Book review: Funny frogs, silly spies and farmyard friends

Pucker up for a fairy tale romp, a menagerie of lesser known animals and a lovable monster that eats books in a new spring season of super children's books.

Tuesday, 28th March 2017, 12:13 pm
Updated Saturday, 8th April 2017, 10:11 pm
Funny frogs, silly spies and farmyard friends

Age 9 plus:

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Fairy tales have never been this much fun!

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Kiss those traditional tales goodbye and put on your lip balm as you love, laugh and race through the pages of this super funny and mischievous romp featuring madcap magic, perilous quests, kissing frogs and very evil stepfathers.

Australian-born author Garth Nix is on top form as he conjures up one of the most entertaining middle grade books of 2017… a riotous romp that is already in production for adaptation by 20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios for a live action musical and animation hybrid.

Expect magic, mayhem, danger, surprises, delicious delights and an enormous population of frogs in an all-action adventure that is 50 per cent fairy tale and 50 per cent fantasy.

Poor Princess Anya of Trallonia … she has to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her equally evil sorcerer stepfather. Anya likes spending her time in the castle library with her friends and the royal dog Ardent but she is plagued by an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss.

Anya is forced to go on the run when her stepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own. Not only that, he has turned Anya’s older sister’s true love into a frog and now she has been thrust, reluctantly, into a quest to collect ingredients for a magic lip balm to turn him back again.

Aided by her loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off knowing that if she plays it right, she will ultimately free her land and perhaps learn a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed kiss, and the advantages of finding friends in places both high and low.

Frogkisser! is a gorgeous, gregarious story full of fun and laughter but also a subtle contemporary fable offering welcome, worldly wise messages for readers of all ages about the perils of too much power, and the imperative to be thankful for any privileges that might come your way.

A charming children’s odyssey with grown-up sophistication… simply magical!

(Piccadilly, hardback, £10.99)

Age 11 plus:

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Award-winning Canadian author Kenneth Oppel treads new and darker territory in a chilling and yet unexpectedly beautiful psychological thriller about an anxious, mixed-up boy coping with family upheaval.

With the brilliant black-and-white illustrations of Kate Greenaway Award-winner Jon Klassen to add extra atmosphere and suspense, The Nest is a truly original, sophisticated and unsettling story that explores science, relationships and the personal demons that can bedevil us all.

‘The first time I saw them, I thought they were angels.’ Steve is a natural worrier but when his baby brother Theodore is born with a serious congenital disorder, his life turns upside down. His parents are worried sick and Steve is plagued by nightmares and guilt.

When he is stung by an insect, he dreams of a giant queen wasp which comes to his room and promises to help make Theodore well again. And all Steve has to do is say ‘yes’ and the queen wasp will fix everything. But the wasp becomes increasingly menacing and Steve starts to realise that saying yes to her offer could also be very, very dangerous. Once the word is uttered, can it be taken back?

Treading the fine line between dreams and reality, Steve is stuck in a nightmare that he can’t wake from and that nobody else understands. And all the while, the wasps’ nest is growing, and the ‘angel’ keeps visiting Steve in the night…

There is a terrifying buzz – literally – about this story but it is written with such care, subtlety and insight that the powerful and emotional messages it contains work as resonantly as the tingles and the tension.

A disturbing, intelligent and thought-provoking coming-of-age novel from a master storyteller…

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Spynosaur vs Goldenclaw by Guy Bass

Humour, action, high-octane energy and geeky technology… award-winning author Guy Bass has every base covered in the second book of his criminally funny action series.

Featuring comic-strip pages and doodles from Kung Fu Panda artist Lee Robinson, Spynosaur is the world’s first super-spy dinosaur, on a mission to make crime extinct and poised to save the day with a swish of his mighty tail.

Bass is one of the finest comedy writers for young people. His genre-bending books capture the energy, excitement and clever humour of literary heroes like Roald Dahl and Simon Furman but take them to a whole new level.

