Book reviews: Animal magic, comedy chaos and a reluctant vampire

Hello Hello Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
Hello Hello Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
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A spectacular picture book full of amazing creatures, a trip round the world with our feathered friends, ghostly goings-on in a haunted hall and two super board books full of animal surprises are just some of the wonderful new reading adventures for children this month.

Age 3 plus:

Hello Hello Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Hello Hello, what have we here?!

Award-winning US author and illustrator Brendan Wenzel returns to bewitch and beguile us with an all-colour, all-singing, all-dancing picture book that celebrates the magnificent diversity of our world.

This joyful and exuberant follow-up to the Caldecott Honor-winning They All Saw a Cat! explores another aspect of seeing the world for young children by comparing and contrasting some of nature’s most unusual and endangered creatures.

Beginning with a simple ‘Hello,’ and two cats, one black and one white, a chain of animals appears before the reader in a riot of kaleidoscopic colours, and all linked together by at least one common trait. From simple colours and shapes to more complex and abstract associations, each unexpected encounter celebrates the diversity of nature but ultimately paints a story of connection.

Wenzel’s beautiful rhythmic text and lively artwork encourage readers to delight in nature’s infinite differences and to look for – and marvel at – its wonderful similarities.

But what gives this amazing picture book an extra layer of poignancy is that many of the animals featured in the book fall into the Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered categories, a powerful reminder of the fragility of the Earth’s eco system.

Many people, says Wenzel, don’t know that a large number of these animals even exist and the more people who do know about them, the better their chances of sharing the planet with us for many years to come.

So meet the Sunda pangolin, a scaly burrowing mammal from Southeast Asia; the amazing green sea turtle found in the Pacific Ocean; the secretarybird, a spectacular African bird of prey; the rare Western long-beaked echidna, a large egg-laying mammal from New Guinea; and the red-crowned crane from East Asia, among the rarest cranes in the world.

With an afterword from Wenzel about the importance of conservation and protecting the wildlife on our planet, this unique celebration of similarities and opposites perfectly demonstrates how we are all connected in one great chain… and is sure to delight readers young and old.

(Chronicle Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus:

Hamish and the Baby Boom by Danny Wallace and Jamie Littler

The fourth hilarious adventure in Danny Wallace’s much-loved Hamish series dishes up the same irresistible mix of comedy, capers and chaos as our madcap hero sets out – once again – to save the Earth.

Filled with award-winning writer and presenter Wallace’s trademark humour, natural warmth and imagination, and the talented Jamie Littler’s quirky and suitably anarchic illustrations, these pitch-perfect books are just the job for reluctant readers who like their stories to be funny, visually exciting and brimming with mischief.

Beware the Babies ... they cry, they poo, they attack! Hamish Ellerby and his gang the PDF (Pause Defence Force) have been left in charge of Starkley – once Britain’s fourth most boring town but now a seriously weird place to live – while his dad and the rest of the Belasko agents are off hunting down the universe’s second-most dangerous villain, Axel Scarmarsh.

Of course, nothing bad will happen while he’s gone, right? Wrong! Suddenly the babies of Starkley are on the rampage and causing chaos, but only Hamish and his friends seem to be worried about the odd behaviour. What’s behind the baby uprising and can the mini mutiny be stopped before every baby on Earth rises up?

Wallace and Littler are on top form as Hamish and the gang take us on a non-stop laugh-a-minute adventure through their own inimitable brand of outrageous escapades in a funny fantasy series guaranteed to fire young imaginations… and make the whole family laugh!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

A World of Birds by Vicky Woodgate

Take flight with the birds of the world in this beautiful fact-packed compendium which features 75 of our magnificent feathered friends from across the globe.

Vicky Woodgate, an author and illustrator with a passion for wildlife, travelling, writing and drawing maps, was inspired to create this amazing compendium of birds after a poll found that one in four primary school children could not identify a blackbird or a robin, and over half were unable to name three of Britain’s most common garden birds… the great tit, starling and chaffinch.

She believes now is a great time to learn more about the birds around us, saying: ‘Our feathered friends accompany us throughout our lives, an instant connection to nature. Yet many children and adults find it difficult to identify even our most common species. This book may be just the thing to unlock that interest in nature and the birds that share our wonderful planet.’

