Book reviews: History cut short, a year in the wild and a bookivore

A Short History of the World by Ruth Brocklehurst and Henry Brook
A Short History of the World by Ruth Brocklehurst and Henry Brook
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Easter will soon be here and there is a super selection of new books to put a spring in the step of young readers.

Enjoy a short trip down thousands of years of history, an exciting new mystery series, a ‘hand-pressed’ year of nature’s delights, a madcap Wild West adventure and an adorable team of close-knit friends.

Age 8 plus:

A Short History of the World by Ruth Brocklehurst and Henry Brook

How do you squeeze thousands of years of human history into a book with only 160 pages?

The writers, editors and designers at Usborne Publishing, the largest and one of the liveliest independent children's publishers in the UK, were determined to produce an engaging introduction to world history that would fill in some of the gaps between the topics most commonly taught in schools… and hopefully spark readers’ curiosity to explore further.

The result is A Short History of the World, a fascinating trip through time – from the Ancient World right to the Modern World – filled with fun, facts, figures and Adam Larkum’s amazing illustrations, and all designed to bring history to glorious life.

In this brilliant trip back in time, youngsters get an incisive and informative overview of the major events, characters and turning points in world history, reinforced by super stylish illustrations that introduce historical ideas such as civilisations, empires, revolutions, religion and democracy.

From the hunter-gatherers in the Ice Age to the technological innovations of Renaissance inventors like Leonardo da Vinci, to the demonstrations of Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s and the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the past bursts out from the pages of this book.

With bitesize narrative accounts, timelines, maps and links to specially selected websites to help bring the past alive with virtual tours and reconstructions, this is history perfectly packaged and ingeniously reduced to its vital essence.

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

Who Killed Darius Drake? by Rodman Philbrick

Award-winning US author Rodman Philbrick is back with a classic mystery caper series to delight a new generation of readers.

Who Killed Darius Drake?, a cracking new tale of mystery, skulduggery and adventure, is being published alongside the Usborne Modern Classics relaunch of Philbrick’s multi-million selling novel, Freak the Mighty, which first hit the shelves in 1993 and has become a favourite with children all over the world.

Arthur ‘Bash Man’ is the fat tough guy at Stonehill Home for Children. He’s paid with sweets to bully and threaten other students so has his uses.

When genius orphan Darius Drake employs Arthur to help him discover the origin of a suspicious threatening note, written in blood and asking ‘Who killed Darius Drake?’ they soon get caught up in a thrilling mystery involving the legendary and dangerous Scar Man.

Their detective work uncovers a mystery that involves Darius’ estranged grandfather who was imprisoned for forging evidence in a search for a diamond necklace worth millions that is still missing.

The boys make the dangerous decision to search for the jewels themselves and before long they discover that the car crash that killed Darius’ parents wasn’t an accident at all. Who will be next?

Youngsters will love working their way through the tantalising clues in this fast-paced, entertaining mystery which is packed with humour, personal insight, drama and emotion.

Philbrick delivers an acute observation of youthful insecurities and a compelling exploration of class assumptions as well as an intriguing and enjoyable mystery that is well plotted and stars an unlikely but fascinating detective duo.

Top class reading for middle grade youngsters…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

A Year in the Wild by Ruth Symons and Helen Ahpornsiri

Here’s a year in the wild as you have never before seen it!

See nature transformed as artist Helen Ahpornsiri works her magic to allow the four seasons – and the changes that each one brings – spring to life through a gallery of fabulous illustrations made entirely from hand-pressed flowers and leaves.

‘You can see spring in the pearly pink of a petal, or see autumn in the fiery red of fallen leaves. You can see leaves, stems, even berries, all woven into the images. All you need to do is look beyond the surface…’

Ahpornsiri’s breathtaking and uniquely created artwork using collages of real flora and foliage – coupled with Ruth Symons’ beautiful, lyrical text – make this book an extraordinary journey through nature and one that will be treasured by readers young and old.

Each illustration is made up of hundreds of leaves and plants which are foraged or grown, then preserved with traditional flower-pressing methods. After one to six weeks of being pressed, the plants are organised by species or colour before being cut and delicately arranged to form birds, insects and other creatures in designs filled with tiny patterns and tangles of plant life.

Marvel as petals, leaves and seeds turn into bounding hares, swooping swallows and fluttering butterflies. Turn the page to watch flowers unfold, see birds take flight or peek inside animal homes. See a line of fluffy ducklings following their mother, take a look at fungi bursting through the forest floor and enjoy a nimble harvest mouse climbing stalks of wheat.

A unique, imaginative and multi-coloured perspective on the wonders of a year in the wild.

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 6 plus:

Dirty Bertie: Mascot! by Alan MacDonald and David Roberts

And now for something truly hair-raising, foul-smelling and revoltingly wonderful… the 30th brilliant book starring the one and only Dirty Bertie!