Anarchic humour and action-packed, technology-filled missions meet in glorious madcap madness as the world’s only prehistoric powerhouse dishes out justice and puns to a host of eccentric enemies. Yes… expect gigantosaurus belly laughs at every turn from the hilarious master of primordial puns!

Spynosaur is secret agency Department 6’s not-so secret weapon. Created by mysterious science rays, Spynosaur, the first ever Super Secret Agent Dinosaur, has the mind of a super spy and the body of a dinosaur. Together with his daughter Amber, this prehistoric hero protects the world from villainy.

When Spynosaur locks up the last of the world’s worst criminal masterminds, all that’s left are a string of disappointingly undemanding novelty villains. With no one worthy of his super-spy skills, Amber’s worried that Spynosaur might give up spying altogether.

Even Goldentoe, their last hope of a dastardly villain, admits to only pretending to be evil to win the heart of Shady Lady. Frantic that her dad has lost the will to spy, Amber convinces Goldentoe to make himself a more desirably dangerous suitor.

With the help of the Science Ray and a sample of Spynosaur’s DNA, Goldentoe transforms himself into Goldenclaw, a formidable half-man, half dinosaur far more powerful than Spynosaur, and intent on a spot of world-ending asteroid flinging...

Bass knows how to touch the funny bone of his young readers and this frantic story, packed with puns, comic style illustrations and cultural references that will appeal to both kids and their parents, sees the master of comedy on scintillating form.

Another fun-filled outing with the super silly star-crossed enemies!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown

We all love animals… but whoever heard of a numbat, an ili pika or a zorilla?

Welcome to the book of Lesser Spotted Animals, a coruscating compendium of amazing unknown animals from Martin Brown, the illustrious illustrator of the ever popular Horrible Histories.

This fantastic book featuring beasts you never knew you needed to know about is Brown’s first foray into writing and illustrating and the result is a treasure trove of amazing creatures that will be loved by every member of the family.

Jam-packed with wonderful colour illustrations, bite-sized sections, fun facts and a quirky text, this is the perfect book for animal lovers of any age.

Stars of the show are a menagerie of wonderful wildlife creatures that we never normally get to see, usually because they are eclipsed by the big names of the natural world or because they are rare to the point of extinction.

There are hundreds of different animals in the world – some big, some small, some common and some very rare – but most books show only a handful of them.

So this book is different! Bison are banned and tigers are taboo. Say goodbye to the gnu, cheerio to the cheetah and shout poo poo to the panda because the world of Lesser Spotted Animals starts right here!

From the numbat (a toothy termite-eater of the Australian west) to the zorilla (Africa’s pongy predator) and everything in between, Brown’s warm and witty writing, teamed with his fabulous illustrations and tummy-tickling jokes, is a winning combination.

Meet the amazing lesser fairy armadillo, a little digger in pink armour from South America, a giant gaur – bigger than a buffalo and bulkier than a bison – and get up close to an ili pika, a relative of the rabbit that lives among the boulder-strewn mountains of North America and Asia.

Brown packs his book with facts, fun and some arresting home truths about conservation and the importance of saving some of the incredible creatures from extinction.

Animal magic for all the family…

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £8.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Seriously Extraordinary Diary of Pig by Emer Stamp

When you grow up on a farm, there is one subject that is always going to be close to your heart… animals!

Author and illustrator Emer Stamp was raised on a sheep farm in Devon and it was here that she met all the characters in her first unique and fun-filled book, The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig.

The amazing adventures of Pig and his charismatic pals won an army of young fans and following on from the second book, The Super Amazing Adventures of Me, Pig, the farmyard friends are bounding back in The Seriously Extraordinary Diary of Pig.

