Earthly wonders, mystery rides and amazing mammals - book reviews

Earthly wonders, mystery rides and amazing mammals
Earthly wonders, mystery rides and amazing mammals

Take a peek inside the workings of our planet, enjoy a full-throttle adventure, meet a crime-solving schoolgirl, and have fun with a sleepy sloth in a colourful selection of books to entertain and inform children this February.

Age 7 plus:

Paper World: Planet Earth by Ruth Symons and Bomboland

Watch geography spring to life at the turn of every page!

This amazing book, packed with ingenious paper-cuts and lift-the-flaps, lets youngsters dig deep beneath the world we live in to discover for themselves the breathtaking geographical and geological details of our rich and diverse planet.

From bubbling volcanoes, rushing rivers and deep sea trenches to dense green jungles, baking hot deserts, vast cave systems, and right down to the boiling hot interior, Planet Earth offers a stunning new way to study the layers and processes of the Earth’s fabric.

Discover how a volcano erupts, why bright gems glitter inside rocks, learn why clouds form, see hot pockets of bubbling magma, and find out how mountains are formed over millions of years as tectonic movements crumple rocks in the Earth’s crust.

Lift up over 30 intriguing flaps, peer through pages, and study the fascinating illustrations and facts on every spread as you travel over the sea, up mountain sides and down into volcanoes to get the inside story of Planet Earth.

With sturdy, board pages, the detailed art of artists and designers from paper-cut studio Bomboland, and a superb factual text by Ruth Symons, this unique novelty book will delight all generations and is sure to find a place on the shelves of both schools and home.

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £15.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell and Flavia Sorrentino

If it’s full-throttle adventure you are after, then hop aboard The Train to Impossible Places and enjoy a truly magical mystery tour.

And the good news is that you don’t need a ticket to ride… just sit back and let your imagination run wild as you encounter amazing people and fantastical places courtesy of one of the most exciting debut children’s authors.

Starring science-mad girl Suzy Smith, a one thousand-and-ten-year-old grumpy troll, a moody brown bear called Ursel (who dyes her fur blonde!) and an undersized post boy in an oversized uniform, The Train to Impossible Places is a full-steam stunner and the first book in what promises to be a terrific series.

It comes from the pen of Welshman P.G. Bell whose thrilling and inventive story was created from his young son’s demand for a new, made-up bedtime story from his dad. Having requested a new instalment every night for a week, the story of Suzy’s journey began to evolve and Bell started writing it down.

The result is a tale destined to become a classic; a rip-roaring adventure full of mystery, magic, goodies, baddies, laughs, thrills, spills… oh, and a science called fuzzics (that’s physics, only fuzzier).

Eleven-year-old Suzy Smith loves science… to be more precise, she loves physics because that’s where the action is. You know where you are with physics even if her classmates look at her as if she is the victim of some terrible affliction.

But knowing about physics doesn’t explain the strange rattling noise that wakes Suzy in the middle of the night. And it certainly has no answer to the gigantic steam train that she finds has crashed in the hallway of her house.

But this is no ordinary train… it’s the Impossible Postal Express, the magical delivery service of the Union of Impossible Places, run by an assortment of droll trolls, including rail engineer Fletch, Stonker the driver with his enormous moustache, and irrepressible hereditary young Postmaster Wilmot.

The exciting news is that the train is now leaving Trollville for the five corners of reality and ‘come rain, shine or meteor shower, the Impossible Postal Express will deliver!’ The not-so-good news is that this is a confusing world where Suzy’s knowledge of the law of physics is turned upside down and trains are powered by exploding fusion bananas.

The really bad news is that Suzy’s first job is to deliver a cursed package to fearsome sorceress Lady Crepuscula. And when the mysterious package begs not to be delivered, Suzy discovers the fate of the Impossible Places might just be in her hands…

Bell delivers an extraordinary, exhilarating and inventive story beautifully illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino… a whistle-stop, action-packed journey in which the spirit of adventure and a spirited girl are the driving forces, and where the impossible really does become possible.

