Hotel capers, a pampered pooch and our amazing planet - book reviews

Check in at a magical hotel, enjoy dirty tricks at the park, discover planet Earth, and meet a rhino on the horns of a dilemma in a sparkling collection of springtime books for young readers.

By Pam Norfolk
Monday, 1st April 2019, 12:32 pm
Updated Monday, 1st April 2019, 12:38 pm
Sea-ing is Believing! By Steven Butler and Steven Lenton
Sea-ing is Believing! By Steven Butler and Steven Lenton

Age 6 plus:

Sea-ing is Believing!

Steven Butler and Steven Lenton

Welcome back to the hilarious hotel where bed and board means you’ll never be… bored!

Sea-ing is Believing! is our third, action-packed visit to The Nothing to See Here Hotel, a place full of magical creatures, where weird is normal for fun-loving troll boy Frankie Banister and his truly extraordinary parents, and where laughter is assured from the moment you check in.

This number one destination is the creation of top comedy team, inventive author Steven Butler and illustrator extraordinaire Steven Lenton, who bring to life a cast of the wackiest characters imaginable for rip-roaring adventures.

Frankie’s story began when his great-great-great-grandad Abraham Banister fell madly in love with troll girl Regurgita Glump (she’s still alive because trolls live hundreds of years!) and they married in the sewers under Brighton high street.

Fast forward a hundred years and here is Frankie… his dad Bargeous is a Halfling, his mum Rani is completely human, and Frankie is a quarterling (his pointy ears and copper-coloured eyes are the only outward signs of his troll blood).

In their new adventure, Frankie and his family are preparing to celebrate Grandad Abraham’s 175th birthday – an occasion that is going to be even more HONKHUMPTIOUS now that Abe’s ghost has shown up!

When the unexpected spook reveals a secret underwater wing of the hotel that has been hidden away for years, the Banisters decide there’s only one thing for it … a whopping welcome home bash in the spectacular Briny Ballroom.

But memories aren’t the only things waiting at the bottom of the ocean. Secrets and sea monsters are lurking in the shadows, and is everything as it seems with Grandad Abraham’s ghost? Or is there something fishy going on?

Starring a hotel that hosts everything from trolls, goblins and harpies to witches, puddle-nymphs and bogrunts, this brilliantly funny series offers room service with a difference as youngsters enter a wonderfully imagined and magical world in which humour, adventure and the totally bizarre are the order of the day.

You can check out any time you like from The Nothing to See Here Hotel, but you can never leave without laughing!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Mutant Zombies Cursed My School Trip

Matt Brown and Paco Sordo

Zany zombies, comedy and chaos… could there be a more potent and perfect recipe for fun reading!

The award-winning Matt Brown, who has worked as a radio producer, DJ and TV presenter, is back with a hilarious new novel in his brilliant series charting the adventures (well, mainly misadventures!) of the pupils at Dreary Inkling Primary School’s Year Six class.

Ian Iansson is a little bit worried about his school trip. Firstly, Ian doesn’t have any friends, plus his mum has packed him ten pairs of pants for the two-day trip. But as it turns out, these are the least of Ian's problems…

Because when Ian’s class arrives at the spooky old house, there is something very weird going on. Something that looks awfully like zombies… groaning, dribbling zombies that no one but Ian seems to have noticed.

If your youngsters are addicted to crazy capers and laugh-out-loud humour, then this brilliantly bonkers, irreverent and off-the-wall series is certainly guaranteed to push all the right comedy buttons.

Fully illustrated throughout by Paco Sordo’s anarchic black-and-white pictures, the madcap mishaps of the gloriously inane Ian Iansson are guaranteed to win top marks!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Be Green! and Be Kind! Mindful Kids

Our increasingly endangered planet is encouraging many young people to take more interest in the world around them and the vast global community.

So here are two thoughtful and informative activity books for children who want to sustain and protect the world we live in, and to learn just what we can do to be more caring and kind to those who share our planet.

Many schools are now introducing mindful techniques to the classroom and this spring Studio Press have published two new carefully created activity books in their Mindful Kids series.

Be Green! – written by Mandy Archer and illustrated by Katie Abey – is a superb Mindful Kids Global Citizen activity book for young people to colour, doodle and DIY their way to living a more responsible, sustainable life.

Using creativity to explore the environmental issues facing planet Earth, children can discover how to make a difference, and learn top tips on how to protect the environment for future generations.

Be Green! features the charming and quirky illustrations of Katie Abey, a UK-based illustrator. Her quirky pictures will keep the reader entertained and focused as they work through the book, or youngsters can simply dip into the pages for ten minutes of calm colouring.

In Be Kind!, written Stephanie Clarkson and illustrated by Katie Abey, children can colour, doodle and DIY their way to a more caring, kinder and accepting world. Explore your place in the world, discover the amazing power of acceptance, and learn top tips on how to spread joy through being kind.

With their wide range of activities, thoughtful information and a helpful introduction and notes for grown-ups, these books are ideal for use both at home and at school.

