dutch tulip fields with a flower seller and plan a cycle race from southern India to Ahmedabad.

There are exciting challenges on every page of this fun-packed book and children will love learning about map-making and discovering interesting facts about some of the world’s most amazing places.

The perfect way to make sense of mapping the world…

(Usborne, paperback, £7.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Usborne Holiday Activity Pad by Kirsteen Robson

Long holidays call for big, boredom-busting activities so let your kids get stuck into this large-format activity pad packed with hours of mind-boggling challenges and entertainment.

Each page of the giant pad has a different location, from an airport, a water park and a safari park to a science museum, a busy beach and a ski resort. Choose a picture and then test out your brain power on activities including word, number and logic puzzles.

These fantastic puzzles will keep young brain cells active over the holidays and there are sections to draw and colour to add to the fun. And if there are any stumbles along the way, it’s good to know that all the answers are at the back of the pad.

The pad’s sturdy front and back make it accessible for children to enjoy either at home or while travelling on trains and planes, and with ingenious puzzles, bold, colourful illustrations and fun challenges, this engaging compendium means boredom won’t get a look in this summer.

So grab a pencil and crayons, get your brain into gear and let the holiday fun begin!

(Usborne, hardback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

Little Children’s Holiday Pad by Sam Smith and Kirsteen Robson

Little ones need to keep busy on holiday too so sweep them off on exciting adventures with this super holiday activity pad.

This ingenious pad, in book format with 50 tear-off sheets, is packed with nearly 100 holiday-themed puzzles, dot-to-dots, word searches, spot-the-differences and more. The fun activities offer hours of entertainment as well as helping children develop vital reading, writing, counting and observation skills. And all the answers are included at the back of the book.

Doodle patterns on the sails of boats, follow the vapour trails of three soaring planes, find the way to the ferry down a maze of roads, try to put four story pictures in the right order and find the hidden words in a Halloween word search special.

A page a day will keep boredom at bay!

(Usborne, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5-6:

Wipe-clean Adding by Holly Bathie and Maddie Frost

Holidays are also a time to practise all those important skills you learn at school…

The Usborne Key Skills series of educational activity books support the lessons in basics like maths and English that children learn at school, helping them to develop and practise the essential skills they need to progress at each stage.

The innovative, wipe-clean pages allow endless practise of important skills like adding and subtracting or English grammar and punctuation. Answers are included at the back and there are helpful notes for grown-ups too.

In Wipe-clean Adding, youngsters can practise basic addition using numbers up to 20 in engaging, child-friendly exercises, enabling them to build confidence and get to grips with the concept of addition.

It all adds up to learning fun…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6-7:

Wipe-clean Grammar and Punctuation by Jessica Greenwell and Marta Cabrol

And older children can brush up on their grammar and punctuation skills with another book in the Key Skills series.

This wipe-clean book, packed with colourful activities and a cast of animal characters, helps children learn about sentence types, nouns, verbs, adjectives and tenses, helping to build confidence in understanding the rules of written English and provide plenty of opportunities to apply them.

Do the exercises, wipe the page clean and then start all over again because practice makes perfect.

A clean sheet for young wordsmiths…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)