Talking animals, jungle capers and scheming pirates - book reviews

Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig and Emily Gravett
Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig and Emily Gravett
Share this article

Animals of all shapes and sizes take starring roles in a bumper selection of new children’s books that are guaranteed to put some much-needed sunshine into June.

Age 8 plus:

Evie and the Animals

Matt Haig and Emily Gravett

Well, well, well… it seems the famous Dr Dolittle isn’t the only person who can talk to the animals!

Get ready to meet some brilliant characters – both animal and human – in an enchanting and inventive new chapter book from the dream team partnership of storytelling genius Matt Haig and animal illustration magician Emily Gravett.

Evie and the Animals is a heartwarming and imaginative story about daring to be different, growing up and staying true to yourself which manages to blend the soaraway magic of adventure with some real-life environmental issues.

Eleven-year-old Evie has a talent… a super-talent that makes her very different to her friends! In fact, it’s a secret superpower which lets her understand and talk to animals. She can hear the thoughts of an elephant, and make friends with a dog and a sparrow. The only problem is, this talent, says her dad, is dangerous… very dangerous.

When she frees the school rabbit, Kahlo, from her tiny hutch and lands herself in big trouble, Evie promises her dad she will never talk to animals again and for a whole year she keeps her talent a secret.

But after a face-to-face encounter with a lion, things start to go very wrong. Her dad – and every animal in town – is now in danger and Evie is determined to save them. But first, she must find the truth of her own past and to do that, she must battle a mysterious man with a talent more powerful than any other. As time runs out, she must seek help from the animals, and finally dare to be herself…

This clever, gloriously entertaining and contemporary take on classics like Dr Dolittle and Matilda sees Haig on his best storytelling form, and Gravett’s gallery of adorable black-and-white illustrations bring the diverse cast of characters to glorious life.

Unmissable reading for middle-graders!

(Canongate, hardback, £16.99)

Age 7 plus:

King Coo: The Curse of the Mummy’s Gold

Adam Stower

Author and illustrator Adam Stower swings back into action this month with the second book in his exhilarating adventure series starring the amazing King Coo… a girl with a spear, a pet wombat, and a beard!

King Coo – a hilarious and quirky female Tarzan for a new generation of young readers – first appeared two years ago and her inventive mind and jungle antics brought a wealth of fun, laughter and marvellous mishaps.

And this second adventure delivers another exciting, all-action story, full of chaotic capers and hilarious adventures, and all brought to life by Stower’s entertaining and energetic black-and-white illustrations.

Ben Pole’s world was turned upside down when he met King Coo… a tree-swinging, wombat-owning, trap-building, fully-bearded and fearless girl who subverts everything Ben thought he knew about girls!

Now it’s the start of a new school year and Ben is back in trouble. A band of burglars and an ancient mystical curse have brought mayhem. It’s up to Ben, Coo, and her wombat Herbert to save the day, but will they defeat the ninja burglars, overcome the curse and catch the Midnight Mob? But first, will Ben even survive breakfast?

This gloriously anarchic story is perfect for reluctant readers who like their books to come packed with eye-catching illustrations and miles of smiles, but Stower also imparts wise messages about being brave and believing in yourself.

Hair-raising adventures for both girls and boys!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Hideaway Deer

Holly Webb and James Brown

The much-loved author of over one hundred children’s books, Holly Webb knows a thing or two about what youngsters love… animals!

Creator of the Animal Stories series which has become a long-standing favourite with young readers, Webb has turned her writing talents to a new illustrated series of heartwarming, standalone wildlife stories full of adventure and drama.

When Lola moves house she can’t help feeling sad to leave her old friends and life behind. She has always been shy and worries it will be hard to make friends at her new school. But she needn’t have worried because it’s not all scary.

Lola loves her new home with its huge, rambling garden and the deer that sometimes wander in through the broken fence. Then one day she comes across a fawn which seems to be in trouble. Lola is determined to do everything she can to help the terrified little deer, but will she be able to do it on her own?

This endearing tale of new beginnings, new friendships, conservation and the rewards and delights of the natural world is imbued with Webb’s natural warmth and affinity for children, and is beautifully illustrated throughout by James Brown.

Perfectly pitched for youngsters who are starting to read chapter books, and a joy for animal lovers of all ages.

Published on June 13.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Jolley-Rogers and the Pirate Piper

Jonny Duddle

Rats, more rats… and scheming pirates!

Well shiver me timbers, Jonny Duddle, the multi-talented ‘king of the pirates,’ is setting sail once more with his bestselling Jolley-Rogers series… and there’s trouble and treachery on the horizon.

Pirate antics would seem to be in Duddle’s blood… it was a year spent working on a square-rigger vessel, combined with his work as a concept artist on the Pirates of the Caribbean computer game, that inspired him to create his highly successful debut picture book, The Pirate Cruncher.

So get ready for lots of swashbuckling giggles in this hilarious, anarchic new chapter in the not-so-dull life of the coastal town of Dull-on-Sea where pirates and danger are only ever a full tide away, and three plucky youngsters are always left to save the day.