Each book features hilarious escapades in the form of a bizarrely written diary accompanied by a gallery of brilliant illustrations by Pig. In their new adventure, Pig and his friends are safely back on their farm, spending their days playing games and having fun until a game of hide and seek goes badly wrong. Then Pig’s attempt to make it better goes even more wrong when his friend Cow gets kidnapped by a Russian handbag designer. Pig and Duck are the only ones now who can save her and their extraordinary mission that will take them across land and sea…

Get ready for more pages of fun, parps, slops and danger as the animals get embroiled in madness, mayhem and mishaps.

Young readers will enjoy rearranging Pig’s jumbled up sentences and can visit Pig’s extraordinary website to find out more about him, ask him questions, discover fun Piggy activities and lots more.

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Harper and the Night Forest by Cerrie Burnell

Illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

Everyone’s irresistible heroine Harper returns in the third book of an inspirational series of friendship, fairy tales and adventure created by popular CBeebies television presenter Cerrie Burnell.

Harper and the Night Forest is another beautifully written, lyrical tale featuring a cast of funny and lovable characters, all stunningly brought to life by talented illustrator Laura Ellen Anderson.

Harper has a rare musical gift, she hears songs on the wind, rhythms on the rain and hope in the beat of a butterfly’s wings. She can play every instrument she picks up without learning a single note and she lives in the City of Clouds. Harper, who can float through the air thanks to her magic Scarlet Umbrella, and her friends are excited to visit the City of Singing Clocks right by the mysterious Night Forest.

It is rumoured that a magical Ice Raven whose song can melt hardened hearts lives amongst the ebony trees. With the children’s help, The Wild Conductor plans to capture the mythical bird and create the greatest orchestra ever known. But Harper soon needs to decide who actually needs their help the most...

Imaginative and beautifully written, the Harper books provide a magical experience for younger readers. The fantastic illustrations are full of vitality and character, and Harper is an inspirational heroine for children from all walks of life. Her magic, her adventures, her diverse friends and their ambition to always help others always send out important messages to children.

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Nibbles the Book Monster by Emma Yarlett

A lovable monster that eats books… now there’s something to chew on!

If your little ones like a book that comes with a large helping of mayhem and mischief, then the adventures of Nibbles the Book Monster are destined to be top of their story time favourites.

Author and illustrator Emma Yarlett goes into imaginative overdrive as naughty book monster Nibbles – not content with eating everyone’s socks – causes havoc by chomping, munching and nibbling his way through fairy tales that don’t belong to him.

The little yellow monster runs riot through family favourites like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and The Beanstalk, changing the traditional plot lines and bringing fun and chaos to the fairy characters’ familiar dramas. It’s up to readers to help catch him and put him back in his own story.

And finding him is where the real fun starts because this innovative, interactive book is packed with fascinating flaps and intriguing peep holes which offer kids an open invitation to chase Nibbles through his fantastical world of books.

Find Nibbles as he hides among an array of book titles, enjoy Yarlett’s exquisitely detailed and bold pictures, and look out for the brilliant twist at the end of the book.

This is just the kind of bright, interactive and lively picture book that children love… full of mischief, adventure and the joyful experience of reading. Picture book bliss for busy little hands and inquisitive young minds!

(Little Tiger, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Can I Join Your Club? by John Kelly and Steph Laberis

We all want to have friends and here is a warm and clever picture book which puts the importance of sharing and inclusion centre stage.

Little children will love John Kelly’s funny story with its amazing animal characters and a brilliantly daffy duck who turns out to have some ‘sound’ ideas.

Duck wants to join a club but he needs to be able to roar to join the Lion Club, trumpet to join Elephant Club and hiss like a snake to join the Snake Club. Unfortunately for Duck, all he can do is quack! So what is a Duck to do? Why, set up his own club of course… where everyone is welcome to join whether they are a rabbit, a tortoise or an ostrich. As Duck knows only too well… you can never have too many friends!

With a laugh-out-loud text from Kelly and brilliantly quirky illustrations by Steph Laberis, Can I Join Your Club? is a heart-warming story which celebrates the importance of diversity and friendship and is ideal for little ones who are learning to make friends at a new school or nursery.

