A superhero spider, girl power and a happy lion: - book reviews -

Milton the Mighty
Milton the Mighty
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Meet a spider with a mistaken identity problem, a reluctant princess who wants to be a fashion queen, celebrate ten years of the Dork Diaries, and enjoy some high-kicking rugby action in a summertime selection of new children’s books.

Meet a spider with a mistaken identity problem, a reluctant princess who wants to be a fashion queen, celebrate ten years of the Dork Diaries, and enjoy some high-kicking rugby action in a summertime selection of new children’s books.

Age 7 plus: Milton the Mighty by Emma Read

Meet a new superhero who is on the web and ready to swing into action… Milton, the teeniest, tiny spider with the heart of a lion!

Milton the Mighty, starring an itsy bitsy teeny weeny arachnid fighting back against some nasty bug killers, is the first book in a fresh, laugh-out-loud and entertaining series from former biologist Emma Read, a debut novelist who is aiming to debunk some of the myths around creepy crawlies.

When little Milton, a harmless, completely unscreamworthy false widow spider, discovers he (and his utterly unterrifying species) have been branded as deadly black widow spiders on social media, he finds himself being targeted by pest-killers and spider exterminators BugKILL.

Milton, so tiny and insignificant, fears for his life and the future of his species, and alongside his BFFs, big hairy Ralph and spindly daddy-long-legs Audrey, he searches for a way to clear his name. But to succeed, Milton realises he must communicate with his house humans, a schoolgirl called Zoe and her seriously arachnophobic dad. Is he mighty enough to achieve the impossible?

Milton, whose journey from spider worrier to spider warrior is brought to life by the comical illustrations of Alex G. Griffiths, is the perfect antidote to arachnophobia, proving with charm and charisma that spiders are not just amazing little creatures but heroes of the natural world.

But this is also a tale of friendship, shared adversity and the importance of understanding and tolerance. Add on a few timely lessons about the harmful effects of fake news and the sometimes pernicious influence of social media, and lots of brilliant gigglesome gags, and readers are set for a spider adventure that will leave them screaming… with laughter!

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus: Royal Rebel: Designer by Carina Axelsson

If girl power, glitz and glamour are your (designer) bag, then step into the exciting world of Lily Waldenburg, the reluctant princess who would rather be a fashion queen.

Royal Rebel: Designer is the second book in a sparkling middle-grade series from former top model Carina Axelsson, who has swapped the catwalk for a successful writing career, and is already the bestselling author of the popular Model Under Cover books.

This fabulous fashion series was inspired by Axelsson’s desire to create an alternative ‘princess story,’ a Queendom where girls can fall in love with the fairy tale lifestyle whilst feeling empowered by a world where they are the decision-makers.

Lily Waldenburg is in many ways a normal teenager. She loves fashion, her dog Coco, her guinea pig Zoe and sleepovers with her best friend Leonie. She dreams of being a fashion vlogger and when her videos on her style vlog, Tiara Girl, start to take off, Lily knows this is her chance to succeed.

But Lily is also a Crown Princess, first in line to be Queen of Waldenburg, a matriarchal society. She has her royal responsibilities to think about – the ‘Queen-to-be’ stuff that she must learn before she comes of age next year.

Her Grandmaman and Mother (Her Majesty Sophia the Twelfth) have high expectations of what a princess should be, and that certainly doesn’t include being a fashion vlogger. But Tiara Girl’s online star is rising fast and with her design ideas going viral and her school life colliding with her royal responsibilities, can she keep her identity secret, or will she be exposed as the Crown Princess and royal rebel that she really is?

Royal Rebel is the perfect blend of fashion, princess glamour and fun-filled adventure as the gorgeous Lily treads a fine line between the restrictions of her royal duties and her desire to be both ‘normal’ and a successful fashion vlogger.

A gorgeously glamorous and glittering series perfectly fashioned for you own stylish little princesses!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus: Dork Diaries by Rachel Renée Russell

Ten years ago, young readers across the world fell in love with the irresistible Nikki Maxwell (aka Queen of the Dorks!) and her hilarious diaries charting the daily – and very recognisable – dramas and disasters of a 14-year-old girl.

