Highland poems, natural wonders and singing superstars - book reviews

Discover some of Scotland’s best-loved poetry, watch our planet’s natural wonders spring to vivid life, and enjoy learning how singing megastars Beyoncé and Ariane Grande made it on to the world stage in a glittering array of new children’s books just perfect for winter days.

By Pam Norfolk
Monday, 21st January 2019, 2:25 pm
Updated Monday, 21st January 2019, 2:29 pm
A Year of Scottish Poems by Gaby Morgan
A Year of Scottish Poems by Gaby Morgan

Age 8 plus:

A Year of Scottish Poems by Gaby Morgan

‘My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;

My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;

A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,

My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go’ –

This famous song and poem, written by Robert Burns in 1789, is just one of the many beautiful, lyrical poems in an inspiring anthology of the best of Scottish poetry, specially curated to read and enjoy all year round.

Gathered together by Gaby Morgan, an editorial director at Macmillan Children’s Books, this beautiful book has a foreword by Makar Jackie Kay, the National Poet for Scotland, who tells us that poetry, both oral and written, is the national art of Scotland.

Scots poets, Kay reveals, have reflected and responded to their landscape, to their various languages, to the history of Caledonia and to their changing relationships, both personal and political. ‘We hear the voice of our passionate, proud and provocative country most truly in its poetry,’ says Kay.

The 366 powerful, thoughtful and uplifting poems also reflect the changing seasons, the history of Scottish people, and mark key dates in the Scottish calendar, from Burns Night to Hogmanay.

The collection features the strongest voices in Scottish poetry including Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Mackay Brown, Sir Walter Scott, Liz Lochhead, Don Paterson, Nan Shepherd, Stewart Conn, Kathleen Jamie, Elma Mitchell, John Rice, Muriel Spark, Iain Crichton Smith, Sorley MacLean, Julia Donaldson, Carolina Oliphant, Norman MacCaig, Marion Angus, Kate Clanchy, Carol Ann Duffy and many more.

With its stunning foiled cover, which features puffins, otters and stags to embody the wild Scottish landscape, this is a magical introduction for a new generation of children to the powerful voices of Scottish poetry, and the land that they love.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Natural Wonders of the World by Molly Oldfield and Federica Bordoni

Open the pages of this amazing book and you have a passport to the world!

Our planet’s natural wonders spring to vivid life in Molly Oldfield and Federica Bordoni’s beautiful photographic celebration of the natural world which lets youngsters do their own exploring.

Filled with life and colour, Bordoni’s stunning illustrations, breathtaking photographs, and fascinating facts, this journey of discovery lets children swing through the trees of Madagascar, dive into the ocean to explore the Great Barrier Reef, and stand in the most electric place on Earth.

From firefly squid glowing against the night sky in Japan to a Mexican cave filled with the largest crystals ever found, here is the chance to discover the stories and science behind these wonders, the threats they now face, and the efforts taking place to save them.

Learn how the Grand Canyon was formed, what we can do to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and discover how climate change is endangering the ancient giant sequoia trees in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. And then visit the stormy mouth of the Catatumbo river in Venezuela where lightning strikes the same place up to 40,000 times a night!

This is a thrilling world tour but Molly Oldfield, a writer and researcher on the BBC television show QI, reminds youngsters that a world of wonders can be found much closer to home too. All you need to do to experience the natural world, she says, is to step outside in your neighbourhood to find trees, blossoms and animals, sunshine, thunder clouds and sparkling stars.

An illuminating tour of the planet that we call home, as well as an overview of some of the biggest environmental problems of today, Natural Wonders of the World is the perfect gift for inquisitive youngsters and anyone who loves exploring the great outdoors.

This book is published on February 7.

(Wren & Rook, hardback, £14.99)

Age 8 plus:

Against All Gods by Maz Evans

Have your handkerchiefs ready as Maz Evans breaks our hearts and then mends them again in the final chapter of her beautiful and brilliant Who Let the Gods Out? series.

Rising star Maz Evans has won an army of fans with her emotion-charged, high octane Greek myths-inspired middle-grade fiction series which stars a youngster caring for his seriously ill mother and sharing adventures with a cast of immortal Olympian gods.

The memorable star is Elliot Hooper whose life changed for ever when a shooting star crashed to earth. He discovered that the fallen star was teen goddess Virgo, a young woman on a mission. But Elliot and his new friend accidentally released Thanatos, a wicked and ancient death daemon imprisoned beneath Stonehenge, and had to turn to the old Olympian gods for help.

In his final adventure, Elliot faces his darkest period yet. As well as confronting his fears, he knows that the future of mankind – and of everything he holds dear – is at stake.

Because the battle lines are drawn, it’s Good versus Evil, and Elliot will have to choose a side. The Gods are ready to fight but with Virgo, Gorgy and all Elementals imprisoned in Tartarus, the Gods need super-General Achilles to whip them into shape. Meanwhile, Patricia Porshley-Plum has Home Farm. But can a bunch of misfit gods, a lost constellation and a mortal boy stand up to the daemon hordes? Will Elliot ever find his way home? Or is he doomed to remain... against all gods?

This witty, warm and wonderful series was Evans’ tribute to over 700,000 young carers like Elliot who live across the UK. Evans is a keen supporter of Spurgeons, a leading children’s charity which helps families and children affected by social disadvantage. She has also set up the BookBuddy scheme (bookbuddy.org.uk) in which schools in need of books are paired up with readers willing to donate.

Packed with full-on action and fascinating facts about ancient myths, this epic, rip-roaring, Greek odyssey has been leavened by moments of heartbreaking emotion and gritty realities so prepare to laugh, marvel and watch in wonder as Elliot takes on his final battle with the gods!

