Famous names, a madcap schoolboy and a medieval mystery - book reviews

The school holidays are in full swing and it's the perfect opportunity to take time out with a good book.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 13th August 2018, 3:00 pm
Updated Monday, 13th August 2018, 4:03 pm
First Names: Emmeline (Pankhurst) by Haydn Kaye and Michael Cotton-Russell
First Names: Emmeline (Pankhurst) by Haydn Kaye and Michael Cotton-Russell

Get up close and personal with some amazing people, have fun with the silliest schoolboy in town, make friends with a snake, dream big with the girls, and help to make your baby the brainiest tot in the nursery!

Age 8 plus:

First Names: Emmeline (Pankhurst) by Haydn Kaye and Michael Cotton-Russell

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The world is – and has been – home to some amazing people… so what fun it would be to get up close and personal with them!

An exciting and original new non-fiction series from David Fickling Books invites young readers to get on first name terms with some of our planet’s cleverest and most inspirational personalities through the lens of fun, lively and highly illustrated biographies.

The spotlight in First Names will focus on famous people from history like Emmeline Pankhurst, Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Houdini as well as more modern names like Elon Musk, the billionaire, mega-brain entrepreneur, that some readers may not know.

The aim is to let children discover who, for example, Albert Einstein really was and not just what he achieved, and to see these famous names as ordinary people who grew up to do extraordinary things.

In the first of two books, written by Haydn Kaye and illustrated by Michael Cotton-Russell, we meet Emmeline (Pankhurst) who fought a tough battle to win the vote for British women and inspired others around the world to do the same.

Follow her fascinating life story as we find out why she hated school, how she had to take lessons in stone throwing, what she thought when her daughter spat at a policeman, why she sold knickers to her boss and why she was always on the run from the police. Getting to know Emmeline on first name terms is far more fun than simply reading about ‘Mrs Pankhurst’!

And in the second book – written by Tracey Turner and illustrated by Mike Smith – youngsters delve into the riveting life and times of Elon (Musk) who is definitely the one to watch! A man on a mission, he is a multi-talented entrepreneur who is building the world’s biggest space rocket to send to Mars, and some awesome electric cars as well. And those are just a couple of Mr Musk’s many projects.

Find out what drove Elon to shovel gloop, how parties helped to fund his college years and just why he wants to move millions of people to Mars. This is the perfect chance to know Elon on first name terms and enjoy learning plenty of incredible science along the way.

All the titles in this brilliant series aim to be entertaining and factually accurate, and are designed to educate and inspire. Lively black and white illustrations, provided by a range of excellent comic artists throughout each book, will help to tell the story, with each personality featured chipping in to add their own comments.

So forget all those stuffy, dull history books and get up close with the people who made (and are still making) things happen. These high energy, informative and entertaining books make learning fun and should be given a prime spot on every inquisitive child’s shelf…

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99 each)

Age 8 plus:

Eddy Stone and the Mean Genie’s Curse by Simon Cherry and Francis Blake

Television producer, writer and director Simon Cherry continues to take comedy to new (and silly!) heights in his outrageously funny and popular Eddy Stone series which features the hilarious tales of a lovable schoolboy and his marvellously madcap adventures.

Eddy Stone and the Mean Genie’s Curse is the third epic outing in this wry, witty and wonderful series which was shortlisted at the Lollies Laugh Out Loud 2017 Books Awards and has become a favourite read for both children and parents.

In his new adventure, there’s spring sunshine and no school today for Eddy. Plenty of time then to cycle round his home town of Tidemark Bay and call in at an auction sale of the contents of the grand old Tidemark Manor. And it’s there that Eddy accidentally buys the strange box of oddments that is Lot 49. Hidden inside an old cloth is a hideously old-fashioned lamp that would have walked away with first prize in an ugly competition.

And it’s just typical of Eddie’s luck that the lamp is both magical and cursed, and it’s only a matter of time before he inadvertently releases a wizard who makes the wishes come true of everybody in Tidemark Bay.

Eddy’s world is turning upside down world and soon he’s tumbling into a land of genies, mad emperors and dancing camels. Can Eddy put a stop to this wayward wishing and find a way to reverse the curse?

Francis Blake’s suitably anarchic black and white illustrations add yet more frantic fun to another laugh-out-loud, irreverent and highly imaginative story packed with brilliant jokes, knockabout action and a little heartwarming tenderness when you least expect it.

And now youngsters can rediscover the first two adventures in the series, complete with shiny new covers!

