Book reviews: Cool facts, a master of magic and silly superheroes

From computer coding and dragon riding to a rhyming romp and an elephant emergency, there are plenty of books to keep children entertained this summer.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 26th July 2017, 9:38 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 1:03 pm
Cool Coding by Rob Hansen and Damien Weighill
Cool Coding by Rob Hansen and Damien Weighill

Age 10 plus:

Cool Coding by Rob Hansen and Damien Weighill

Coding is cool… and that’s official!

For the uninitiated, computer coding is now firmly part of the National Curriculum and, like computers themselves, its subject mass is huge and can seem daunting to both children and their parents.

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    But, as this fun and informative little book proves so entertainingly, coding can also be fascinating and creative as it is the key to making websites, games and apps, all now integral elements of contemporary life.

    Cool Coding and Cool Physics, both packed with Damien Weighill’s quirky illustrations, are just the two latest titles in a popular and accessible series of fact books which take a playful and yet educational journey through various subjects across the sciences, humanities and the arts.

    Aimed at both children and curious adults, each guide provides the perfect introduction to a subject, with information presented in neat bite-sized paragraphs, panels, bullet points and diagrams, along with experiments and ideas to try out at home.

    These handy guides are useful companions to school studies as well as absorbing reads to dip into any time. There are now ten books in the series including Cool Architecture, Cool Art, Cool Astronomy, Cool Maths, Cool Mythology, Cool Nature, Cool Philosophy and Cool Science Tricks.

    Cool Coding, written by computing expert Rob Hansen, contains everything you need to know about computers and coding, from the very basics of binary code and how it works to the myriad things that coding can actually do and the brave new worlds of artificial intelligence, robots and cloud computing.

    The book introduces the most popular coding programmes taught in schools, Scratch and Python, and shows how coding can be used to create websites, games and apps, and to make robots and moving vehicles, with the help of nifty devices such as the Raspberry Pi.

    And if you have ever wondered what spaghetti code, duck typing, snakecase or The Internet of Things are, you’ll find the answers here!

    Packed with eye-catching illustrations and inspiring information on the amazing world of coding and computing, this is the perfect introduction to one of today’s most essential subjects.

    In Cool Physics, written by Dr Sarah Hutton of University College London, we discover the wonders of physics – from Archimedes saying Eureka (but probably not in the bath!) to the Higgs boson – all neatly broken down into accessible bite-sized chunks.

    The book covers everything you need to know about some of the most complex scientific ideas the world has ever seen, including Newton’s Laws of Motion, quantum physics, nuclear fission and fusion, quarks, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and that old favourite E=mc2.

    There are also ten practical experiments to give you even more insight into the theories, including making a pinhole camera, a whirlpool in a bottle and electric circuits with Play-Doh. Packed with quirky illustrations and fascinating factual titbits, this book is an incredibly useful companion to school studies as well as an absorbing read.

    A fund of facts, bags of big ideas and pages of ingenious fun all packed into small but VERY clever books!

    (Pavilion Books, hardback, £9.99 each)

    Age 9 plus:

    The Witch of Demon Rock by Gabrielle Kent

    Alfie Bloom, the young master of magic, is back and he’s on another adventure of a lifetime!

    For kids who love mystery, adventure and magic in the best traditions of favourite authors like Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, the intrepid Alfie’s time-travelling exploits have become a reading dream come true.

    The Witch of Demon Rock is the third book in a fantastic fantasy series from Teesside author Gabrielle Kent whose work in the computer games industry has given her an eye for thrilling visual action and popular age-old concepts of good versus bad and heroes and villains.

    The first book in the series, The Secret of Hexbridge Castle was shortlisted for both the Northern Writers’ Awards, and the Mslexia Awards for women writers, and the follow-up, The Talisman Thief, saw Alfie positively bloom into his role as ordinary boy-turned-magician.

