Marvellous maths, fearless girls and gladiator games by various authors - book reviews -

The Language of the Universe: A Visual Exploration of Mathematics
The Language of the Universe: A Visual Exploration of Mathematics

Take a numerical tour through the universe, meet some legendary fairy tale females, head off to a dystopian future, and dance with a free-thinking disco bunny in some shiny new books for children currently hitting the shelves.

Take a numerical tour through the universe, meet some legendary fairy tale females, head off to a dystopian future, and dance with a free-thinking disco bunny in some shiny new books for children currently hitting the shelves.

Age 9 plus:

The Language of the Universe: A Visual Exploration of Mathematics

Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía

If you thought maths was bamboozling, you certainly won’t after a thrilling numerical tour through the universe with exciting science writer Colin Stuart.

Designed to present maths as an exciting visual canvas that opens up the wonders of our world, The Language of the Universe contains nearly 80 pages of scintillating science as we explore the topics of maths in the natural world, physics, chemistry and engineering, space, and technology alongside incredible artwork from Spanish surrealist artist Ximo Abadía.

Presenting the information under four groupings, Stuart and Abadía combine impressive design with exhilaratingly presented content in a giant-sized book that will captivate and inspire youngsters.

From atoms to beehives to the movement of the planets, everything around us is buzzing with maths. So how does this language of numbers, symbols and equations make every single thing in our universe tick like an unseen clock?

Visualise cosmic distances, discover the geometry in nature and marvel at the wonders of technology. Humans have been using numbers for tens of thousands of years and this amazing book helps us to learn about mathematics in a new light as we discover that numbers are like words, pluses and minuses are like full stops and commas, and equations are like sentences.

Stunning surrealist artwork by Abadía meets easy-to-read informative text by Stuart to create highly engaging content that will inspire future engineers, mathematicians and scientists.

This is maths made fun, accessible, inspirational, and visually exciting… now, who would have thought that possible!

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £16.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Lost Fairy Tales: Fearless girls around the world

Isabel Otter and Ana Sender

If you’re fed up with fairy tales that depict girls as shrinking violets and spoilt prima donnas, then turn the pages of this bewitching anthology and meet some fearless, feisty and legendary females!

The Lost Fairy Tales is an empowering collection of twenty overlooked and forgotten fairy tales which have been collected from different cultures around the world, and star strong heroines who take on life with humour, wit, cunning and bravery.

Fairy tales are traditionally stories of daring, magic and adventure, and can be found in every culture around the world, dating back thousands of years. Long before humans discovered how to write things down, stories were dreamt up and told aloud. Some would be remembered and recounted down the years and in this way, they passed down through the generations.

But in past centuries, girls were considered weaker and less intelligent than boys. They were expected to behave well, stay quiet and keep their opinions to themselves, while boys were encouraged to be boisterous and outspoken.

And as the editors of fairy tale anthologies were almost always men, this meant that the stories they passed down invariably featured girls who were vain, weak, jealous or just plain boring! Classic tales like Snow White, Cinderella and Rapunzel featured heroines waiting patiently to be rescued by a man and were definitely not in charge of their own destinies.

So here are girls from cultures all over the world who were allowed to be brave, clever and funny. Meet brave Aurora, a daring and wise young princess who rescues a prince and rules her kingdom as a wise queen, marvel at Thakne, an African tribal chief’s orphaned daughter whose mission impossible is to make shields from the hide of a fearsome dragon, and be awed by little girl from Japan called Maru-me whose strength is greater than the emperor’s famous wrestler.

A handy map shows the origin of stories from around the world, including Germany, Siberia, Japan, Canada, Lesotho, Mexico and Fiji, and Ana Sender’s magical illustrations, full of colour and atmosphere, bring these glorious tales to life and capture the spirit of adventure and the fascinating cultures that lie at the heart of the girls’ courageous deeds.

These are wonderful kick-ass heroines for a new generation of forthright females for whom damsels in distress is a concept from the distant past.

And for children seeking more inspiration, they can turn to the back of the book to enjoy some specially devised ‘thinking points’ for each of the stories as well as fascinating background to the fairy tales and their origin.

The perfect gift to inspire and uplift young adventurers…

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Dino Wars: The Gladiator Games

Dan Metcalf and Aaron Blecha

If exciting action adventures set in a dystopian future where dinosaurs live with humans is your idea of reading heaven, then dive into the fun with Dan Metcalf’s brilliant Dino Wars series.

