Powerful poems, engineering feats and fabulous fantasy - book review

National Trust: I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year by Fiona Waters and Frann Preston-Gannon
National Trust: I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year by Fiona Waters and Frann Preston-Gannon

Autumn is here and time to turn over a new leaf as a colourful array of children’s books hits the shelves.

Marvel at a giant book of inspirational nature poems, learn about the creative world of engineering, enjoy the thrills of a deep, dark and epic new adventure series, meet some truly amazing (but very dead) monarchs, and head off with a mischievous witch.

Age 5 plus:

National Trust: I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year

Fiona Waters and Frann Preston-Gannon

The best poems are written not just for one day… but for every day of the year!

Children’s publisher Nosy Crow has been collaborating with the National Trust on some exciting and inventive books to inspire youngsters to enjoy the outdoors, and this glorious landmark poetry book sees the partnership well and truly flourishing.

Lavishly illustrated throughout by award-winning Frann Preston-Gannon, and curated by anthologist by Fiona Waters, I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree is a poetic masterpiece… a stunning, giant-sized book brimming with wonderful verse that celebrates a year in the life of the natural world.

Already being described by the publisher as ‘the most ambitious poetry book ever produced,’ this tome features 366 nature poems… one for every day of the year, including leap years, and spanning 400 years of poetic output.

In her introduction, Nosy Crow publisher Kate Wilson reveals that she asked the author and illustrator to choose poems and make the pictures so that ‘each page became an invitation to draw in the reader.’

The title of the anthology, I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree, comes from the first line of Judith Nicholls’ clever children’s poem Windsong – ‘I am the seed that grew the tree that gave the wood to make the page to fill the book with poetry’ – the perfect concept to teach youngsters the joy of verse and the impetus to love, and look after, the natural world.

Filled with familiar favourites and new discoveries and written by a wide variety of poets, the book includes John Agard, William Blake, Emily Bronte, Charles Causley, Walter de la Mare, Emily Dickinson, Carol Ann Duffy, Eleanor Farjeon, Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy, Roger McGough, Christina Rossetti, William Shakespeare, John Updike and William Wordsworth together with older and traditional anonymous poems and rhymes.

Waters has selected a wide range of both modern and classic nature poems, all charting monthly and seasonal changes and including poems about animals, birds, plants, trees and the weather.

Whilst the book draws mainly on the English language poetic traditions, it also includes haiku in translation and songs and chants from cultures and traditions including Yoruba and Mescalero Apache, and each glossy page features Preston-Gannon’s beautiful and stylish colour illustrations.

The perfect gift and an extra special family treasure trove of verse, I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree can be shared by children (and grown-ups!) at the beginning or end of the day, or dipped into with pleasure to educate and entertain.

Rich and powerful poetry with child appeal…

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £25)

Age 7 plus:

Lift the Flap: Engineering

Rose Hall, Alex Frith and Lee Cosgrove (Illustrator)

Inventive and innovative children’s publisher Usborne has joined the mission to find engineers of the future… and this brilliant new book comes big on ideas, big on size, and big on readability!

In a creative partnership with the Government’s Year of Engineering, Usborne has produced a fascinating and fun lift-the-flap book to bring to life the wonderful and creative world of engineering.

Engineering helps shape the world around us, from the houses and cities we live in to the way we travel, and even the sound of the music we listen to. And to highlight its critical importance, The Year of Engineering is giving young people, their parents and teachers an insight into the breadth and creativity of engineering, showing them how engineers make a real difference to the world around us.

Through events, activities and amazing engineering stories, the campaign aims to demonstrate the variety and creativity of engineering roles, encouraging more children from different backgrounds to consider careers in engineering, and tackling a major skills gap and lack of diversity in the industry.

This fascinating, fact-filled book is a stylish introduction to the vast world of engineering, allowing youngsters to discover how engineering works and the many things engineers do, and providing internet links to find out more.

With its engaging lift-the-flap style, fun and entertaining facts, and intriguing illustrations, this is an inspirational and perfectly engineered introduction to the exciting world of engineering.