The Dork Diaries became a mega-selling series and with over 45 million copies in print worldwide, a newly jacketed edition of that very first book has been re-published to introduce the adorable Nikki to a new legion of fans.

Nikki and her BFFs Zoey and Chloe are the giggling, gossiping stars created by Rachel Renée Russell, a US lawyer who prefers writing children’s books to legal briefs and who also illustrates the fabulous Dork Diaries, filling Nikki’s entertaining meanderings with drawings, doodles and comic strips.

This perfectly pitched series was inspired by Russell’s own middle school experiences as well as those of her two daughters, Erin and Nikki. Elder daughter Erin helps with writing and Nikki helps with the illustrations.

In the first book of the series, Nikki Maxwell – who is not just unpopular but also a total dork! – is hoping that moving to a new school might just mean a chance to make some friends and leave her old dorky ways in the past. New school, a new crush, a new mean girl, and a new diary so Nikki can spill all about it. Nikki might be a normal girl but her life is packed with events!

Friendship, fun and boyfriend gossip… what more could a girl want?

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus: The Misadventures of Max Crumbly: Masters of Mischief by Rachel Renée Russell

If you have any reluctant readers in your house, here is the third brilliantly funny adventure in a series guaranteed to wean them off the Xbox and into the wonderful world of books.

Written in the style of a journal, packed with eye-catching illustrations and guaranteed to touch all young funny bones, Max Crumbly and his amazing misadventures are the creation of the ever-popular Dork Diaries author Rachel Renée Russell, a US lawyer who prefers writing children’s books to legal briefs.

While the Dork Diaries series chronicle the daily dramas of a 14-year-old girl’s life, madcap Max Crumbly is the disaster-prone male Dork on the block and his zany antics will have youngsters laughing all the way to his next adventure.

When we last left our hero, Max, and his trusty sidekick, Erin, they had just foiled the plans of three bumbling burglars. In the depths of a smelly, dangerous Dumpster of Doom, the two pals hid from the vengeful thieves – and the police! Now, Max and Erin face foes old and new as their misadventures continue. Can the two friends avoid detection – and detention! – while keeping South Ridge Middle School safe from bullies and criminals?

Max’s escapades pack a real punch… along with all the knockabout fun and humour, and Russell offers subtle wisdom and advice on some of the more serious issues which can affect middle grade youngsters.

Mad Max just got even madder!

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus: Rugby Academy by Tom Palmer

Young readers have been getting a ‘kick’ out of a fantastic rugby series from Tom Palmer, the king of all-action sports stories, and now there’s a chance to read them all in one go!

This new collected edition brings together all the books in Palmer’s brilliant, high-energy Rugby Academy trilogy which includes Combat Zone, Deadlocked and Surface to Air. Packed with action from cover to cover, this is a perfect addition to Palmer’s fast-paced and thought-provoking sports adventures. And with its super-readable layout and typeface, even more readers can enjoy it.

The author of 48 books featuring spies, history, the RAF, ghosts, detectives, war, football and rugby, Palmer visits over 150 schools every year to run his Football and Rugby Reading Games, which tie in with his long-term work in reader development.

Borderlands School’s First XV have their sights set on becoming the best school rugby team in the world. But while the boys focus on their matches, many of their parents are serving overseas in the armed forces, and everyone is worried as conflict grows in the Central Asian Republic.

New pupil Woody is a footballer by nature and must decide if he wants to give rugby his all, while Rory feels like he is losing his concentration on team matters because he is distracted by thoughts of his parents serving overseas and in danger.

And Owen finds himself in the spotlight when conflict breaks out within the team. With some serious challenges to face along the way and so much to distract them, can the boys keep their focus on winning and become school rugby champions of Britain, Europe and the world?

Written with sensitivity and insight, and illustrated by David Shephard, this book comes packed with drama, suspense, some real-life issues, and all the excitement – and ups and downs – of sporting action and shared team spirit.

