A Martian odyssey, shining stars and ghostly goings-on by various authors - book reviews -

Enjoy a laugh-a-minute journey to Mars, dive into an adventure packed with magic and ghosts, discover a fun and friendly book filled with mindful activities, meet people dedicated to saving the planet, and test your super-sleuthing skills with a collection of sparkling new children’s books.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 26th August 2021, 12:30 pm
How to Survive Without Grown-Ups
How to Survive Without Grown-Ups

Age 8 plus:

How to Survive Without Grown-Ups

Larry Hayes and Katie Abey

Some children’s books really do hit that elusive funny spot… and How to Survive Without Grown-Ups is hilariously, cleverly and perfectly on target!

Buckle up for cheeky grins and gargantuan giggles, then climb aboard Larry Hayes’ out-of-this-world debut novel – the first book in a fabulous new series – and enjoy being rocket-powered to Mars with two of the quirkiest kids in town in the year 2053.

With Katie Abey’s zany black and white illustrations throughout, this action-packed, page-turning sci-fi adventure will delight readers young and old as brother and sister team, Eliza and Johnnie, embark on a marathon million-mile journey to find their missing parents.

Eliza and Johnnie’s Mum and Dad have left, they’ve gone to Mars and they’re never coming back… freedom at last!

But this isn’t one of Dad’s weird jokes… it’s real and now it’s up to timid ten-year-old Eliza and her genius little brother Johnnie to find out what’s going on and launch a rescue. Can they handle vampire squids, a suspicious villain, a secret island full of traps and a trip into space?

And – more importantly – will they ever get their parents back?

Hayes certainly knows how a child’s mind ticks and this brilliant, suspense-filled adventure featuring a mission impossible to Mars is guaranteed to keep youngsters glued to the page… and laughing all the way to space and back!

(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Lightning Falls

Amy Wilson

If magical worlds cast a spell over your youngsters, then sweep them away on a glittering adventure with Amy Wilson, a writer who has been dubbed the rising star of children’s fantasy.

Wilson, who won awards and plaudits for her fabulous wintertime novels, A Girl Called Owl, A Far Away Magic, Snowglobe, and Shadows of Winterspell, returns with a thrilling tale of ghosts and friendship that positively glows with imagination and creativity.

Valerie has been living at Lightning Falls nearly all her life. She’s perfectly happy helping Meg and the rest of her family of ghosts to haunt the guests who come to stay there at the crumbling Ghost House even though she knows she is different to them in many ways.

But one night, she sees a strange boy called Joe up on the viaduct. There she discovers that beneath the river is a bridge, one that will take her to the world of Orbis which Joe claims is her real home.

But Orbis is a world under threat. Magical anchors are being stolen from the civilians of Orbis, causing the power to seep out of their world, and Joe has journeyed to Lightning Falls to win them back.

Plunged into a dangerous adventure, and as the link between the two worlds begins to crumble into star showers, Valerie is forced to confront the truth about herself.

Wilson conjures up an atmospheric mystery that tingles with excitement and menace as Valerie embarks on a gripping adventure in a world facing a terrible threat and where her unlikely friendship with Joe will help her find a path through darkness and danger.

With a cast of weird and wonderful characters, and an adventure packed with magic and ghosts, Lightning Falls is guaranteed to set young readers alight!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

How To Be A Human

Karen McCombie

Who said good friends have to be the perfect match for each other?

Much-loved children's author Karen McCombie poses this question – and many more – in an entertaining and thought-provoking novel which imagines a friendship that really is out of this world.

When the Star Boy’s space-pod crashes in the grounds of Riverside Academy, he knows he must seek shelter as he awaits rescue.

Taking refuge in the school’s boiler room, he discovers that the room’s small window is the perfect place to watch humans go by. The Star Boy knows about humans from his Earth lessons but no one from his planet has ever studied them up close.

Now he has the perfect opportunity. There are two humans in particular that catch his attention – a boy called Wes and a girl named Kiki. What he doesn’t know yet is that Kiki has been dumped by the Popular Crew and is feeling the pain of rejection. Wes, meanwhile, is a loner and an easy target for the school bullies. Both could use a friend.