And this colourful and fascinating journey of worldwide discovery certainly uncovers some of the finest birds from each of the seven continents, all specially chosen as a representative of its wider family. Some can be found on several continents while others fly long journeys from one place to another.

With its vintage travelogue feel, vibrant artwork, bite-sized facts and fascinating annotations, A World of Birds is a thrilling flying visit as youngsters meet up with some of the biggest, brightest and best birds on the planet.

From hummingbirds to hawks, and parrots to penguins, young wildlife fans will love the variety and splendour of the bird world and be inspired to begin their own birding adventures!

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £14.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Hounds of Penhallow Hall: The Hidden Staircase by Holly Webb and Jason Cockcroft

Much-loved author Holly Webb weaves her trademark magic in the third book of an enchanting, all-action series set in a haunted 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 Polly and her friends just can’t help getting mixed up in ghostly goings-on.

For Poppy, moving to Penhallow Hall in Cornwall was the fresh start she had been longing for since the death of her father. Her mum has got a job managing the stately home and once the last of the visitors leave for the day, the place is all theirs.

Poppy soon discovers 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 her new adventure, Polly and Rex discover a toy dog on the nursery shelf but, to their surprise, this dog doesn’t want to be woken. Polly finds out that the little toy dog was left behind at Penhallow during the Second World War by his evacuee owners when the two children returned to the city.

When Polly invites Lucy, her new friend at school, to tea, she also seems strangely drawn to the toy dog but before Polly can find out why, Lucy goes missing. Polly guesses where Lucy might be but she will need the little dog’s help to find her.

Webb, who has written over 90 books for children, works wonders with this magical series, creating thrilling mysteries and conjuring up exciting, atmospheric stories which appeal to both young adventurers and dog lovers.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire: Fang-tastic Friends by Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Poor little Vlad… his family’s efforts to turn him into a scary vampire are proving to be like getting blood out of a stone!

Popular children’s author Anna Wilson works a special brand of black magic in this entertainingly batty and wonderfully witty illustrated series which stars a fangtastic vampire anti-hero who is not only short of his parents’ ‘scary’ genes but is afraid of the dark as well.

Vlad is the youngest member of the Impaler family of Misery Manor, the bravest vampires that ever lived, but unfortunately Vlad isn’t brave at all. Far from enjoying his twilight status, he’d rather be secretly attending human school where has become friends with the adorable Minxie.

In this funny and spooky new adventure, Vlad’s parents are off to Transylvania and they’re leaving Vlad at Misery Manor under the watchful (and short-sighted) eye of Grandpa Gory. Vlad is delighted because he will be able to sneak off to human school much more easily now.

But there’s a catch… Vlad’s parents have set him a whole list of vampire challenges to complete before their return, including learning to fly in the dark and mastering his mind-control skills. And if can’t impress them on their return, there will be trouble!

Brimming with gentle humour, madcap escapades, warm friendships and affection, this tale of a vampire boy who wishes he was human is ideal for middle grade readers looking for fun and adventure with a tantalising Transylvanian twist.

Rising star illustrator Kathryn Durst brings Vlad and his marvellously mixed-up adventures to life while Wilson has the devil of a time dishing up bat-loads of fun with an extraordinary boy trying to find where he belongs in an ordinary world.

Guaranteed to leave young readers well and truly impaled!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Geeks and Tag-along Zombies by Karen McCombie and Becka Moor

It’s term time again at St Grizzle’s … an irresistibly batty boarding school which puts fun into French, mayhem into maths and histrionics into history!

St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Geeks and Tag-along Zombies is the third book in this anarchic school series featuring friendships, wild adventures and the charismatic illustrations of Manchester-based rising star Becka Moor.

These fantastically funny and entertaining books spring from the imagination of Karen McCombie, the prolific author of over 80 super books for children and a writer who never seems to run short of new ideas, amazing characters and quirky humour.

When Arch Kaminski turns up at St Grizzle’s, Dani is delighted to introduce her best friend to her new classmates. But she soon discovers that mixing her old life with her new one isn’t quite as easy as she’d imagined. And Arch isn’t the only new pupil – there’s also super-smart Boudicca, who barely says a word to anyone.