(Usborne, board book, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

A Darkness of Dragons

S.A. Patrick

Every now and then, up pops a children’s fantasy series that really does take your breath away…

And on this occasion, it’s a simply wonderful debut from S.A. Patrick, an author who may be more familiar to adult readers as Seth Patrick, creator of the thrilling paranormal Reviver trilogy which won him an army of fans.

A Darkness of Dragons is the first out-of-this world book in Songs of Magic, a deep, dark and epic adventure series inspired by the medieval German legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelyn, the tale of a terrifying villain who stole the children from a helpless town.

Long haunted by the centuries-old tantalising mystery, Patrick imagines a truly amazing world of dragons, sorcerers and bandits in which the Pied Piper is not a one-off but a rogue member of a larger group of magical but shadowy musicians who are summoned to help towns and villages in times of need.

It’s a fantasy of immense imagination, exciting characters and captivating storytelling, and stars three accidental young heroes fighting not just to survive, but to save the world from a deadly enemy.

In a world of dragons, song spells, Pipers and battles, 13-year-old Patch Brightwater was a trainee Piper at Tiviscan Castle, home of the Pipers’ Council and the Custodian Elite, until he left in disgrace. In the small town of Patterfall, he tries to get rid of their plague of rats by playing the forbidden Dance tune, the spell cast by the evil Pied Piper of Hamelyn ten years ago.

Thrown into the dungeons at Tiviscan, he discovers a deadly truth… the man rotting in jail there is not who everyone thought he was, meaning the Piper of Hamelyn is still on the loose.

Freed during the arrival of a flock of marauding dragons, and with the help of his new friends, Wren Cobble, a girl cursed by a sorcerer to live as a rat, and Barver, a fire-breathing dracogriff (a cross between a dragon and a griffin), Patch must stop the Piper sparking the biggest battle of them all…

This is adventure in the true sense of the word and an inspired reimagining of the Pied Piper legend… from thrills, spills and spine-tingling danger to soaring landscapes, awesome friendships, courageous heroes and magic aplenty, Patrick’s modern fairy tale will capture the hearts and minds of readers both young and old.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Trouble with Perfect

Helena Duggan

The town of Perfect used to be perfect… but now it’s called Town and it’s still not perfect.

If that sounds like a riddle, you’re wrong! It’s an invitation to immerse yourself in the second adventure in Helena Duggan’s outstandingly entertaining adventure series which began with the prize-winning A Place Called Perfect and has become must-reading for middle graders.

A graphic designer and illustrator, Duggan’s inspiration for this offbeat, creepily addictive and excitingly imaginative series was Kilkenny, her medieval, haunted home city in the south of Ireland.

Blending good and evil, spine-chilling thrills, magic and menace, these fantastic fantasy mysteries fulfil every must-have ingredient for a classic adventure story and put the importance of family at the heart of the action.

Star of the show is ten-year-old Violet Brown who moved to a town called Perfect and found it to be anything but! However, having uncovered the secrets that lay behind the spookily pristine town of Perfect, Violet and the townsfolk are enjoying their new freedom from the maniacal rule of the evil Archer twins. But have they really seen the last of power-hungry Edward Archer?

Strange things are happening again… children start to go missing and everyone is blaming Violet’s invisible orphan friend Boy.

To find out what is going on, Violet must uncover secrets from the past and battle a gruesome zombie monster and his scary zombie army. The town is in double trouble and it’s up to Violet to save it.

Fearless, feisty Violet is an inspirational heroine for today’s youngsters, daring to follow whether others fear to tread, and willing to tackle danger and face up to those who would do us harm through bullying, intimidation or threats.

Set against a perfectly imagined fantasy world and brimming with humour, intrigue, danger and thrilling adventures, this is middle grade fiction at its very best.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Corpse Talk: Queens and Kings

Adam and Lisa Murphy

Enjoy learning about some truly amazing monarchs… straight from the corpse’s mouth!