    Alfie Bloom was just an ordinary boy until he learned that he had inherited Hexbridge Castle and, through mysterious circumstances surrounding his birth, had also been entrusted with the job of being caretaker of a centuries-old magic and making sure the castle’s secrets stay secret forever.

    Unfortunately for Alfie, dangerous forces are also after this powerful magic and now, with the help of his cousins Madeleine and Robin, Artan the flying bearskin rug, his best friend Amy Siu and Ashford (a rather special butler who is actually his own great-grandson!), Alfie must keep the magic safe from terrifying adversaries.

    In his new adventure, Alfie, who has now mastered his timeslip ability enough to travel to and from the past at will, has whizzed back to the 1400s to start his training with Orin Hopcraft, last of the great druids, and is beginning to understand the true power and dark lure of the magic that he guards.

    At first it seems like a good idea to take his friends with him but one by one, the people around him begin to fall victim to a terrifying creature of shadows. Desperate for answers, Alfie must undertake a quest to find the one person who can help them… the mysterious witch of Demon Rock.

    Fast-paced, full of the spirit of adventure, wry humour and the daring missions of Alfie and his family and friends, this is a top-notch adventure story which will keep young readers hooked from first page to last.

    (Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

    Age 8 plus:

    Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

    Twenty years ago, German-born author Cornelia Funke whipped up a reading storm with her fabulous book Dragon Rider, a legendary tale of fantasy, dragons and magical kingdoms.

    And now this writer, noted for her prodigious imagination and whose books, Inkheart and The Thief Lord, were made into films, is back with a thrilling new Dragon Rider adventure packed with amazing illustrations by the talented Laura Ellen Anderson.

    Dragon Rider, the first book which has been reissued by Chicken House Books, stars Firedrake, a brave young dragon who embarks on a magical journey to find the legendary place where silver dragons can live in peace for ever. Along the way, he discovers extraordinary new friends and a courage he never knew he had. But the greatest enemy of all is never far behind… a heartless monster intent on destroying the last dragons on Earth.

    The action-packed sequel, The Griffin’s Feather, includes maps and artwork by Anderson and marks an exciting return to middle-grade fiction for Funke who now lives in California.

    The last winged horses are on the brink of extinction. Three foals lie trapped and curled in their eggs in a sanctuary for threatened and mystical creatures where young dragon rider Ben lives with his silver dragon Firedrake. The foals are ill, and the boy and his dragon volunteer to seek out their only cure… a Griffin’s feather. But Griffins, with the heads of eagles and the bodies of lions, are a dragon’s fiercest enemy, and they live far across the world in the sweltering jungle. A dangerous and exciting adventure is about to begin…

    Amazing creatures, inspirational adventures, edge-of-the-seat thrills and all the excitement of entering a magical, mysterious world make these books irresistible to be read alone or as a bedtime treat.

    And youngsters who fall in love with these brilliant fantasy books can enjoy more Dragon Rider fun and adventures on Twitter with @corneliafunke, using the hashtag #Griffinsfeather.

    (Chicken House, paperback, 6.99)

    Age 7 plus:

    Here Come the Superheroes by Neal Zetter and Chris White

    If your life adds up to zero, why not be a superhero?

    Performance poet and would-be superman Neal Zetter is on his best shout-it-out-loud form as he raps, rhymes and versifies in a poetry collection that aims to save the galaxy.

    This unique comic anthology celebrates the world’s newest (and most unlikely!) heroes and has been brought to you by the ‘Tremendous Two’… the very funny Neal Zetter and illustrator supreme Chris White who has a reputation for being ‘deadly with a pencil.’

    Aimed primarily at 8-13-year-old children, Zetter’s humorous and anarchic use of rhyme, rap and language will have children laughing, reciting and reading out loud.

    The London-based comedy performance poet, author and entertainer has a huge following in schools and has been using his no-nonsense fun poetry to develop literacy, confidence and communication skills in three to 103-year-olds for nearly 30 years. He has also performed in adult comedy clubs, pubs, clubs, theatres, libraries, music venues and the Royal Festival Hall.