A brilliant book for rugby fans, adrenaline addicts and reluctant readers…

(Conkers, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus: The Extraordinary Life of Anne Frank by Kate Scott and Anke Rega

Read about the amazing lives of three important names in world history in the latest books in Puffin’s fascinating Extraordinary Lives series.

These easy-to-read and child-friendly books explore the lives of incredible historical and modern figures through a narrative biography, timelines, fascinating facts and beautiful illustrations. The series, which also includes Stephen Hawking, Malala Yousafzai and Michelle Obama, is diverse, empowering and educational, and is creatively illustrated throughout with stunning one-colour pantone.

In The Extraordinary Life of Anne Frank, youngsters meet the young wartime diarist whose words have become some of the most important in modern history. Discover the incredible life story of the Jewish girl whose bravery has inspired so many. She was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent who faced the hardships of her short life with courage and good humour. Her incredible story comes to life in this sensitively written book, full of facts and quotes from the diaries.

In the year that would have been Anne’s 90th birthday, and is also the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, The Extraordinary Life of Anne Frank provides insight and information for a new generation of young readers learning for the first time about the girl behind the powerful and emotive diary.

The Extraordinary Life of Neil Armstrong by Martin Howard and Freda Chiu

And on the 50th anniversary year of the first Moon landing, meet a little boy from a small town called Wapokoneta in the American state of Ohio, who loved the idea of flying and became the first person to set foot on the Moon. On July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 space mission, made history with his ‘giant leap for mankind,’ an achievement that showed humanity’s voyages of discovery could continue out into space.

From his childhood playing with model planes to becoming one of the most famous astronauts of all time, youngsters will love reading the incredible story of Armstrong’s life.

The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Johnson by Devika Jina and Maggie Cole

And on that historic day when the first humans stepped on the Moon, one woman back on planet Earth was running the numbers that ensured they got there and back in one piece.

From a very young age, Katherine Johnson, who was born in White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia in 1918, achieved great things. She loved maths and at a time when few black people had the opportunity to gain a high-school diploma, she graduated from college aged just eighteen and went on to be one of the most important people in the history of space travel.

Discover Katherine’s incredible life story and read about how her brain power changed our world in this enthralling biography.

(Puffin, paperback, £6.99 each)

Age 6 plus: The Adventures of Harry Stevenson by Ali Pye

Some people might think that guinea pigs just like to sleep lots and eat lots… but they obviously haven’t met the fur-raising Harry Stevenson!

Ali Pye, author and illustrator of a number of picture books, turns her talents to her first illustrated fiction series, bringing us captivating, action-packed adventures inspired by a real-life guinea pig called Harry Stevenson… who had to be renamed Harriet Stevenson when it was discovered that he was actually a girl!

And Harry certainly is a guinea pig who can gobble up the most dangerous dilemmas as he finds himself plunged into some unexpected and high-flying dramas which take him far, far away from the cosy, hay-filled, creature comforts of his cage. He might be small but he has some very BIG adventures!

Harry Stevenson doesn’t live in a castle, or a witch’s cottage, or anywhere exciting like that. His home is in a flat with seven-year-old Billy and his mum and dad. And at first glance, Harry doesn’t seem any different from your average guinea pig. He has ginger fur and sparkly black eyes, likes nothing more than snacking on a piece of broccoli, and he can’t secretly talk or fly around the room when no one is looking.

But don’t be fooled! Harry may just want to sleep and eat (and then eat some more) but somehow he always manages to get swept up in adventures… whether it’s surfing the Pacific on a picnic plate or accidentally attaching himself to a helium balloon.

Join Harry in this brilliant two-stories-in-one book which is filled with fun, giggles, some moving moments and lots of action, all brought to life by a very large and delicious helping of two-tone illustrations.

A swinging start to a super new series!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus: The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin

One of the much-loved classics of children’s literature makes a comeback in a beautiful hardback edition this month, and it has lost none of its original charm.

The Happy Lion, a wonderfully warm and feel-good story about learning who you are, and finding happiness and a true friend, is the work of Swiss husband and wife team, Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin, and was first published over 50 years ago.