Ingenious TV chat show host Adam Murphy returns with another extraordinary Corpse Talk adventure as he digs up the dry bones of history to meet a motley crew of queens, kings, and other right royal rotters.

Written and illustrated in a comic-strip format – and packed with history, comedy and fascinating facts – Corpse Talk comes from the increasingly successful The Phoenix Presents series, published by David Fickling Books in partnership with The Phoenix comic.

In each book, versatile cartoon character Adam Murphy gets the answers to tricky questions about the world and its history by bringing the ‘dead famous’ to life for a special question and answer session.

In this third, fact-fest romp, Adam Murphy interviews the high-and-mighty, dead famous men and women who changed the world. In fact, reading Corpse Talk: Queens and Kings is rather like having history turned upside-down. It guarantees laughs, surprises, and a whole host of facts told to you by rulers from all over the world. From Cleopatra to Queen Victoria to Moctezuma, these are royals with stunning tales to tell.

How did Cleopatra’s carpet make a grand entrance, what was behind Henry VIII’s tournament triumphs, was Richard the Lionheart a hero king or a royal reprobate? Uncover all this and more as our intrepid chat show host gets up close and personal with the most magnificent (but dead!) monarchs from history.

There are over 120 pages of cheeky humour, discoveries and surprises to enjoy in this educational and yet hugely entertaining book which has been rather aptly compared to ‘having history injected into your brain.’

Clever, comical, informative and brilliantly illustrated, this wonderful book achieves what many youngsters thought almost impossible… it makes learning laugh-out-loud fun!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Beetle Collector’s Handbook

M.G. Leonard

‘If you want to find out anything about beetles you NEED to read this book.’

And so begins the latest round of beetle mania from Coleoptera queen M.G. Leonard… author of the phenomenally successful Beetle Boy trilogy and proud owner of a pet rainbow stag beetle, one of the most colourful insects in the world.

Leonard’s brilliantly dark and addictive trilogy – including Beetle Boy, which won the Branford Boase Award, Beetle Queen, and Battle of the Beetles – saw hero schoolboy Darkus Cuttle fighting to save humanity from the evil beetle queen Lucretia Cutter.

These fast-paced, atmospheric adventures provided a fascinating and fun science lesson in coleopterology (beetle studies to the uninitiated!) and starred schoolboy Darkus Cuttle who learned all about beetles from an old guide, The Beetle Collector’s Handbook. The book was passed down from his father, and now that treasured book is available for readers everywhere to discover amazing beetle facts for themselves!

Hilariously narrated by the fictional but highly eccentric entomologist Monty G Leonard, and lavishly illustrated by Carim Nahaboo, this brilliantly imagined and full-colour beetle guide, cleverly created to look interestingly watermarked and time-worn, is the perfect starting point for young collectors everywhere.

Learn all the facts and laugh along with the hilarious asides and annotations that make this book an enjoyable journey of curious Coleoptera discovery. From scary and weird to jaw-droppingly gorgeous, the sixty-plus species featured in this book are certain to inspire a lifelong love of beetles.

As well as an amazing, illustrated ‘tasting menu of the most intriguing, shocking, adorable and downright unbelievable beetles on the planet,’ there are also top tips on preparing for an expedition and a fascinating Entomologist’s Dictionary.

Leonard confesses she is still overcoming her fear of all things creepy crawly but through research, she has learned that these fascinating creatures support the eco-system of our entire planet and deserve to be seen as heroes, and not villains.

The best – and funniest – guide to the wonderful world of insects!

(Scholastic, hardback, £10.99)

Age 7 plus:

Wish for a Witch

Kaye Umansky

If it’s magic you’re looking for this autumn, climb aboard your broomstick and head off with the mischievous Magenta!

Kaye Umansky, author of the bestselling, fun-filled children’s classic Pongwiffy series, casts a magical spell in this bewitching second adventure starring the adorable Elsie Pickles, her wacky witch friend, and a madcap cast of characters.