In Cherry’s debut, Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Adventure, we head off to the high seas for a cracking pirate adventure as Eddy holidays at his gran’s old seaside cottage in Tidemark Bay and becomes miserable and bored after only four days. But one morning, just as he is about to get stuck into his bowl of Choccy Puffs, he hears a deep bellow and a heavy thump. And when he creeps upstairs, who’s there? It’s a pirate, Mad Bad Jake McHake… sitting in the bath, fully clothed and with a big black beard! Even better, he wants Eddy to help him find some buried treasure.

Setting sail in a ship-shaped shed, crewed by an old lady and a grumpy penguin, what could possibly stop their quest for booty? Well apart, that is, from the world’s most evil shopkeeper, a man-eating beast, and the maddest, baddest villain in all the seven seas…

And in Eddy Stone and the Alien Cat Attack, Eddy discovers a bedraggled cat in his front garden and his rubbish weekend turns into an alien escapade. Shooting off into outer space with his cousin Milly, Eddy finds himself on an epic adventure that’s out of this world... can Eddy stop the crazy kitty?

Reading is never boring when Eddy is in charge!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99 each)

Age 9 plus:

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Real history and exquisite imagination, soaraway fantasy and Christian theology blend with spectacular results in a highly original and utterly beguiling middle grade novel from US author Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

The Book of Boy is a thrilling and unforgettable medieval adventure starring one of the most intriguing lead characters you are likely to meet in children’s fiction this year.

The year is 1350 and the place is France at time when thousands of Christians are heading to Rome and the bubonic plague has killed a third of the population of Europe. Boy, a hunchbacked, sweet-natured goatherd, is content in his quiet rural life. He has a strange ability to communicate with animals but he is shunned by the other villagers and treated badly by the farm’s mistress.

But when a shadowy pilgrim with a dangerous past arrives on the farm, his world is turned upside down. Secundus is a man on a mission, and upon first sight of Boy, enlists him as his servant, ripping him away from tranquillity and plunging them both into a perilous medieval treasure hunt… to gather the seven precious relics of Saint Peter.

Boy quickly realises this journey is not an innocent one. They are stealing the relics, and gaining dangerous enemies in the process. But Boy is determined to see the search through, for what if Saint Peter can make his hump go away. But there is more to the pilgrim’s quest – and to Boy – than meets the eye.

This compelling, action-packed tale is full of bravery and daring, stars a terrific cast of secondary characters, and features an unlikely multigenerational friendship at its heart. Memorable and haunting, Murdock’s epic medieval adventure features a map and black-and-white art throughout.

Murdock fills her epic adventure with a cast of charismatic characters and a multitude of powerful themes that play out as Boy leaves behind his rural innocence to discover a world of unimagined wealth, greed, hate, hunger and deceit.

But there is also joy in the pleasure of discovery, the unfurling of a fascinating truth for Boy, and a colourful narrative punctuated by wry humour, moments of darkness and flashes of blinding light.

The Book of Boy is a rare delight and the perfect book for schools to engage and challenge young readers.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

A Tangle of Magic by Valija Zinck

Also casting a spell over young readers is A Tangle of Magic, a super-imaginative adventure set in a thrilling fantasy world, from German author Valija Zinck.

So get ready for a remarkable heroine with hair that turns from grey to red, a cruel kidnapping, a family secret and an epic journey full of daring, discovery and danger.

Ten-year-old Penelope Gardener lives with her mother… her father died years ago but she misses him even though she can’t remember him. The only things she has of his are Coco, a grey cat, and a tattered black and white photo of him with her mother.

Penelope has always been different from other children. Her hair has been grey since she was born, she can hear her mother telling her to do something before she even opens her mouth, and a smell of fire follows her wherever she goes.

But one day, Penelope wakes up to discover that her grey locks have turned into a wild tangle of hair as red as a fire, and her mother finally confesses the truth… her father is not only still alive, he’s a wizard. What’s more, Penelope has inherited his powers and she must now embark on an epic journey to find him.

Translated from the German, A Tangle of Magic offers a fun and enchanting experience for middle grade readers who love fantasy, magic, mystery and exciting adventures.

The extraordinary and resourceful Penelope is a heroine to love as she faces many challenges in her quest to find not just her father but to discover the truth about herself and her family.

Original, exciting and entertaining…

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 4 plus:

Girls Can Do Anything by Caryl Hart and Ali Pye

‘I’m a GIRL! I’m FANTASTIC! I’m strong, brave, and proud!’

