Saving bees, bridging the gap and thinking big - book reviews

Join the mission to save bees from extinction, discover ideal reading for ‘in-between’ youngsters, and share the fun and warmth of some sparkling picture books in a host of new children’s titles heading for the shelves.

Bee Alert! by Barbara Rustin
Bee Alert! by Barbara Rustin

Age 8 plus:

Bee Alert! by Barbara Rustin

A lifelong lover of children’s books and reading, Barbara Rustin never imagined that one day she would write a book of her own.

But during a stay in France, Rustin, whose early career was in the publishing industry, became concerned about the dramatic bee losses there and decided to keep bees herself and research the problem with a view to writing a book.

And Bee Alert! – a wonderfully entertaining and illustrated mystery story, wrapped up in a warning about the consequences of a world without bees – comes at a time when climate change is deemed the greatest threat to both mankind and wildlife.

Galvanised by the stories of beekeepers about the catastrophic bee losses they were experiencing and what they suspected was the cause, Rustin is trying to do her own ‘small bit’ by highlighting the plight of bees and the genuine reality of how their loss would affect our planet.

When Ben goes to stay with his grandpa in the country for the summer, he is hoping that somewhere, somehow, there will be a mystery to solve, but he realises immediately that something is wrong.

Gramps is no longer his cheery self and the headline in his newspaper says it all: ‘The continuing mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder.’ More than 80 per cent of Gramps’ bees have died and the remaining ones are struggling to survive. Ben must find out what is happening to the bees. Why are so many dead and why are the remainder so ill? What will happen if all the bees disappear and can anything be done to save them?

Ben quickly realises that solving this case may prove more dangerous than anything he could have imagined. Will he survive the hornets’ attack and is there anyone who will believe his incredible story? Can a 12-year-old boy really make a difference and kickstart changes that may just save the world?

Bee Alert! is an exciting, fast-paced and easy-to-read story with a delightful young eco-warrior leading the charge. Packed with superb black and white illustrations by Josephine Birch, and amazing facts and figures about bees, the book also explores the continuing fight to ban the pesticides which threaten bees and human health.

With its gripping story, important message and inspirational call to action, this is a book that is destined to cause a buzz with readers of every generation.

(Barbara Rustin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

Two Sides by Polly Ho-Yen and Binny Taleb

When picture books are too babyish and middle grade books too hard, just what can a young in-betweenie read?

The answer is a beautifully illustrated full-colour fiction series from the ever-inventive book boffins at Little Tiger Press.

These beautifully produced books, with their sturdy hardbacks, enchanting stories and highly illustrated, glossy pages, are ideal for bridging the gap between picture books and chapter books for newly independent young readers.

Hot off the presses are the first two books in the series, Two Sides and Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise, two engaging stories that carry subtle messages about friendship and kindness, and are guaranteed to win the hearts of little ones.

In Two Sides, written by Polly Ho-Yen and illustrated by Binny Taleb, we meet Lula and Lenka who are best friends and total opposites… Lula is a dog person and Lenka is a cat person, Lula is super messy and Lenka is neat and tidy, Lula likes talking to people and Lenka likes watching people.

But despite their differences, together they make the perfect pair. Until the day that everything goes wrong and suddenly the girls are no longer friends. What started as a day like any other ends with Lula and Lenka ignoring each other and sitting on opposite sides of the classroom.

As the days go by, Lula makes a new friend who talks almost as much as she does, while Lenka just plays on her own. In spite of feeling lonely, neither one is prepared to listen or forgive… or to say sorry. Will it be this way forever?

Ho-Yen’s gentle and thoughtful story, perfectly pitched at the five to eight age group, explores themes of friendship and the importance of listening and keeping an open mind, while Taleb’s contemporary, colourful and characterful illustrations bring all the action to vivid life.

Second book in this exciting new series is Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise, written by Swapna Haddow and illustrated by Alison Friend, and another warm and reassuring story with a captivating cast of animal characters.

Little Rabbit is bored. Her brothers and sisters are busy with chores and her friends are out collecting worms. Her grandfather, Big Rabbit, offers to make her his assistant for the day because he has got lots of work she can help him with. Little Rabbit laughs… her grandfather doesn’t have a job, he spends all day with his friends. ‘Why don’t you come with me and see?’ replies Big Rabbit.

First they visit Mole, who has a problem with his dark tunnels, before hopping over to visit Granny Hedgehog who is suffering with a rather nasty cold. As they are leaving, they meet Dormouse who is struggling to keep his babies happy while he forages for twigs for their nest.

The last stop is Squirrel’s den but the usually acrobatic Squirrel has sprained her paw. After helping her, they head home. What a busy day! In the morning Little Rabbit wakes to find her grandfather has left her a list of things to collect. Little Rabbit is excited, certain that the things are for making a kite, but she’s in for a big surprise!

Haddow’s cuddly, caring story speaks loudly and resonantly about helping others and spreading kindness, while Friend’s adorable illustrations will melt the hearts of everyone, young or old.

Beautiful, beguiling books to read, collect and treasure!

These books are published on February 7.

(Stripes, hardback, £7.99 each)

Age 3 plus:

Think Big! by Kes Gray and Nathan Reed

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall… but he might, or might not, have a great fall!