    In this new bash, crash, smash collection, we meet Captain Polystyrene – ‘there’s nobody who is lighter, there’s nobody who is whiter’ – Terrific Tot, ‘a hero in a nappy,’ Supermum who ‘cooks our dinner, gets us dressed, always clears up all our mess,’ Gadget Man and his gadgets which ‘enlarge you and to also help you shrink,’ and the hilarious Super Senior, ‘his muscles sag, his body’s thin, no villain’s ever scared of him.’

    With White’s all-action, colour illustrations to up the tempo and inject an extra layer of madcap fun, plus some secret data which includes the characters’ top powers, planets of origin, deadliest enemies and other fascinating facts, this zippy zappy anthology will have everyone doing a superhero jig!

    (Troika Books, paperback, £6.99)

    Age 7 plus:

    Tanglewood Animal Park: Elephant Emergency by Tamsyn Murray

    Young animal lovers are trumpeting with excitement as Tamsyn Murray delivers the third book in a fantastic adventure series set among roaming lions, lemurs, lizards and leopards.

    Murray, author of the fun-packed Completely Cassidy series, works magic of the furry and feather variety in these warm, wild and wonderful stories which star two siblings and a friend enjoying escapades in a family-run wild animal park.

    The middle grade series was inspired by Murray’s visits with her own son to the family-run Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and her research there provided plenty of ideas for animal adventures.

    Zoe Fox and her younger brother Rory are living at Tanglewood Animal Park, their very own zoo which is run by their mum and dad and home to over 350 wonderful creatures, big and small.

    Tanglewood’s brand new elephant home, next door to the exciting Savannah Safari, is complete and Zoe can’t wait to meet its newest inhabitants… a family of six African elephants, including a four-month-old baby, who have been left homeless after the closure of a zoo. But when Saran, the matriarch of the elephant herd stops eating, Zoe and the keepers face an elephant emergency. Can Zoe and Oliver Chambers, son of Max Tanglewood’s chief vet, help to find out what is troubling the 50-year-old elephant?

    Chuck Groenink and Jean Claude’s enchanting illustrations add the extra ‘aaah’ factor to this gorgeous adventure series which combines exciting adventures with real-life facts about wild creatures and is a guaranteed winner with animal lovers of every age.

    (Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

    Age 2 plus:

    Have You Seen My Giraffe? by Michelle Robinson and Claire Powell

    Get ready for some ingenious animal magic with a brilliant new picture book that comes with laughs from first page to last… and from top to toe.

    Award-winning author Michelle Robinson and talented new illustrator Claire Powell let their imaginations take flight in this terrific tall tale of a pet giraffe who won’t fit into his new home, with hilarious results.

    Did you know that they don’t give away goldfish at the fairground any more? These days you are more likely to win a giraffe instead! It’s so much better, although you might come across a few problems with your parents when you bring your cute new pet home. Giraffes tend to be big and clumsy and there isn’t anywhere to keep them. But don’t worry because here is a handy guide to all the best places to hide them!

    The madcap antics of Robinson’s gyrating giraffe spring to glorious life through a comical, all-action story and Powell’s gorgeous gallery of wonderfully anarchic and colourful illustrations.

    When it comes to fun-filled picture books, this is a winner by a long neck!

    (Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

    Age 2 plus:

    The Only Lonely Panda by Jonny Lambert

    How do you find a friend when you are lonely little panda bear?

    Author and illustrator Jonny Lambert certainly knows how to tug at our heartstrings and this enchanting picture book – brimming over with a riot of vivid spot colour illustrations on a silver grey metallic backdrop – is guaranteed to become a firm family favourite.