(Studio Press, paperback, £8.99 each)

Age 7 plus:

Planetarium: Junior Edition

Raman Prinja and Chris Wormell

Welcome to the Planetarium… home to an incredible collection of astronomical wonders from icy moons to swirling galaxies!

Published in association with the Science Museum, Planetarium is part of the exciting Welcome To The Museum series from the Big Picture Press which offers tours in museums that are always open and this new junior edition opens up this popular and informative series to a younger age group.

The series includes the hugely successful Historium, a collection of objects from ancient civilisations, Animalium, a detailed exploration of more than 160 animal specimens, Botanicum, a super-sized book of stunning botanical delights, and the dangerously entertaining Dinosaurium.

The books enable readers to wander the galleries from the comfort of home and discover a collection of curated exhibits on every page, all accompanied by informative text.

Each book is also packed with the finely detailed and incredibly coloured artwork of Chris Wormell, a self-taught artist who uses a digital adaptation of the engraving process to create his stunning images.

The eye-catching Planetarium: Junior Edition is packed with amazing pictures and fascinating facts as children learn about all aspects of space, from the Sun and our solar system to the lives of stars, the Milky Way and the universe beyond.

How big is the Universe, how did it start and when will it end? What exactly is a black hole and are we really alone in the Universe?

The special text for younger readers is written by Professor of Astrophysics, Raman Prinja, who takes us over the horizon of our blue-green planet and into a space world that has fascinated humans since the dawn of time.

So step inside the pages of this spellbinding book and discover everything you ever wanted to know about space, planets and all things galactic.

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 5 plus:

Planetarium Activity Book

Raman Prinja and Chris Wormell

Following the incredible Planetarium, Chris Wormell’s Planetarium companion activity book offers hours of entertainment to artists and space lovers. Beautiful and inspiring, the myriad activities in this book challenge the reader to discover something new and use their imagination to draw, decorate and design on every pull-out page.

Bursting with fascinating facts and puzzles, this carefully crafted book, published by Big Picture Press in association with the Science Museum, offers hours of enjoyment to space fans young and old.

The wide variety of activities, including creating your own constellation, finding your way through a space maze and drawing a spacecraft heading to Mars, challenges young readers to discover something new and use their imagination to draw, decorate and design.

The good quality paper and wonderfully intricate artwork ensure that this big, bold book will help to inspire a new generation of space explorers.

(Big Picture Press, paperback, £8.99)

Age 6 plus:

Beneath the Waves

Lily Murray and Helen Ahpornsiri

Dive deep into the ocean and discover the wondrous creatures that live below…

See the underwater world as never before as artist Helen Ahpornsiri transforms hand-pressed silky seaweeds, feathery algae and bright coastal blooms into playful penguins, scuttling crabs and schools of silvery sharks.

Hidden beneath the waves is another world entirely. In underwater cities of coral, schools of fish flash their iridescent scales while great whales sing to each other across the vast expanse of the open ocean.

Dive deeper and on the seabed you will find alien-looking creatures beyond your wildest imagining.

Turn the page to explore each corner of the oceans, from hidden rock pools to the darkest depths. Marvel as plants transform into amazing creatures, and discover the magic and beauty that lies beneath the waves.

Each chapter of the book explores a different ocean realm, brought to life with hand-pressed seaweed and coastal flowers. The rock pool is fringed with sea lettuce, blades of bead weed circle the eye of the squid while coral weed paints the anglerfish a pale pink.

Ahpornsiri creates intricate collages using real flora and foliage. Each illustration is made up of hundreds of leaves and flowers which are foraged or grown, then preserved with traditional flower-pressing methods.

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.

The unique, imaginative and multi-coloured artwork – coupled with Lily Murray’s beautiful, lyrical text – make this book an extraordinary journey through ocean life and one that will be treasured by readers young and old.

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 6 plus:

Dirty Bertie: Spider!

Alan MacDonald and David Roberts

And now for something truly hair-raising, foul-smelling and revoltingly wonderful… the brilliant new muck-propelled adventure 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 for his (staggering!) 31st adventure as he shocks and amazes his classmates with his huge pet spider, is tricked into wearing one of Gran’s knitted horrors to school, and finds nothing but trouble when he digs for treasure in the park.

With each action-packed, fun-filled story approximately 30 pages long, and split into chapters with wickedly funny illustrations on almost every spread, Dirty Bertie is ideal for reluctant readers in need of some laugh-out-loud comedy bait, confident young readers to enjoy by themselves, or simply 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, £8.99)

Age 6 plus:

Dumbo: Disney Animated Classics

Lily Murray

Enjoy a classic fairy tale as you have never before seen it!

Dumbo is the new book in Disney Animated Classics, a sparkling series from Studio Press with each book presenting an enchanting retelling of Walt Disney’s eternally popular films as seen through the animator’s eye.

These beautiful hardback books with their premium cloth binding, ribbon marker to match the cover, gold foil stamping and illustrated endpapers, make the perfect gifts for all those who have been spellbound by the magic of Disney’s famous animated classic films.