Word magician and storytelling maestro Kes Gray turns the nursery rhyme – and Humpty himself – upside down in this super-funny, super-clever picture book which will have all the family laughing out loud.

In a tale that encourages children to dream bigger, the author of the award-winning Oi! series, brings us Humpty Dumpty as we have never before seen him… aiming miles higher than our ‘fallen’ hero had ever thought possible.

Humpty Dumpty and his nursery rhyme friends are trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up. Humpty is quite happy to be a boiled egg but his pals are eager to find him a future that is far more exciting. ‘You really should try thinking outside of the box,’ reckon Jack and Jill. ‘You could be an artist!’ says Little Boy Blue. ‘Look for clues and become a detective!’ says Little Bo Peep. ‘Buy a pair of football boots and become a footballer,’ says Wee Willy Winky.

Will Humpty think big and reach for the stars, or are all his dreams destined to be scrambled?

Brimming with Gray’s irresistible sense of fun and signature wry humour, and illustrated throughout with Nathan Reed’s bold, high-energy gallery of pictures, Think Big! is picture perfect, word perfect and egg-traordinarily entertaining!

This book is published on February 7.

(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

What Matters Most by Emma Dodd

The dark days of winter have a silver lining when you open the pages of this stunning picture book from much-loved author and illustrator Emma Dodd.

Dodd, who is amongst the most borrowed authors from UK libraries, adds flashes of silver foil to the gallery of striking pictures in her moving and reassuring story which delivers important life lessons for pre-schoolers.

Starring a very BIG horse and a tiny little one, little ones are asked to consider what matters most. Is it being very big or being super-small, is it having lots of stuff or not that much at all? Is it having lots of friends or only two or three, is it talking all the time or making time to hear? Perhaps it’s none of those things… because it’s always love that matters most.

Dodd gently and subtly explores the important themes of identity and acceptance in a book that will strike a chord with parents and encourage children to think about the simple joys in life and the important issues like relationships and family.

This book is published on February 7.

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

With Your Paw in Mine by Jane Chapman

Strength in numbers is the big, bold message behind this enchanting picture book story of a little sea otter who becomes parted from her mother.

The talented, award-winning Jane Chapman steals our hearts and teaches important life lessons in a gloriously illustrated tale of trust, friendship and belonging starring a colony of sea otters facing a test of courage and togetherness in a wild storm.

‘We all need someone’s paw to hold when the big wave comes.’ From the moment she was born, otter pup Miki loved to snuggle on her Mama’s tufty tummy. All around is cold sea and empty sky but Miki feels safe as the waves rock her and Mama holds her paws. As she grows older, she finds a special friend, Amak, to share her adventures. And when danger comes one stormy day, the two little otters hold tight to each other’s paws. But will it be enough to keep them safe?

With Your Paw in Mine is ideal for little ones preparing for nursery or school, turning the worrying prospect of separation from parents into an adventure in which you discover the excitement of going it alone and the joy of making new friends.

Chapman’s gallery of breathtakingly beautiful illustrations, full of the warmth and endearing charm of the story, provide the finishing touch to a truly gorgeous picture book… and a life lesson for all generations.

This book is published on February 7.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

You Can’t Cuddle a Crocodile by Diana Hendry and Ed Eaves

Everyone’s imaginations take flight in this snip-snapping, rip-roaring picture book romp.

Award-winning author Diana Hendry is at her storytelling best in this wonderfully whimsical adventure which takes us on a fun-filled journey through the animal kingdom with an adorable brother and sister act.

Everyone knows that little sisters can be a handful but this enterprising little sister is more… each day of the week, she is a whole zoo-ful of mischief! One minute she is a monkey, then a bear, a camel, a penguin, a crocodile and finally a prowling, roaring lion. Her big brother just wishes she would be a little girl now and again. After all, you can’t cuddle a crocodile!

This clever, comical story celebrates the shared playfulness and sibling bonds between a brother and sister, and Ed Eaves’ big, bold and beautiful illustrations add a an extra layer of colour and energy.

With a subtle lesson in the days of the week, and a giant surprise in its tail, this is a brilliant picture book for both girls and boys.

This book is published on February 7.

(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Pencil Dog by Leigh Hodgkinson

One of the hardest things we face in life is losing a loved one.

Author and illustrator Leigh Hodgkinson lets her gentle words and illuminating illustrations do the talking in this exquisitely produced picture book which follows a little girl coping with the gradual demise of her playmate.

The days are never dull for the little girl who has a pencil dog as her friend. Pencil Dog is imaginative, creative, and always able to turn a rainy day into a time of sunshine. They share exciting adventures together, making new friends and discoveries along the way, and always drawing their shared stories. But as time goes on, Pencil Dog gradually grows smaller and smaller. He’s not as sharp as he used to be and his drawings become confused. And when he disappears, the little girl misses him terribly until she realises that he has left behind a wealth of pictures and memories.

Hodgkinson’s resonant, poignant story about memory, remembrance, and how those we love live on in us, is perfectly pitched at young readers who may have to cope with their own losses.

With a simple but effective story, and a rainbow palette of colours for the warm and reassuring illustrations, Pencil Dog is subtly thought-provoking, and charmingly accessible to read and share with the youngest children.

This book is published on February 7.

(Simon & Schuster Children’s, hardback, £12.99)