After her week living in Magenta Sharp’s magical tower, Elsie Pickles is back home and finding normal life a little dull. But when a magical gift leads her back to the tower, Elsie knows mischief and marvellous magic are about to turn her life upside down again! This time Magenta the witch needs Elsie’s help to save her magic licence and deal with a grumpy genie on the loose. Will it all prove too much for Elsie and her friends? Even a witch needs a wish every once in a while…

Umansky’s all-action adventure story, brought to life with the fun and finely detailed illustrations of rising star Ashley King, is full of sparkle and wit, and guaranteed to cast a spell over young witches everywhere!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Girl, the Bear and the Magic Shoes

Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

It’s best feet forward – or should that be shoes? – in a glittering new adventure from the magical picture book partnership of Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks.

Author Julia Donaldson, best known as co-creator of the runaway bestseller The Gruffalo, and illustrator Lydia Monks introduce a delightful new star in this gorgeous book which overflows with colour, fun and irresistible rhyming refrains.

Josephine loves nothing better than running and heads off to the shops for some lovely new running shoes. But when Josephine leaves the shoe shop after buying some perfect red trainers labelled ‘Magic Shoes,’ she hears an unusual sound… Click-click! Click-click! And when she turns round, a bear with a backpack is following her! Luckily for Josephine, her new shoes are anything but ordinary – they really are magic!

But can they help her escape the bear when there’s a mountain, a bog and even a lake in her way? And is the bear chasing Josephine, or just trying to catch up with her?

The Girl, the Bear and the Magic Shoes – complete with a delightful surprise at the end – is an enchanting and proactive story for young adventurers. Little ones will love joining in with the joyful catchphrases and spotting the clever details hidden in Monks’ imaginative and vibrant illustrations which come with glitter on every page.

With its subtle back-to-school theme, endearing humour and addictive wordplay, this is a superbly packaged book for sharing at school, home or nursery.

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

Age 3 plus:

Hungry Bunny

Claudia Rueda

Mum’s fruit pie is the apple of a little bunny’s eye but it’s going to need a little bit of ingenuity to get the pick of the crop!

The simplest of stories – and pictorial devices – are often the most delightful, and author and illustrator Claudia Rueda, creator of entertaining picture book Bunny Slopes, works her special magic again on this tasty treat for young readers.

It’s the autumn harvest which means it’s the perfect time for mama’s apple pie. The only problem for little bunny is that the red, delicious apples are so hard to reach. Bunny has some great ideas to get them but he’s going to need our help!

Little ones will delight in using the red ribbon marker to help Bunny reach new heights and pick those tasty apples. But the fun doesn’t end there… readers must also rock the book back and forth and turn it round and round for a high-energy, rollercoaster adventure on Bunny’s way home.

With her vibrant illustrations and magic tricks, Rueda makes reading an interactive, joyful experience guaranteed to have youngsters returning to the book time and time again.

A delicious, apple-pie slice of life with laughter at its core!

(Chronicle Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

My Little Gifts: A Book of Sharing

Jo Witek and Christine Roussey

Gifts are more fun when they’re shared!

That’s the message that comes through loud and clear in this charming lift-the-flap board book from top children’s book team, author Jo Witek and illustrator Christine Roussey.

My Little Gifts: A Book of Sharing is the latest title in Abrams Books’ Growing Hearts series which celebrates the milestones of a toddler’s emotional development, from conquering fears and expressing feelings to welcoming a new sibling.

Here we learn about the many types of gifts. You can give a big, shiny, wrapped gift on Christmas morning, but you can also give the gifts of your help or your time.

You can bake a cake for your parents or share what you learned in school with your little sister, and you can help a friend unravel a knotty bracelet or smile at a stranger who looks sad.

With a spirit of generosity, you might find you have many gifts to give to the world― and that giving can be even more fulfilling than receiving.

Featuring a die-cut cover and exciting, multi-fold flaps that are perfect for little hands, My Little Gifts is a sturdy, user-friendly book and an enchanting celebration of the joys of giving, sharing and helping others.

(Abrams Books, board book, £12.99)