The series includes Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and now Dumbo, some of the best-loved films of all time and family favourites for over eighty years.

Relive the star-dusted magic through Lily Murray’s retelling of the classic animated film, accompanied by paintings, story sketches and concept art from the original Disney Studio artists. Also featured is a foreword by Natalie Nourigat, a storyboard artist at the Walt Disney Animation Studios.

And when the story is finished, youngsters can turn to the back of the book to learn more about the artists who worked on the memorable animated film.

These sumptuous books, full of atmospheric retellings and fascinating illustrations, are perfect for both Disney fans and young collectors.

(Studio Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 4 plus:

The Usborne Book of Planet Earth

Megan Cullis, Matthew Oldham and Stephanie Fizer Coleman

Even the youngest children can become explorers with this amazing tour of our wonderful planet Earth!

All you need is a comfy chair and this colourful, informative and entertaining book which takes readers on a journey through some of the most spectacular places on the planet, including the jungles of South America, the monumental forests of Northern California, the extraordinary wetlands of Doňana National Park in Spain, the volcanic regions of Japan or the vast scrub of Australia.

Where in the world would you most like to go? You could join a stampede of wildebeest in Africa’s Serengeti, dive to the deepest parts of the ocean, climb soaring mountain peaks in the Himalayas or take a gondola ride along the ancient canals of Venice.

This spectacular book – written by Megan Cullis and Matthew Oldham, and filled with the bold, bright illustrations of Stephanie Fizer Coleman – has everything a young armchair explorer could desire.

Adventure, discovery, learning and visual excitement on every page!

(Usborne, hardback, £14.99)

Age 3 plus:

Rhino Neil

Mini Goss

It’s no big surprise that all the safari park animals are scared of Rhino Neil and his lethal horn… but that puts him on the horns of a dilemma because the lonely rhino can’t find a single friend.

Australian author and illustrator Mini Goss puts her heart, soul and considerable skills into this enchanting and moving picture book which speaks loudly to little children about friendship, isolation and acceptance.

All the animals in the safari zoo are warned to stay away from the huge Rhino Neil. They all fear his huge, spiked horn, his fearsome feet, his tremendous tummy and his enormous bottom. Poor Rhino Neil has to spend his days wandering the fields, munching grass and feeling very lonely. Until one day, Tuscany the elephant arrives and for the first time in his life, Rhino Neil feels small. What’s more, Rhino Neil has a friend at last!

The wonderfully titled Rhino Neil (a play on words for those who remember film star Ryan O’Neal!) comes from New Frontier Publishing, which is based in Australia and was established in 2002 with the motto… to inspire, educate and uplift.

Brimming with Goss’s big, bold and beautiful illustrations, this is a story that will resonate with any child who has ever felt ‘left out’ and is guaranteed to both entertain and educate.

(New Frontier Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Max Meets a Monster

Tracey Hawkins and Chantal Stewart

Also from New Frontier Publishing is the fun-filled tale of a little boy who is convinced that there’s a monster in his Grandpa’s house.

Max is looking forward to his first ever sleepover at Grandpa’s house. Max snuggles into his sleeping bag with his favourite Old Ted and his torch but is woken up by a terrible noise.

Eeemmmppphhhgh! As he hunts around the house for the monster, he sees all sorts of strange shapes until finally he comes face to face with the monster… his snoring Grandpa!

Author Tracey Hawkins and illustrator Chantal Stewart use their charm, warmth, wit and a gallery captivating, charismatic illustrations to celebrate the very special relationship between a child and his grandparent.

Beautifully created, and capturing all the spirit and adventure of youth, and the understanding and wisdom of age, this is a book that little ones will want to share time and time again.

(New Frontier Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:


Heather Pindar and Susan Batori

With a comical canine cast featuring Wagsy McBone, Woof-Whiffily and the adorable, dog-eared Sniffy-Bottingham, what child could resist the new caper from top picture book team Heather Pindar and Susan Batori?

Author Pindar and her illustrator ‘partner in grime’ Batori are on their laugh-out-loud best form in Shampooch, the waggish ‘tail’ of a pampered pooch who discovers that rolling in the mud and getting very, very dirty is far more fun than keeping her silken hair pristine clean.

With her whiskers glossed, nose polished, claws buffed, tail fluffed and wearing her diamanté collar and designer mohair jacket, Shampooch is the most primped and pampered dog in the whole park. Her human owners love their ‘good dog, clean dog’ but will Shampooch manage to avoid all her friends’ dirty distractions?

The author and illustrator team behind Strictly No Crocs and Beware the Mighty Bighty work their magic again on this tale of a dog who is doggedly determined to stay clean until she is bowled over by some mucky mishaps in the park.

With subtle messages about being true to yourself, not judging others by their appearance, and the joys of simply having fun, this is a delightful book to share and enjoy with your little ones.

(Maverick Publishing, paperback, £7.99)