These thrilling, edge-of-the seat stories, set in a far future in which our world is under threat from extinction, provide addictive adventures but also act as a timely warning about the importance of taking care of our planet, wherever the threats come from.

Dino Wars: The Gladiator Games is the third book in this high-octane series and finds the clock ticking for Adam Caine as he battles to find the last Crystal to shut down the apocalyptic Coda Program.

But when Chloe, Tuppence and their new friend S’Ariah are taken to Rextopia, home of the great T-Rex, the girls will have to face the brutal Gladiator Games, and the boys will have to make the tough choice between saving their friends and getting a Crystal.

Aaron Blecha’s black and white illustrations add extra vitality to a story brimming with danger and thrills, while Metcalf uses an entertaining plot to drive home important messages about diversity, friendship and never giving up.

Top-class reading for young adventurers!

(Maverick Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Shine: Bethany Sings Out

Holly Webb and Monique Dong

Tune up your vocal chords and prepare to sing out loud because those talented girls are ready to ‘shine’ again!

Welcome back to the Shine School for the Performing Arts and the fourth exciting adventure in a sparkling, revamped series of dance, drama, dreams and friendship stories from favourite children’s author Holly Webb.

Dance and drama classes are hugely popular among young children and for many, full-time stage school is the ultimate dream. So step into the limelight and share the captivating ups and downs of stage school and friendships with a talented cast of girls you will love to meet.

Bethany has been keeping a secret from her best friends… she’s attending the Shine School for the Performing Arts on a scholarship since her mum can’t afford to pay for stage school. But with all her homework and the long journey to and from school every day, Bethany is struggling.

Then she’s offered the chance to perform in a backing vocal group at a celebrity charity concert with her favourite singer. Luckily, the school has a boarding house she can stay in so she can juggle all her work. Unluckily, the arrogant, scheming Lizabeth will also be staying in the house...

Worried what her friends will think if they find out about her scholarship, and stressed about her school work, will Bethany be able to find her voice and shine in the concert?

This glittering, perfectly-pitched series, featuring stage, performance and domestic and friendship dramas, is being reissued with gorgeous new covers and redesigned pages, including fabulous, contemporary illustrations by Monique Dong.

Expect wrong notes, rivalries, and plenty of showdowns!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Rescued Puppy and Other Tales: Three Stories in One Book

Holly Webb and Sophy Williams

Much-loved author Holly Webb is back to bewitch and beguile her young readers with three cute and cuddly adventures in one brilliant book in her adorable Animal Stories series which has sold 650,000 copies since the first story hit the shelves in 2006.

Webb has written over 90 books for children and the Animal Stories continue to gain momentum with the release of the Animal Stories app in 2015 and the launch of a fan club on the Animal Stories website.

In the first story, The Rescued Puppy, twins Georgia and Adam take Lucky, their new puppy, on holiday to sunny Cornwall. They are having a wonderful time at the seaside until Lucky gets into trouble on a cliff-top walk. How will the twins rescue him?

In The Lost Puppy, we meet Ruby who loves playing with her puppy Toby and can’t wait to take him for proper walks. But on an outing to the woods, Toby’s curious nature gets the better of him and he runs off in search of adventure. How will Ruby find him?

And in The Secret Puppy, Daisy can’t help falling in love with Barney, the smallest pup at the campsite where her family are staying. Will she find a way to persuade Mum and Dad to let her keep him?

Sophy Williams provides the gorgeous black and white illustrations for this enchanting and gentle series which has captured the hearts of every animal-loving child. And don’t forget to look out for the free app on App Store and Google Play. It’s full of exciting activities, from fantastic games and puzzles to creative colouring and sticker fun.

Perfect for children just starting to read alone, youngsters who love to share a book with mum and dad, and any child who can’t resist the allure of animals.

(Stripes, paperback, £8.99)

Age 3 plus:

Be More Bernard

Simon Philip and Kate Hindley

Don’t be bounced into following the crowd!

That’s the message that speaks loud and clear in a dancing, prancing picture book from Simon Philip and Kate Hindley, the talented author and illustrator team who created the Sainsbury’s Book Award-winning You Must Bring a Hat.