Girl power picture books don’t come more inspirational than this rip-roaring celebration of all things female from rhyme queen Caryl Hart and talented illustrator Ali Pye.

From climbing mountains and parachuting to making music and flying rockets, Girls Can Do Anything – a rhyming and illustrative extravaganza – speaks volumes to young readers about all the amazing things that girls can grow up to be and do.

Join a cast of diverse and energetic girls to see the incredible things they do every day – and find out what you might like to do too. Do you want to climb a mountain, drive a fire engine or become prime minister? Join the girls in the pages of this book and be inspired to aim high and achieve your dreams.

Hart’s rhyming narrative puts girls firmly centre stage and Pye’s fascinating gallery of real-life, inspiring names – including Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, human rights activist Malala Yousafzai and cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova – shows just what can be achieved by determined and resourceful women.

The perfect book for every girl who dreamed a big dream!

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Anna and Otis by Maisie Paradise Shearring

When your best friend is a snake, life can sometimes be difficult… but it’s certainly never dull!

Award-winning author and illustrator Maisie Paradise Shearring puts friendship – a key part of every child’s development – firmly in focus in a beautifully expressive and warm-hearted picture book which was inspired by one of her own friends.

Every parent knows that children can find it scary to meet new people and say hello so why not introduce them to Anna and her pet snake Otis, the unlikely pals who show that being brave and talking to people can lead to all kinds of fun.

Anna and Otis love playing together but Otis knows that people are scared of snakes so he usually just plays at home or in the garden. So imagine how nervous he feels when Anna suggests going to town and exploring some new adventures.

At first people are afraid, and Otis feels he isn’t welcome in the town but Anna encourages him not to give up, and it soon turns out that maybe snakes aren’t as scary as people thought. The hairdresser enjoys shampooing a reptile for a change and Sally at the skate shop has a lot of fun fitting Otis with his own set of awesome wheels. Who would have thought that going to town and meeting lots of new people would be their biggest adventure yet!

Shearring’s warm and witty story successfully banishes fear and prejudice with a playful and witty meditation on the joys of friendships… however odd they might at first seem.

Brimming with a gallery of quirky and colourful illustrations, this is the ideal book to reassure youngsters meeting new people or starting school and nursery, and will encourage everyone to smile and say hello!

(Two Hoots, hardback, £11.99)

Age from birth:

Tree: Seasons Come, Seasons Go by Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup

The timeless beauty of the changing seasons comes alive in an enchanting and inventive board book bursting with colour and rhyme.

Tree: Seasons Come, Seasons Go – originally published as a picture book – lets little ones peep through holes to explore the fascinating life-cycle of a tree in spring, summer, autumn and winter as the leaves grow, change their hues and fall in a carpet of red, gold and green.

The amazing and inventive artwork for Patricia Hegarty’s lyrical and inspirational journey through the year comes from the pen of award-winning illustrator Britta Teckentrup.

The holes in the tree on each page allow youngsters to watch the busy world of nature at work through rain and shine, wind and snow. Each season of the year springs to life and the clever holes on every page create a stunning layered effect.

Toddlers will enjoy getting their hands on this simple, striking and robust board book and learning to recognise the signs of the changing seasons and what it means to both wildlife and nature.

And to add to the journey of discovery, there is the fun of looking out for the little owl who wisely sits out the year in his cosy tree hollow!

The magic of turning over a new leaf…

(Little Tiger, board book, £6.99)

Age from birth:

Botany for Babies and Anatomy for Babies by Jonathan Litton and Thomas Elliott

It’s never too early to score top marks in botany and anatomy!

Baby 101, a fun and playful new board book series from the inventive Little Tiger group, introduces a wide array of educational, non-fiction subjects to babies and toddlers to give them an exciting first experience of learning.

In Botany for Babies, little ones will love discovering all about plants and trees, and what makes them grow. Creatively written by Jonathan Litton, who has a background in science, and featuring the bright and bold illustrations of Thomas Elliott, this appealing and light-hearted book presents essential information about plants and trees through easy-to-understand facts and bright, bold images.

The talented duo also work their magic on Anatomy for Babies which introduces babies and toddlers to the basics about their bodies and what makes them tick. Delivered in an eye-catching format and a whimsical style, the workings of the body are explained with a simple, humorous text and colourful images.

And to make learning even more fun, there is a brilliant lift-the-flap surprise at the end of each book!

So welcome to Baby 101, where big topics are creatively curated for the tiniest tots…

(Caterpillar Books, board book, £5.99 each)