Come rain, shine or meteor shower, don’t miss the ride!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Emily Lime – Librarian Detective: The Book Case by Dave Shelton

Pack your suitcase, sharpen your pencils and try not to snigger too loudly because you’re off to St Rita’s School for Spirited Girls!

Author and illustrator Dave Shelton, creator of the slapstick comedy noir comic strip Good Dog, Bad Dog – as seen in the DFC, the Guardian and the Phoenix – is on laugh-out-loud form in this crazy new mystery caper series starring a crime-solving genius schoolgirl with a penchant for berets and baddies.

Award-winning Shelton is himself proving to be a ‘comic’ genius with his irrepressibly exuberant and vibrant illustrations proving a big hit with youngsters who like their adventure stories to come with lashings of comic-style pictures and knockabout fun.

A cross between Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers and Famous Five books, plus the anarchy of St Trinian’s, Emily Lime’s adventures are set in a bygone age of gymslips but with the added enjoyment of an intriguing mystery and a fine line in humour.

Daphne Blakeway is off to St Rita’s, an exclusive girls’ boarding school. It sounds awfully respectable and Daphne herself is awfully respectable too. She loves to read and is delighted to be offered the chance to interview for librarian’s assistant’s assistant immediately upon arrival.

But it turns out nothing is quite what you would expect at St Rita’s… the building looks like something from a ghost story, you can’t trust a padlock if the fourth graders are around, the floor has holes from cannonballs and the smell in the dining room is disgustingly foul.

And what’s more, Daphne discovers that the school’s large and elaborate library has hardly any books… and the librarian doesn’t really exist.

But there is a librarian’s assistant, Emily Lime, a small, bossy girl in wonky glasses and a beret. And she is really a crime-solving genius who is looking for a new assistant of her own. Fortunately, book-smart Daphne is just the girl for the job because mystery and intrigue are about to strike St Rita’s and Emily is going to need all the help she can get as they set out to solve a break-in at the library and catch a dastardly villain.

Shelton pulls out all the stops as he dishes up lots of old school nostalgia, two super-sleuthing girls, their adorably droll and dishevelled pal George (just imagine being the only boy in the school!) and a cast of equally outlandish characters.

With rib-tickling humour, an intriguing mystery, and Shelton’s own gallery of brilliant black-and-white illustrations, the school day flies when you’re having fun!

This book is published on March 7.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

A Witch Come True by James Nicol

In the final book of James Nicol’s enchanting Apprentice Witch trilogy, clever young witch Arianwyn faces one of the busiest spells of her action-packed career.

Fifteen-year-old Arianwyn is now a fully qualified witch but learning that magic is never easy. The war is over and she has discovered the secret of the quiet glyphs, but her troubles are far from over.

Her day-to-day work as her home town Lull’s witch is proving to be very tricky… winter has set in, bringing bad weather, ice imps and befuddling Yule traditions. But when Arianwyn’s grandmother is abducted by the traitor on the Council, our witch faces her greatest challenge yet.

What really makes a witch come true? Our lovable heroine is about to find out. The Hex has driven all sorts of supernatural creatures out of the Great Wood, some harmless and others positively dark. The Spellorium has never been so busy!

There’s magic aplenty in this sparkling series which has certainly cast a spell over young readers. Nicol has created a wonderfully rich and detailed world full of fantasy, fun and truly spellbinding characters.

Tingling with excitement but still bearing Nicol’s trademark brand of warmth, cosiness and humanity, these rip-roaring, retro-style adventures all offer that blend of danger, mystery and magic which makes them so irresistible to young readers.

This book is published on March 7.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Explorer: Mammals! and Explorer: Plants! by Nick Forshaw and William Exley

You would be hard pressed to find a more original way to journey through millions of years of natural history than in the pages of these stunning, illustrated fact-filled books.

Explorer: Mammals! and Explorer: Plants! are the latest super-clever books in the amazing Explorer series developed by What on Earth Publishing in partnership with London’s Natural History Museum.

This inventive series features four titles which give youngsters a fantastic close-up look at dinosaurs, bugs, plants and mammals, with each book including a spectacular, almost two-metre long, illustrated timeline to put each topic in its evolutionary framework.