Be More Bernard, a colourful blend of clever storytelling and exquisitely detailed illustrations, stars a free-spirited, free-thinking disco bunny who encourages us all to chase our dreams and embrace our differences.

‘When the other bunnies bounced, I bounced. When they hopped, I hopped. When they slept, I did too. Like them, I dreamed. But MY dreams weren’t the same. They were less… rabbity. More… unusual.’

Bernard has decided that he’s not going to be like all the other bunnies any more. He’s not going to twitch his nose and prick his ears. And while others might dream of carrots, Bernard’s dreams are altogether more... disco! He starts small, but when he finally gets to groove with grace and jive with joy at Bertie and Brenda’s Bunny Ball, Bernard shows the world that being yourself is the very best thing a bunny can be.

Be More Bernard – destined to be a family favourite – features the intricate, brightly colourful illustrations that have made Hindley such a top class artist. Her use of expression and emotion in each character is the perfect match for Philip’s high-octane story which uses humour and energy to convey empowering messages about being yourself and not following the crowd.

Clever, visually appealing and full of wisdom, this is the perfect picture book for young adventurers setting out on their own journey of life!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Let’s All Creep Through Crocodile Creek

Jonny Lambert

Always look before you leap!

What’s that creeping through the crooked creek… could it be a scary crocodile?

Little ones will love helping to spot the hidden crocodiles in this fabulously fun romp from the ever-popular author and illustrator, Jonny Lambert, as a bold, brave (and some would say reckless!) mouse leads his more timid friends on a shortcut journey through the creek.

Let’s all creep through the crooked, creepy creek with Rabbit, Mouse and Tortoise! There will be scratchy thorns and swinging vines, but absolutely no sneaky, snappy crocodiles! But hang on… what’s that knobbly knarly back, those pokey, pointy claws, whippy tails, slimy bodies and scary, starey eyes? Eek! Watch out, Mouse, you should be paying close attention to what’s in front of you, especially when your pals are trying to warning you that something is definitely not right!

Youngsters will love following the clues dropped by the anxious Rabbit and Tortoise, and along the way, they will learn that it’s always wise to keep an eye on what’s going on around you.

Lambert’s simple, gently humorous and cautionary tale reminds young readers that adventures are exciting but only when you are aware of the potential dangers. The snippy, snappy rhymes are perfect for reading aloud and will engage youngsters in the action while the visually exciting and atmospheric illustrations transport us to a world of swampy, sneaky crocodiles, and introduce a range of emotions from fear and trepidation to suspicion and realisation.

Brimming with wisdom, colour, fun and adventure, this is the perfect story to share with anybody who’s scared of crocodiles!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

A Stone Sat Still

Brendan Wenzel

Award-winning US author and illustrator Brendan Wenzel is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to creating memorable children’s books that convey messages far beyond the normal parameters.

Following on from his Caldecott Honor-winning They All Saw a Cat, Wenzel turns his attention to the environment, nature, and animals in this clever and compelling picture book story of a seemingly ordinary stone… a stone that for the animals that use it, is a resting place, a kitchen, a safe haven, and even an entire world.

A Stone Sat Still is an exquisite exploration of perspective, perception, and the passage of time, with an underlying environmental message about climate change that is both timely and poignant.

On each page spread, a different wild creature finds the round rock… chipmunk sits on it I the shadow of the sun, an owl sees it lit up by the moon, seagull breaks a shell on its surface and a snake uses it to sunbathe. And all the time, the waters are rising around the stone until it slips beneath the waves.

With stunning illustrations in cut paper, pencil, collage, and paint, and soothing rhythms that invite reading aloud, A Stone Sat Still is a modern children’s classic from a master storyteller and illustrator, and will enchant readers, provide food for discussion in nurseries and schools, and delight anyone who opens its pages.

(Chronicle Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

My Hair

Hannah Lee and Allen Fatimaharan

And there’s another celebration to enjoy in this stylish and gloriously exuberant debut from an exciting new partnership which emerged from the FAB Prize for undiscovered BAME writers and illustrators.

Author Hannah Lee and illustrator Allen Fatimaharan put their heads together to create this clever and playful rhyming picture book story starring a young black girl who is unsure about how to style her hair for a party.