    Deep in the dewy forest sits an only, lonely panda bear. ‘I wish I had a friend,’ Panda sighs, as playful sifaka lemurs, beautiful butterflies and graceful flamingos dance around him. Panda wants a friend but he doesn’t know how to go about finding one. Imitating them doesn’t seem to be working but, hang on, who is that peeking through the bamboo? And can Panda work out how to be her friend?

    The Only Lonely Panda is a stunning story, both visually and verbally, with Lambert’s collage style illustrations providing a feast of textured colour. Panda’s attempts to find a friend are portrayed with wry humour and moving simplicity, providing an uplifting and reassuring celebration of friendship and learning to be yourself.

    A joy to behold… and ideal for little ones who are learning to make friends at a new nursery or school.

    (Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

    Age 2 plus:

    Tiny Tantrum by Caroline Crowe and Ella Okstad

    The terrible twos can produce some giant-size tantrums so play your toddlers at their own game with this truly monstrous picture book!

    Author and illustrator team Caroline Crowe and Ella Okstad are on top form in a delightful, rhyming tale which tackles temper tantrums head on using a big helping of quirky humour, lashings of frantic fun and a sprinkling of well-concealed salutary warnings.

    When Tiny has a tantrum you can hear it for miles! Windows rattle, jelly quakes and birds fall out of trees. Can anyone persuade Tiny to eat her vegetables, share her toys and brush her teeth? How about a band of hairy monsters with lots of good advice? Can they stop the grumps and replace them with some monster giggles?

    Okstad’s bold, colourful and empathetic illustrations put life and vigour into Crowe’s funny, quirky and cautionary tale which is perfectly designed for little ones learning to deal with temper tantrums or struggling with sharing and making friends.

    An oasis of calm in a storm of tantrums…

    (Little Tiger Press, hardback, £10.99)

    Age 2 plus:

    Fairy Tales Pets by Tracey Corderoy and Jorge Martín

    Have you ever wondered what fairy tale pets get up to in their spare time?

    Award-winning author Tracey Corderoy and talented illustrator Jorge Martín have come up with the answer in this fresh and funny picture book which puts a hilarious twist in the tail of a whole host of fairy tale animal stars.

    Bob has decided to be a pet-sitter to make some money. And now he and his dog Rex just can’t wait for all the cute hamsters and bunnies to arrive! But look out, here come three noisy goats and a goose called Gabby, and when Goldilocks asks him to look after her grumpy baby bear, the fairy tale chaos begins. Spot your favourite characters misbehaving in an all-star cast as the golden goose, three billy goats gruff and, yikes, a troll, arrive at Bob’s door. Whatever will he do? It’s enough to drive Bob and Rex up a beanstalk… now there’s an idea!

    Packed with fun, frolics and outrageously naughty but familiar fairy tale pets, this quirky story and its gallery of eye-catching illustrations is guaranteed to tickle the funny bones of readers young and old.

    (Little Tiger Press, hardback, £10.99)

    Age 2 plus:

    That Is Actually MY Blanket, Baby! by Angie Morgan and Kate Alizadeh

    A new baby in the house can be tough for a toddler… particularly when he wants to keep your most treasured possession!

    In their cute and cleverly observant picture book, author Angie Morgan and illustrator Kate Alizadeh work some special magic on the eternally thorny issue of coping with the slings, arrows – and rivalries – of a new sibling.

    Bella LOVES her Blanket, they have always done everything together. Everywhere she goes, Blanket has to go too and she has grown to love Blanket more and more. But when New Baby arrives, he doesn’t want his boring new blanket. The only thing that will stop him crying is Bella’s precious, sparkly, muddy, painty, smelly blanket! But it’s Bella’s favourite thing of all. Uh-oh. What’s a big sister to do?

    Morgan’s poignant, gently funny words and new talent Alizadeh’s charming, playful illustrations turn a toddler dilemma into a beautiful and loving tale of love and learning as they blend humour and heart into an inspirational story.

    The perfect book for little ones who are adjusting to a new brother or sister...

    (Little Tiger Press, hardback, £10.99)