As Star Boy’s curiosity grows, and determined to uncover just what it means to be human, he makes the momentous decision to follow Wes and Kiki into class… and into their lives. Could the stars have aligned for the most unusual friendship?

McCombie’s tale of a stranded alien and the two unlikely school friends who discover him is packed with fun, humour and otherworldly adventure, but it also provides a gentle exploration of emotive classroom issues like friendship, bullying, the pressure to be ‘popular’ and the need to fit in.

Life lessons wrapped up in a fantastical adventure…

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Love From Joy

Jenny Valentine

Everyone needs a little joy in their life so step into the world of ten-year-old Joy Applebloom, a girl with a knack for finding the silver lining in even the darkest of rain clouds!

Lift your spirits and join in the fun with the second book of a sparkling middle grade series about family, friends and finding some much-need joy in life from award-winning young adult author Jenny Valentine whose first novel, Finding Violet Park, won the Guardian prize in 2007.

After years of travelling the world with her parents and thirteen-year-old older sister Claude (Claude rhymes with bored, which is just about right), Joy and her family have moved to suburbia to live a ‘normal’ life with her grandad.

People say she’s a ‘glass half full’ kind of person, which basically means Joy see the good in everything, but right now she’s going to need all her powers of positive thinking to fix a really tricky situation. Her new best friend Benny just hasn’t been himself lately. Joy will have to find out what’s going on and bring back Benny’s special smile for good!

Prepare for bags of laughs and some important life lessons as we join joyful Joy on her journey from carefree globetrotter to a girl on a mission to bring love, care and kindness.

With the illustrations of Claire Lefevre, a superbly portrayed cast of characters, acute insights into the complex dynamics of family life, and an addictive sense of humour and optimism which are perfect for our times, Joy’s adventures are a beacon of hope and happiness.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Feeling Good About Me

Ellen Bailey, Lesley Pemberton and Harry Briggs

The current pandemic has – if nothing else – proved to us all the importance of mental well-being… particularly for children.

So here’s an important, accessible and fun activity book from the well-being experts at Buster Books which helps youngsters to explore their emotions, let go of their worries and instead focus on the good things in life that make them feel happy and confident.

Feeling Good About Me is co-authored by specialist psychotherapist and writer Ellen Bailey, and Lesley Pemberton, a qualified art psychotherapist who has worked with children in schools in the UK for 30 years, and illustrated throughput by Harry Briggs.

With its clever selection of calming activities, this fun and friendly book is filled with mindful activities and prompts to encourage readers to express their emotions on the page, including spaces to doodle, breathing techniques when a calm moment is needed, thoughtful questions and inspirational quotes.

It also provides a safe space for youngsters to explore feelings such as low self-esteem and anxiety, to record their dreams and focus on the things that make them feel happy, as well as offering practical tips and information presented in a supportive and affirming way.

Feeling Good About Me is a wonderful resource for any mindfulness activities which teachers and parents are planning and has been developed in consultation with children’s mental health charity, Blue Smile. A royalty from UK sales will be donated to the charity.

From friendship problems and yoga exercises to the healing art of colour and the comfort to be found in speaking in a made-up language, this is the perfect book to feed the mind and soothe the troubled soul.

(Buster Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

What a Wonderful World

Leisa Stewart-Sharpe and Lydia Hill

Our planet might be under threat but, fortunately for us all, there are movers and shakers out there who are fighting to change the world!

Meet the brave and dedicated Earth Shakers – people from all corners of the globe who are taking action and making changes for a better future – in a wonderfully wise and inspirational book from the boffins at Templar Publishing.

Written by Leisa Stewart-Sharpe – whose Australian childhood has inspired her love for the natural world and the stories of its strange and wonderful creatures – and packed with Lydia Hill’s stunning illustrations, What a Wonderful World takes children on a breathtaking tour of planet Earth.

From towering mountaintops, through grasslands, jungles, rivers, deserts, polar wildernesses and into the blue ocean, this big, bright and beautiful book explores the incredible variety of life that calls Earth its home.

Along the way, youngsters can read the stories of thirty-five inspiring Earth Shakers… children and adults, from tree-planters to scientists, who have and are still taking action to protect the world around us

With lots of practical tips that give you the tools to make a positive change, some handy resources on how to find out more, and a special foreword from Lee Durrell MBE, of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, this is the perfect inspiration for all budding activists.