Lee reveals she was inspired to write My Hair when her niece and nephew were born and she noticed early on that there was a lack of black characters in children’s books. ‘We had to hunt for books that looked like us,’ she says. ‘There’s a euphoria that comes from reading about someone that looks like you; someone has recognised you and you feel like there’s a piece of art in the world that reflects you.’

And this adorable tale certainly helps to fill that glaring gap as we witness our little story book star contemplating the different hairstyles worn by her family, all brought to life by Fatimaharan’s fantastic array of eye-catching illustrations.

Joyous and vibrant, this clever, colourful story captures the excitement of getting ready for a party, as well as celebrating black hair and showcasing a dazzling array of amazing hairstyles.

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

In Every House, on Every Street

Jess Hitchman and Lili La Baleine

Every home is different, and everyone living inside it is different… but each home houses the beating heart of family life.

Little ones will love exploring this rhyming, chiming story which celebrates the diverse landscape of home life and families, and invites youngsters to recognise that although families come in many shapes and sizes, with differing faiths, hobbies, and abilities, the concept of family as warm and nurturing is the same almost the world over.

‘In every house, on every street…There is laughter and tears. There are friends. There is family. And there is love.’

Take a look at the many rooms in a home and enjoy watching the many different ways we make use of that space… having fun baking in the kitchen, giggling round the table in the dining room, chatting in the sitting room, and working through worries at the end of the day in the bathroom.

Jess Hitchman’s fun, rhyming story focuses on the simple joy of doing tasks together, an appealing concept for little ones who enjoy the routines of everyday life, and there’s a stunning final fold-out page with cut-out windows so that children can take a peek into a variety of homes where children are enjoying activities that are familiar to them.

Lili La Baleine’s palette of beautiful pastel shades provides a warmth and cosiness that feels like a loving hug, and there is plenty to see on every spread, ideal for sparking children’s observations and encouraging them to make parallels with their own lives and its meaning to them.

Home is where the heart is in this beautiful book!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller

Kate Read

Watch out for the hungry fox in a stunning counting book that turns learning into a thrilling adventure.

One Fox, which stars a crafty fox on a midnight hunt for the farmyard’s unsuspecting hens, comes from the brilliantly talented debut author and illustrator, Kate Read.

The famished fox with two sly eyes is on the prowl… so the three plump hens had better watch out. But what the fox doesn’t know is that those clucking hens know something the fox doesn’t… there’s safety in numbers! With something different to count in every picture and numbers in both text and numerals, learning numbers from one to ten proves to be more fun than little ones could ever have imagined.

Brimming with atmospheric, close-up illustrations, which capture everything from the scary, moonlit farmyard to the raucous riot of colour as the hens chase away the cunning fox, this is a clever picture that marries comedy, thrills and learning in a glorious melee.

From one famished fox and two sly eyes through three plump hens and four padding paws to seven knocks at the door, ten sharp teeth, one hundred angry hens and one frightened fox, this is a story that will have everyone ‘s feathers flying… with a final flourish of laughter!

(Two Hoots, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

I’m Actually Really Grown Up Now

Maisie Paradise Shearring

Every child loves a party… and one little girl is determined to prove to her parents that contrary to what they might think, she’s actually very grown-up!

I'm Actually Really Grown-Up Now, an irresistibly warm and wry story exploring just what it means to be an adult, comes from award-winning author and illustrator Maisie Paradise Shearring, creator of the much-loved picture book Anna and Otis.

The grown-ups are having a party, and Meena would really love to join in but instead she’s sent to bed. Only grown-ups get to stay up late. When she sneaks out of bed and sees everyone downstairs having so much fun without her, she makes her own plans. And the next morning, Meena makes a very important announcement to her parents: ‘I’m actually really grown-up now!’

But after a lot of fun experimenting with mum’s clothes and hats, going to work and party planning, she soon finds out that being grown-up might not always be as easy – or as much fun – as she had thought!

Shearring, who has a special talent for capturing the bittersweet highs and lows of childhood and the humour to be found in everyday situations, captures the spirit of adventure and discovery that are such an essential part of growing up, alongside an inclusive gallery of illustrations, full of life, colour and comedy.

With its quirky leading lady, a beautiful irony that will not be lost on parents, and its playful, witty meditation on the frustrations of childhood, this is the ideal book to share with your own little party planners!

(Two Hoots, hardback, £11.99)