This book is published on February 7.

(Chicken House Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Ultimate Superstars: Beyoncé by Melanie Hamm and Ariana Grande by Liz Gogerly

The stars are coming out to brighten the dark January days!

Ultimate Superstars, an exciting new series from Studio Press, introduces young readers to their favourite superstars and reveals the stories of some of the big names of showbusiness who worked to make their dreams come true.

From children singing at school to world famous stars performing to thousands of fans, this new series takes us through the highs and lows of megastars like Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez.

This new genre of narrative, fictionalised biographies is proving a huge hit with reluctant readers and these easy-to-understand books, with their eye-catching covers and star performers, are guaranteed to keep youngsters engaged.

In the first two books, we take a close-up look at the lives of chart-toppers Beyoncé and Ariana Grande, and discover how Beyoncé became Queen Bey, and how Ariana Grande made the move from her beloved character Cat Valentine from Victorious to a sold-out world tour.

Featuring key highlights from the careers of these two superstars, including Ariana’s One Love Manchester concert and Beyonce’s second Superbowl performance, these biographies – written in the form of fiction chapter books – keep readers entranced as they discover the girls’ rise to superstardom.

In Beyoncé, we meet the shy young girl from Houston, Texas, in a sparkly blue pinafore dress who grew up to be a global superstar. Relive her amazing rise to fame in one of the world’s bestselling girl groups in history before becoming an award-winning solo artist.

In Ariana Grande, we see the girl who didn’t dare look at the crowd as she stepped on to the stage in case she fluffed her words. The little girl from Florida with a big voice grew up to be a bestselling pop sensation. She began her career in musical theatre before a big break on television propelled her to international stardom.

These entertaining retellings of Ariana and Beyoncé’s life stories by Melanie Hamm and Liz Gogerly are perfectly pitched at young music fans who will be thrilled to learn that two new books in the series on Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez are coming in May.

Beyoncé and Ariana Grande are published on February 7.

(Studio Press, paperback, £5.99 each)

Age 6 plus:

Shine: Sara’s Dream Role by Holly Webb and Monique Dong

Tune up your vocal chords and sing out loud because the girls are ready to ‘shine’!

Welcome back to the Shine School for the Performing Arts and the second exciting adventure in a sparkling, revamped series of dance, drama, dreams and friendship stories from favourite children’s author Holly Webb.

Dance and drama classes are hugely popular among young children and for many, full-time stage school is the ultimate dream. So step into the limelight and share the captivating ups and downs of stage school and friendships with a talented cast of girls you will love to meet.

When there’s a big audition for a West End production of Mary Poppins at The Shine School for the Performing Arts, Sara is hoping this will be her big chance. Sara, whose favourite musical is Mary Poppins, sings her heart out in the first round of auditions and is delighted to get a call back for the part of Jane. But rather than being pleased for her, Sara’s mum, who is a teacher, is only concerned about how getting the role would affect her schoolwork.

Meanwhile, Lizabeth, another talented student, has her eye on the same role and is ready to go to extremes to make sure that the part is hers. Feeling nervous about the next audition, can Sara avoid Lizabeth’s schemes and secure the role of her dreams?

This glittering, perfectly-pitched series, featuring stage, performance and domestic and friendship dramas, is being reissued with gorgeous new covers and redesigned pages, including fabulous, contemporary illustrations by Monique Dong.

Expect wrong notes, rivalries and plenty of showdowns!

This book is published on February 7.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Aalfred and Aalbert by Morag Hood

Friendship can sometimes be so aard to find!

Fall in love with the exquisitely told – and illustrated – tale of two adorable but solitary aardvarks who long to be part of a pair, or one of a two, but whose paths just never seem to cross.

The warm and whimsical adventures and misadventures of Aalfred and Aalbert are the work of super talented Morag Hood, the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal award-nominated author and illustrator whose gorgeous, gregarious picture books always hold a special cross-generational magic.

Here she uses both words and pictures to draw readers into the lonely lives of aardvarks Aalfred and Aalbert who both need a pal. But as Aalfred sleeps in the day and Aalbert sleeps at night, how will they ever get the chance to meet?

A helpful little love bird conjures up a series of sillier and sillier schemes to get the two aardvarks into the same place, but their paths simply refuse to cross. Until one day, they find each other in the most unexpected way… and now Aalfred and Aalbert will never lose each other again.

Using uncluttered illustrations in a simple but effective palette of colours, and a limited number of words that still manage to generate a world of emotion, this is a story lovingly created… and an endearing gift for anyone in need of a hug!

(Two Hoots, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Truth About Old People by Elina Ellis

Life is fun when you head out to play with… your grandparents!

Author and illustrator Elina Ellis turns all those tales about grumpy old people on their heads – almost literally – in her action-packed, high energy debut picture book which celebrates all the good things about golden oldies.

Determined to banish the myths about the elderly and deliver a witty rebuke to ageism, Ellis brings youngsters readers a simple but effective story that bubbles with life and love, and features a pair of all-action grandparents who manage to bounce off the page and straight into your heart.

When you’re small, everybody bigger than you seems really old. Some people say old people are not much fun… they can’t bend, they are scared of new things, they don’t dance, and they are not at all adventurous. But does being older have to mean being boring, clumsy, slow, or quiet? Don’t believe it… one little boy knows the truth. They are amazing!

The Truth About Old People is an instant winner for all generations with its endearing characters, bold, colourful illustrations, heartwarming humour, and life-affirming message that age is, after all, just a number!

This book is published on February 7.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £11.99)