A picture perfect journey to discover Earth and its eco-heroes…

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £15.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Book Cat

Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy

Youngsters will be purring with delight when they meet the irrepressible Morgan… a larger-than-life black cat who booked himself a cosy home at a famous London publisher’s.

Written by cat lover Polly Faber – granddaughter of Geoffrey Faber of the Faber and Faber publishing house – The Book Cat brings to glorious life the classic tale of the real stray cat who made his home at the Faber offices during the Second World War and decided he would never leave.

Cat Morgan provided inspiration for poet T.S. Eliot, author of the famous Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and The Book Cat harnesses some of the fascinating real life anecdotes about this very clever cat who was a familiar face in both the editing room and on the roof where he looked out for passing German bombers.

The result is a beautiful gift book – charmingly illustrated in striking tones of red and black by Clara Vulliamy – and full of heart, humour, adventure and the warm bonds of friendship.

Morgan is a young orphan cat who lives off scavenging… until he finds a cosy home at a famous London publishing house. Over time he learns a trade and soon he is the very best book cat in the business.

But then the bombing Blitz begins in London and Morgan finds himself training up twenty-odd kittens to be book cats. There is also the small matter of secretly evacuating the kittens out of London and happily, Morgan has a plan.

‘This time we need to get you – get all of the kittens, safe out of London,’ says Morgan decisively. ‘To have a chance for a better life, well, let’s just say, I’ve got an idea.’

The purr-fect read for cat fans of every age!

(Faber & Faber, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Solve Your Own Mystery: The Monster Maker

Gareth P. Jones and Louise Forshaw

One mystery, some slippery suspects… and your chance to be a super-sleuth!

Yes, youngsters can put themselves in charge of a puzzling and fantastically imaginative detective story in an interactive adventure straight out of the mind of word wizard and fun-loving author Gareth P. Jones.

This brilliant Solve Your Own Mystery series – full of zany humour, wonderfully offbeat characters and the vibrant illustrations of Louise Forshaw – offers an enjoyable and accessible reading experience for budding sleuths, reluctant readers and all adventure lovers.

So welcome to Haventry, a town where the ordinary and extraordinary collide. With ghosts, werewolves and zombies living side by side, trouble is always brewing. And when a fiendish crime is committed, you are the detective in charge of the case.

Dr Franklefink’s precious Monster Maker has gone missing and there are lots of suspects. Along with your yeti partner, Klaus Solstaag, it’s up to you to find the culprit. Should you trail Bramwell Stoker, the terrifying vampire, or Grundle and Grinola, the mischievous goblin twins? Should you follow up a lead about the cunning witches? Or will investigating the doctor’s monstrous son Monty lead you to the thief? You decide!

With hundreds of paths to choose from and no dead ends, youngsters are guaranteed to solve the mystery every time. The story can be read over and over to lead to a different conclusion at each reading so there is never a dull moment on this super-charged sleuthing journey.

A monstrously good mystery!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Georgie Grows a Dragon

Emma Lazell

Georgie is the ace of spades when it comes to gardening… but could she get those green fingers burned when she manages to grow a dragon?

Get ready to giggle and guffaw your way through Emma Lazell’s bright and beautiful new picture book which was lovingly created and perfectly cultivated by this rising star of the publishing world.

After the success of her debut picture book, Big Cat, and her follow-up, That Dog!, which starred a dastardly but dopey team of dognappers, the talented author and illustrator is back with another dazzling picture book about making new friendships.

Georgie Grows a Dragon features the hilarious, offbeat antics of a little girl with a penchant for gardening who discovers her growing success might just be too hot to handle.

Georgie is a keen gardener. She can grow anything… until one morning she discovers that, overnight, she has grown a dragon! And soon he’s bigger, grumpier, hungrier and more troublesome than any of her other plants. Can she learn to keep him happy and find out where he came from?

With her sharp eye for wry humour, an addictive sense of mischief, and a sparkling gallery of bold and vibrant illustrations, Lazell fills her brilliantly surreal and entertaining story with rich comic detail and quirky characters – of both the human and animal variety!

(Pavilion Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)