The books have been developed alongside experts from the museum. Nick Forshaw, a British author with a love of the natural world, provides the text while William Exley’s spectacular and intricately detailed illustrations bring nature to life in all its extraordinary colour, detail and diversity.

In Mammals! and Plants! we join super-sleuth, senior librarian and time explorer extraordinaire Ada Osprey – aka Agent Osprey – of the Eagle-Eyed Explorer Club as she leaves no stone unturned to uncover the mysterious world of plants, and the fascinating history of the animal kingdom’s fierce and friendly mammals.

Follow the intrepid Osprey as she files a top secret report on the entire history of mammals, travelling back millions of years in time to look at ancient beasts, like the huge, scaly, lizard-like Dimetrodon with its snout full of sharp teeth, right through to creatures of the present day such as huge elephants, lemurs that are only found on the island of Madagascar, and mountain goats which can withstand the freezing cold of the Himalayan mountains.

And in Plants!, we again meet up with Agent Osprey as she uncovers some of the wonderful plants that have survived and thrived down the centuries. Discover early forms of plant life that lived under the sea – cyanobacteria which were made up of one single cell, lived in the ocean and discovered a unique way to stay alive – and marvel at how plants have constantly adapted to new environments.

By delving into the timelines and reading Osprey’s fascinating journals, young explorers can discover for themselves how creatures and plants managed to evolve, adapt and thrive.

Each title in this exciting series is packed with information and illustrations, a multiple choice quiz to test the knowledge of family and friends, and the fantastic pull-out and detachable timeline which is perfect for hanging on a bedroom, library or classroom wall.

The perfect way to turn your young naturalists into experts!

These two new books in the Explorer series are published on March 5.

(What on Earth Publishing, hardback, £9.99 each)

Age 7 plus:

Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire: Spook-tacular Surprise by Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

The stage is set for a new adventure starring reluctant vampire Vlad… and it looks like the final curtain call has a happy, batty ending!

Popular children’s author Anna Wilson works her special brand of black magic in this entertaining and wonderfully witty illustrated series which stars a fangtastic vampire anti-hero who is not only short of his parents’ ‘scary’ genes but is afraid of the dark as well.

Vlad is the youngest member of the Impaler family of Misery Manor, the bravest vampires that ever lived, but unfortunately Vlad isn’t brave at all. Far from enjoying his twilight status, he’d rather be secretly attending human school where has become friends with the adorable Minxie.

In this funny and spooky new adventure, Vlad finally has his Bat Licence but his mother now wants him to have super-strength… or it’s off to the Black Tower with him! If only he could show her how funny he is in the school play with Minxie. But he has to keep his human friends a secret from his parents, and being a vampire secret from the humans. Then, when he suddenly turns into a bat at school, all his secrets are revealed...

Brimming with gentle humour, madcap escapades, warm friendships and affection, these funny but reassuring stories of a vampire boy who wishes he was human provide a comical twist to some important issues for children, like making new friends and struggling to fit in.

Talented illustrator Kathryn Durst brings Vlad and his marvellously mixed-up adventures to life while Wilson has the devil of a time dishing up bat-loads of fun with an extraordinary boy trying to find where he belongs in an ordinary world.

Ideal for middle grade readers looking for fun and adventure with a tantalising Transylvanian twist…

This book is published on March 7.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 4 plus:

I Am So Clever by Mario Ramos

Stealing Grandma’s nightdress takes the Big Bad Wolf on a trip to nowhere in a warm and whimsical picture book from one of Belgium’s celebrated writers and illustrators.

I Am So Clever sees the return of Mario Ramos’ vain but accident-prone wolf who delighted children and adults with his madcap and disastrous adventures in I Am So Strong and I Am So Handsome.

This time the wolf is all dressed up in Grandma’s nightie… but it doesn’t have quite the effect he was hoping for when he sets out to eat both Gran and Red Riding Hood!