Dirty Bertie, the cringe-making creation of writer Alan MacDonald and illustrator David Roberts, is the boy with nose-pickingly disgusting habits who just can’t help getting involved in comic chaos, and has proved to be one of the most enduringly popular and entertaining story book anti-heroes for younger readers.

An expert in all things yukky, there’s nothing Bertie likes more than to be surrounded by worms, fleas, bogeys, burps and suspicious smells... and with ever-increasing madcap schemes and crazy capers, Bertie is a disgusting delight for his legion of fans who revel in his revolting ways.

There are three fully illustrated stories in each book and in these latest hilariously horrid adventures, we join bad, bold Bertie as he is picked to be the mascot for his local football team, Pudsley Rovers, attempts to get himself expelled from a geeky summer camp, and designs his very own robot, a Bootosaurus, to replace his school’s headmistress Miss Boot!

With each action-packed, fun-filled story approximately 30 pages long, and split into chapters with wickedly funny illustrations on nearly every spread, Dirty Bertie is ideal for confident young readers to enjoy by themselves, or to share with (secretly amused!) mums and dads.

Bertie, a boy with big ideas but a poor record for carrying them out, is the perfect anti-hero for any youngster who attracts trouble like a magnet, and isn’t afraid to make the most of it!

Naughty but very, very funny…

(Stripes, paperback, £4.99)

Age 3 plus:

Cock-a-Doodle Poo! by Steve Smallman and Florence Weiser

Author Steve Smallman and illustrator Florence Weiser create a real stink with their hilarious new picture book which pays a memorable tribute to… poo!

Yes, this cheeky, irreverent farmyard adventure is filled from cover to cover with animal poo – cow pats, sheep pellets, pig plop, horse droppings and rooster poop – an excrement extravaganza guaranteed to delight every mischief-loving youngster.

‘Down on the farm there’s a terrible pong. (Well the animals are pooing there all day long!) Splat! What’s that? It’s a big cow pat.’

Farmer Jill is well aware of the ecological benefits that animal excrement can have for farmland. But the problem is that she can’t keep on top of it all… especially the flying poo. And now, someone’s done a doo-doo on her new hairdo! Who on earth could it have been? Cock-a-doodle-poo! All suspicions are naturally pointing to the rooster…

This side-splitting rhyming riot, packed full of toots, plops and parps, is a delight to read aloud. Smallman crafts the ever popular poo humour into the story with lyrical wizardry and, when mixed with Weiser’s bright, bold and fun-packed illustrations, the result is truly poop-super!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Wildest Cowboy by Garth Jennings and Sara Ogilvie

A madcap train chase, rattlesnake socks and a dancing dog… there’s no shortage of action in this Wild West adventure!

Film director and author Garth Jennings pairs up with award-winning illustrator of The Detective Dog, Sara Ogilvie, for a picture book thriller that is destined to be a sharp shooting star.

Way out in the West there’s a town they call Fear and only the roughest and toughest live there. When cheerful salesman Bingo B Brown rolls his wagon full of Wild West goodies into town, he’s met with a stony silence. This is clearly no place for novelty bow ties and elastic lassos. Not even Bingo’s dancing dog can raise a smile. But this town is not just joyless, it’s dangerous. And as Bingo soon discovers, the people of the town are both scary… and scared. It isn’t long before Bingo and his dog discover why as they come face to face with the Wildest Cowboy in the West!

Jennings, who has directed many music videos and commercials as one third of the production company Hammer and Tongs, sets out all guns blazing in this brilliant rhyming story while Ogilvie brings the fast-paced fun to life with a gallery of bright and busy illustrations.

So saddle up and head to town for a big, beautiful bonanza of bold colours, brilliant storytelling and wacky Wild West adventure!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett

Is it a carnivore, is it a herbivore? No, it’s a bookivore!

He’s back and he’s chomping his way into danger… Nibbles, the adorable yellow monster who stole our hearts with his fairy tale-crunching antics in Nibbles: The Book Monster, is creating more mayhem and munching madness but this time he might have bitten off more than he can chew!

Multi-talented author and illustrator Emma Yarlett goes into her special brand of imaginative overdrive as naughty Nibbles chomps, munches and gnaws his way through a dinosaur guide packed with some of the scariest creatures that ever roamed the Earth.

Only young readers can save the mischievous little monster from the jaws of death but first they will have to chase him through the pages of this prehistoric encyclopaedia, lifting the flaps and peeking through intriguing cut-out holes on a journey of fun, facts, jokes and crazy adventures.

Can he escape the clutches of Jurassic giants like triceratops, diplodocus and velociraptors as he chomps through the chapters, and will he finally meet his match when faced with the most terrible lizard of all… the tyrannosaurus rex, famous for having some of the biggest teeth EVER?

This ingenious new Nibbles book is ideal for little children who will enjoy the thrill of the chase with its flaps, fun and peepholes, but there are also plenty of subtle jokes and fascinating dinosaur facts for older, wiser readers to digest.