Duvoisin was born in Geneva in 1900 and studied art in Paris. He married Louise Fatio, another artist from Switzerland, and in 1927 they moved to New York City. Duvoisin wrote and illustrated 40 books, and illustrated over 100 more by other authors. The Happy Lion was the first book created together by Duvoisin and Fatio and it won the inaugural German Children’s Book Prize in 1956.

This stylish new edition, which retains the retro feel that has enchanted generations of readers and inspired many other illustrators, comes from London-based Scallywag Press, a new children’s book company which aims to publish work by talented newcomers as well as classic titles and the work of favourite authors and illustrators with established reputations.

The happy lion lives at a house of his own at a little French zoo and is a favourite with all the townspeople who stop by every day to feed him titbits and say ‘Bonjour, Happy Lion.’ So naturally, when the lion finds that the door to his house has been accidentally left open, he decides it would only be proper to visit all his friendly neighbours in return. But, wait… sacré bleu! Why is everyone fleeing in terror, don’t they realise he is their friend? Fortunately, François, the keeper’s son, is still happy to see him!

The timeless narrative, gentle humour, tender friendship between the lion and François, and the delightfully characterful illustrations are a reminder why this book is still a firm family favourite and make it the ideal gift for a new generation of readers.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus: Umbrella by Elena Arevalo Melville

A trip to the park turns into a magical adventure full of endless possibilities in a warm and beguiling picture book from Guatemalan-born author and illustrator Elena Arevalo Melville.

The power of kindness and the triple joys of magic, music and the miraculous lie at the heart of this clever, colourful story which celebrates our rights to express ourselves and to choose our own friends, and comes with an endorsement from Amnesty International.

It’s a beautiful morning and Clara has gone to the park, but there’s nobody to play with. She finds what appears to be an ordinary old umbrella on the ground and does a good deed by gently putting it on a bench. Imagine her surprise when the umbrella says ‘thank you’ and invites Clara to make a wish. And as she opens up the umbrella what also unfolds is a magical chain of events where help, kindness and forgiveness go hand-in-hand.

Melville uses her distinctive, tonal illustrations and a surreal and yet reassuring story brimming with humour, kindness, forgiveness and generosity to explore topical themes of empathy, decision-making and citizenship.

Young readers are invited to interact with Clara’s amazing adventure by choosing what sort of wish they would make and to reflect on how their choices would affect other people.

An exhilarating and entertaining lesson in the rewards of caring, sharing and togetherness.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus: Aife and Stray: Seven Style Secrets for a Perilous Party by Stevie Westgarth and Emily Ford

A shy young girl and a pig who is blind in one eye are the unlikely – but dynamic – star players in a quirky and uplifting picture book from a talented Cumbrian-born author and illustrator team.

Aife and Stray is a rhyming, fashion-inspired word and picture extravaganza created by Stevie Westgarth, the menswear fashion editor of Hunger Magazine, and his friend, freelance illustrator Emily Ford, who was inspired to work on children’s books by classic fairy tales and comics.

Together they have put together a clever, comical cautionary tale which teaches children valuable lessons about the importance of being yourself, not judging people by their appearance, valuing friendship and love, and learning to like who you are and how you look.

Aife and Stray live together in a cold, wonky house where the wind howls and everything is grey but it’s their home and they are happy. When they are invited to a dazzling party by the ultra-trendy Prunella Bonbon, Aife starts to worry about what on earth they are going to wear. Looking for new clothes, they visit seven colourful eccentrics who paint Aife and Stray’s world in their own unique colours.

But when they arrive at the super-cool party, they realise that by trying to conform they have ended up looking like everyone else! Can they make a brave decision and return as themselves, dungarees, socks full of holes and all? Prunella’s joyful reaction tells them everything they need to know about being yourself and loving one another, whoever and whatever you wear!

Westgarth’s joyful, fun-filled story speaks loudly to children about what really matters in life while Ford’s kaleidoscopic colour palette brings added style and vitality to Aife and Stray’s fashion odyssey.

(Troika, hardback, £11.99)