A big, bold book full of giant-size common sense…

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £10.99)

(Age 2 plus)


Karl Newson and Lucy Fleming by Fee-fi-fo… somebody is missing!

Exciting new author Karl Newson takes little ones on a journey of discovery in a rhyming picture book odyssey that turns traditional fairy tales into a new-look rollercoaster adventure.

The Crumb family are all giants… there’s Pa, Ma, Grandpa Plum, Fee, Fi, Fo and… oh dear, whatever happened to Fum, the very smallest member of the colossal Crumb clan? Finding Fum in the fairy tale world of the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf won’t be easy because he’s so small and the family are so tall. They are going to need the help of some sharp-eyed youngsters!

Newson’s lyrical tale of a giant-sized family with a pint-sized problem offers interactive fun on every page as young readers enjoy searching through Lucy Fleming’s bold, busy and enchanting illustrations to seek out glimpses of the missing Fum.

With its rhyming text and gorgeous gallery of illustrations, this is a magical addition to publisher Maverick’s star line-up of picture books.

(Maverick, paperback, £6.99)

(Age 2 plus)

How do you do, Mr Gnu? by Billy Coughlan and Maddie Frost

Author Billy Coughlan sends her imagination into overdrive in a quirky new picture book starring a charismatic gnu who needs a lesson in good manners!

How do you do, Mr Gnu? is a hilarious, fun-packed adventure following the mayhem and mishaps of the incredible Mr Gnu as his uncouth escapades bring chaos on a journey through London to meet the Queen.

Coughlan’s simple but clever story is a joy and the inventive illustrations of Maddie Frost bring the galumphing Mr Gnu to glorious, graceless life from the moment he tears open his invitation to have tea with the Queen through a dramatic train ride, an action-packed swim up the Thames, a rip-roaring museum visit and an encounter with the household cavalry. He needs to learn his manners before he meets his monarch… but is there enough time to practise them?

An anarchic tale guaranteed to delight your own little mischief makers!

(Maverick, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Charlie Chick Wants to Play by Ant Parker and Nick Denchfield

Easter is coming and here’s a book to get your little chicks in a flap!

Charlie Chick is back with a brand new adventure in a specially shaped chicken board book with flaps to lift, facts to discover and a warm-hearted story to make young imaginations take flight.

Charlie Chick wants to play but he can’t find his ball. Can you help him find it? Meet his friends Frankie Frog, Desmond Dog and Penelope Piglet, and lift the flaps to see if it’s in the pig sty, the kennel, the reeds or the hen house in a bright and bold board book about friendship, farm animals and playtime.

With intriguing flaps to lift, a gorgeous glittery cover and enchanting illustrations by Ant Parker, this sweet, funny story is an ideal way to learn about first animals and their homes. Also available in the series are Charlie Chick, Charlie Chick Goes to School and Charlie Chick Learns to Fly.

With chirpy, cheepy thrills from start to finish, Charlie’s egg-cracking adventures make the perfect Easter gift…

(Campbell, board book, £5.99)

Age one plus:

First Stories: The Little Mermaid by Dan Taylor

The old stories are often the best and what better way to introduce the best-loved classics than Campbell’s inventive and exciting novelty series First Stories for toddlers.

The latest in this much-loved series is The Little Mermaid, a beautiful, interactive retelling of the classic fairy tale about a little mermaid who sees a prince and falls in love. Enjoy watching busy little hands as they push, pull and turn mechanisms to bring the story to life and meet the story’s favourite characters… the little mermaid, the prince and the fearsome sea witch.

The Little Mermaid is beautifully re-imagined for a new generation by children’s illustrator Dan Taylor. Also available in this best-selling series are Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Rapunzel, The Jungle Book, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Nutcracker and Beauty and the Beast

Hands-on learning for inquisitive toddlers…

(Campbell, board book, £4.99)