Innovative, cleverly interactive, brimming with the kind of bright and lively illustrations that children love, and with a tasty twist in the tail, Nibbles’ book-eating adventures have the legs to run and run!

(Little Tiger, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Steves by Morag Hood

Two puffed-up puffins compete to be the Number One Steve in this clever and comical new picture book from the super-talented Morag Hood.

Creator of the hilarious Colin and Lee, Carrot and Pea and I Am Bat, Hood’s wry humour and gift for bold and visually exciting colours are at their best in this glorious, cautionary tale about a pair of feuding puffins.

When Steve meets Steve, neither can believe it. Surely one of them must be the first Steve, the best Steve, the Stevest Steve. The claims of each puffin become sillier and sillier as the argument descends into name-calling… until both Steves start to realise that there is really no need to fall out over a name after all.

The warring puffins demonstrate perfectly the familiar arguments between children but, through subtle wordplay and fun-filled illustrations, the Steves come to see how pointless they are.

Hood, who uses collage and printing techniques, says she loves a freshly sharpened pencil… and this sharp and astute story certainly gets to the point. The bold and inventive use of colour, eye-catching designs and a story full of wisdom, dry humour and a child’s eye view of the world, are guaranteed to win the hearts of readers young and old.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

How to Eat Pizza by Jon Burgerman

Multi-talented illustrator Jon Burgerman dishes up a feast of mouth-watering fun in a joyously playful new picture book.

How to Eat Pizza, packed with knockabout fun and hilarious slices of pizza wordplay, is the third children’s book from an author and illustrator noted for his super bright artwork and off-the-wall humour.

Burgerman, a UK-born, Brooklyn-based artist famed for his instantly recognisable drawings, doodles, sculptures and murals, won hearts and plaudits with his delightful picture books, Splat! and Rhyme Crime which offered excitingly anarchic visual and verbal experiences.

And this kaleidoscopic new creation, which features more fantastic, eye-catching graphics and the same brand of quirky comedy, has been specially cooked up for children who love their food.

Powered by Burgerman’s belief that through playful, creative acts, art can act as an agent to change the world, this tasty treat encourages children to eat their fruit and vegetables… even if it must be on a pizza!

With beautiful bright and colourful artwork, Burgerman has created an imaginative and interactive story showing how much fun it is to eat pizza. But what will happen when the pizza slices find out they are about to be eaten...?

Burgerman uses his artistic skills and lots of imaginative wordplay to help and inspire children’s linguistic learning, and to show how much fun it is to eat pizza with healthy fruit and veg toppings.

The perfect introduction to healthy eating!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Woollies: Follow the Footprints by Kelly McKain and Jon Stuart

Meet a close-knit team with adventure all sewn up!

Author Kelly McKain and illustrator Jon Stuart are certainly on the ball (of wool) in this cute and cosy, knit one, purl one new series perfectly designed and stitched together for fun-loving toddlers.

Meet the Woollies! With their balls of wool and chunky needles, these daring, knitted adventurers are always ready to imagi-knit! Puzzle, Bling, Zip and Baby Woolly live in a slightly overgrown corner of the local park. Their superpower is knitting anything from their imagination… and turning it into awesome reality.

In Follow the Footprints, Baby Woolly sees some strange footprints on the path and decides to follow them with Zip. It’s just the start of a really big adventure full of imagination, an over-friendly puppy and some amazing contraptions.

And in Pirates Ahoy!, Baby Woolly finds a toy coin on the grass and declares it must be pirate treasure. He sets sail in a woolly ship but when he loses his ball of wool, he needs to make a wish on his lucky pirate coin to save his friends.

With McKain’s gentle, easy-to-follow stories full of adventure, imagination and wool, and Stuart’s bold and brightly coloured illustrations, the adventures of the wonderful Woollies are cuddly perfection for pre-schoolers.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99 each)

Age one plus:

Great Bunny Bakes by Ellie Snowdon

A wolf in bunny’s clothing steals the limelight in a show-stopping picture book from super talented author and illustrator Ellie Snowdon.

Baker extraordinaire Quentin the wolf really does have his cake and eats it as Snowdon works her special magic on this enchanting tale of hidden identity, bravura baking and unexpected kindness.

Aprons are on and recipes are at the ready for the biggest, bestest, bunniest baking competition in town. But who is this strangely dressed contestant? Quentin is a wolf with a very unusual hobby… he loves to bake. So when he accidentally receives an invitation to take part in a Great Bunny Baking competition, he will do anything to enter. Masterfully disguised (ahem) as a bunny, Quentin sails through round after round with his peerless pastry and heavenly honeybun tower. But soon he has to contend with a jealous fellow contestant. And when he slips and drops his Showstopping Chocolate Cake, it looks like all his work has been in vain…

Snowdon’s dry humour and warm storytelling shine through in this irresistibly funny and appealing tale, brought to life by her trademark, classic-yet-contemporary illustrations which are filled with fascinating detail and lots of colourful characters.

A masterful picture book confection!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)