It’s only when she meets Arch that she perks up and takes to following him everywhere he goes. Then she disappears. With the help of Dani’s Granny Viv, who has become St Grizzle’s cook and housekeeper, it’s up to Dani and Arch to find Boudicca … and unravel the truth about this shy tag-along zombie.

The outrageous antics of a madcap cast of characters, a loopy goat called Twinkle and extra big school dinner servings of off-the-wall humour are the winning formula for this wonderfully wacky boarding school farce which is proving to be the St Trinian’s for a new generation of mischief-making youngsters.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Once Upon a Star by James Carter and Mar Hernández

And here’s a story that makes a BIG impression…

Once upon a star, There were no stars to shine, No Sun to rise, No Sun to set, No day no night, Nor any time, There was no Earth, Nor universe.

The Big Bang theory comes in for some stellar treatment in this super space-travelling picture book from prize-winning poet and educational writer James Carter, and star illustrator Mar Hernández.

In a unique blend of compelling verse, exciting space discovery and graphic illustration, Once Upon a Star takes young readers on a colourful and exciting trip through space and time as they discover the origins of the universe and how our solar system was formed.

Every day our universe is expanding as scientists and researchers learn more and more about outer space. But where did it all begin and where do we come from? Find the answers through words and pictures as the worlds of poetry and non-fiction collide to create a unique picture book about our Sun.

Turn the pages and delight at Hernández’s striking and dynamic illustrations as Carter’s simple but informative verse portrays the mighty boom that led to a Big Bang and the giant rocks that formed eight unique planets.

A lyrical and lovely out-of-this-world picture book for all young space explorers!

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 5 plus:

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

The passage of time in one little girl’s life becomes a gallery of creative colour and ageless meditation in a stunning first picture book from celebrated illustrator Jillian Tamaki.

They Say Blue – a mesmerising riot of bold colours and gentle observation – follows the inquisitive child through a year or a day, depending on your perspective, and illuminates where she finds colours in both the world around her and the world beyond what she can see.

Egg yolks are sunny orange as expected, and yet water cupped in her hands isn’t quite as blue as she had thought. But maybe, she ponders, a blue whale really is blue. She doesn’t know because she hasn’t seen one. But the crows outside her window are just as black as her hair that her mother parts and combs each morning. As the seasons progress, she discovers that nature’s appearance changes but life’s mysteries remain…

Gentle, timeless, playful and philosophical, Tamaki’s captivating story and ethereal illustrations are full of movement and transformation as the nameless girl examines the colours in the world around her.

They Say Blue is a delight for children and adults, a moving and atmospheric book about colour as well as perspective, about the things we can see and the things we can only wonder at.

(Abrams Books for Young Readers, hardback, £12.99)

Age from birth:

Where’s Mrs Zebra? and Where’s Mr Dog? by Ingela P Arrhenius

Little ones will love getting their hands on these two bright and beautiful board books from innovative children’s publisher Nosy Crow.

Where’s Mrs Zebra? and Where’s Mr Dog? are the latest additions to the much-loved felt flaps series which includes Where’s Mr Lion? the well-deserved winner of the 2017 Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award.

These gorgeous books are the work of artist Ingela P Arrhenius who has created patterns for fabrics, wallpaper and stationery, as well as packaging and home accessories. She has also collaborated with several toy producers around the world and her love of retro style, typography and colour is reflected in all her work.

Each sturdy, carefully crafted book has five beautifully illustrated spreads showing a series of friendly animals hiding behind brightly coloured felt flaps and to make the journey of tactile discovery even more exciting for little ones, there’s a mirror to raise more smiles on the final page!

In Where’s Mrs Zebra? toddlers will enjoy looking for a host of fascinating safari animals, including a rhino and a pink flamingo, and in Where’s Mr Dog? there is the fun of finding some cuddly, friendly pets hiding behind the felt flaps.

Ideal for sharing with the very youngest children, these clever board books are a touchy-feely winner with all the family!

(Nosy Crow, board books, £6.99 each)