The big bad wolf is hungry and on today’s menu is Grandma, with Red Riding Hood for dessert. But no one is home at Grandma’s house, only a nightdress lying on the bed. The wolf puts on the nightie and sets off to see what he can catch dressed as Grandma. And along comes Red Riding Hood. She looks clever, but the wolf knows who is smartest and he has a plan to outwit her. What he doesn’t yet know is that this little girl is not so easily fooled. And the wolf soon discovers the unexpected hazards in wearing a frilly nightie in the woods.

Ramos’ eye-catchingly bold and vibrant illustrations bring new life to the classic fairy tale which is turned upside down (almost literally in the case of the big bad wolf!) as the small but exceedingly quick-witted Red Riding Hood easily outsmarts her old enemy.

Enjoy meeting some of the other big names from the world of fairy tale as Ramos rolls out lots of fun and frolics in the deep dark woods!

(Gecko Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Everyone Walks Away by Eva Lindström

When everyone walks away, can lonely Frank tempt back his lost friends?

Everyone Walks Away, a multi-layered picture book story about loneliness and belonging, is the creation of Swedish author and illustrator Eva Lindström, an artist with an international reputation who has been previously nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

Frank feels lonely when everyone walks away. Tilly, Paul and Milan are having fun. It’s just the same as always. But once home, Frank cries into a pot and makes a special jam made from his tears, with sugar added and cooked and stirred for hours. His next plan is to invite all the others over for afternoon tea. Maybe, just maybe, they will come this time…

Colour-washed illustrations and a simple text combine to send out messages to children about exclusion, and the importance of sharing and enjoying playtime with other children.

(Gecko Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age one plus:

Loved To Bits by Teresa Heapy and Katie Cleminson

Love is… a child’s favourite toy!

Cuddle up close with this gorgeous picture book which is guaranteed to warm the heart of every parent… and capture the imagination of every child.

Inspired by the true story of a boy and his teddy bear, this memorable tale is a celebration of early love, the spirit of adventure and that eternal affection for our battered first childhood toy.

Teresa Heapy, author of the multi-award-winning Very Little series, dedicates her rhyming tale to her son Ben who used to swing his Stripy Ted round and round his head… until the arms and legs fell off!

‘He knows my hopes, my secret schemes,

My stories, wishes, fears and dreams.’

Join a small boy and his beloved bear, Stripy Ted, on their lifetime of swashbuckling adventures together. They dream, play, hide, explore, fight monsters, laugh and so much more. But, of course, they don’t escape unscathed and Stripy Ted picks up a lot of war wounds along the way. Worn out and battered, poor Stripy Ted isn’t quite the handsome bear he used to be. But fortunately for the bear, the little boy wouldn’t change him for the world!

Children will love watching Stripy Ted’s amazing adventures on land and sea and his slow transformation from a handsome, golden-striped bear into a scruffy teddy with no stripes, no arms, no legs and just a worn ball of body and head.

Heapy’s beautiful, poignant and yet joyously playful rhyming text is brought to life by Katie Cleminson’s stunning, bold, colour-washed illustrations which capture all the exuberance and warmth of the story.

The perfect cuddle-up-and-share story for bedtime!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon

Playing in the garden can sometimes lead to the most amazing discoveries!

Award-winning author and illustrator Frann Preston-Gannon is back to delight the very youngest readers with a beautiful board book edition of her special picture book starring a sloth that just doesn’t want to wake up.

When a group of children find a sloth snoring away in a tree in their garden, they have no idea what animal it is and set off to find out. While the two older children dream up increasingly outrageous possibilities, from an astronaut and a pirate to a space creature, the youngest little girl wisely turns to books and a globe and discovers what it really is and where it lives. But how can the children help the sloth to get home if it won’t wake up?

Sloth Slept On is a funny, clever and inventive way to introduce little children to one of nature’s most unusual creatures. Through a simple narrative, full of visual clues as to how the sloth arrived in their garden, the children’s imaginations take off on a flight of glorious fantasy as the sloth sleeps on.

With vibrant illustrations, full of life, humour and colour, and perfectly capturing the curious youngsters’ spirit of adventure and discovery, this is a sturdy, informative and entertaining addition to any little one’s board book library.

This book is published on March 7.

(Pavilion Children’s Books, board book, £6.99)