Evil pirate Captain Horatio Rattus has a devious plan and it involves a boatload of rats… hundreds of them! And one morning shortly after his scheme swings into action, the residents of Dull-on-Sea wake to find that their town is overrun with an infestation of rats. Big rats, small rats, fierce rats, hungry rats.

Just when everyone is at their wits’ end, a nautical stranger who plays the pipe turns up and offers to get rid of the rodent problem… for a fee. But once the rats have gone, the greedy Mayor Carrot refuses to pay so the Pirate Piper plays an enchanted tune and leads the children away. It’s up to Matilda, Jim Lad and fiddle-playing Nugget to save their friends!

Waterstones Prize-winning Duddle’s all-action, sea salt-scented new Jolley-Rogers adventure comes in a small, chunky and fabulously illustrated chapter book which is a delight to look at, and a fun-filled reading experience from start to finish.

The perfect read for ocean-goers and landlubbers!

Published on June 13.

(Templar Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Missing Bookshop (Colour Fiction)

Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman

Everyone loves a good story and here’s a book that celebrates not just storytelling but the shops that put books at the heart of our communities.

The Missing Bookshop is the debut book from award-winning bookseller, Katie Clapham, and is published in perfect time for Independent Bookshop Week from June 15-22 June, part of the Books Are My Bag campaign, run by the Booksellers Association to promote independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland.

A gorgeous blend of captivating storytelling and eye-catching illustration, the book is the latest title in the Little Tiger Group’s Colour Fiction series, beautiful picture books made for in-betweenies who find picture books too babyish and middle grade books too hard.

These beautifully produced books, with their sturdy hardbacks, simple but enchanting stories and highly illustrated, glossy pages, are ideal for bridging the gap between picture books and chapter books for newly independent young readers.

Clapham, who has run the much-loved, independent bookshop, Storytellers Inc, for almost a decade, has drawn on her own experiences to create this charming new adventure about the power of books and the importance of local bookshops and booksellers who work with passion to share their love of stories.

Milly loves going to story time at her local bookshop. Mrs Minty is a walking, talking encyclopaedia of book knowledge and can pick the perfect story for every occasion… tales of mischievous children and faraway lands, magical beasts and daring adventures. But the bookshop is getting old and creaky, just like Mrs Minty herself. And then one day Milly arrives to find the shop has gone. What has happened to Mrs Minty and her irreplaceable bookshop?

Kirsti Beautyman’s rich and evocative illustrations bring life and vivid colour to a poignant, warm and uplifting story which is guaranteed to find a special place in the hearts of readers both young and old.

Brilliant books to read, collect and treasure!

Published on June 13.

(Stripes, hardback, £7.99 each)

Age 5 plus:

Little Dolphin Rescue

Rachel Delahaye

Share the magic with a little girl whose swimming lesson at the local pool turns into a thrilling adventure in the sparkling Indian Ocean.

Little Dolphin Rescue is the second book in an exciting series of gentle stories for younger children by former journalist Rachel Delahaye. Readers follow Fliss on her action-packed adventures to save wild animals in danger. Each story comes with gorgeous black and white illustrations and contains a subtle educational element, teaching children about the species of animal and the environment featured in the book.

Each adventure in the series is set in a distant location around the world, transporting readers to amazing new places. Here we go in at the deep end to meet dazzling fish, sea snails and adorable dolphins.

Fliss, who dreams of becoming a vet, loves animals and will do anything to save them. Join her on her adventures to save wild animals in danger. A swimming lesson takes an exciting turn when Fliss is magically whisked away to the Indian Ocean. There she finds a young dolphin in trouble and she knows she has to help. But she’s scared of deep water, and who knows what other animals there might be out there! Can Fliss face her fears and save her new friend?

Little Dolphin Rescue combines a lively, heartwarming adventure with recognisable real-life issues told from a child’s perspective, resulting in a captivating story perfectly pitched for youngsters just starting chapter book reading… and anyone who is wild about animals!

Published on June 13.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Big Stink

Lucy Freegard

A cheeky little mouse kicks up a very big stink when he tries to steal the most valuable piece of cheese in town…

Author and illustrator, Lucy Freegard, is on her wittiest and most wonderful form in a brilliantly funny new picture book which follows the adventures and misadventures of a misbehaving mouse.

Charlie, a notorious thief who is obsessed with cheese (he even watches cheese videos on his computer!) is a mouse on a nefarious mission. Ever since he was little, he has been in trouble with the law. He has pinched Parmesan, crept off with Camembert and robbed Roquefort but now Charlie is planning his biggest mission yet… to steal a cheesy sculpture, called The Stinker, from The Museum of Art.

After a hair-raising break-in – creeping past cameras, dodging guards and avoiding gates – he reaches his stinky prize but canny cat, Officer Rita, is soon on his scent. Will Charlie get away with it this time, or will Rita sniff him out?

Freegard, who freely admits that she enjoys drawing animals that look like toddlers and making them do silly things, delivers a tasty dish that all the family will enjoy as this clever and comical cat-and-mouse detective story ends on a ‘high’ note!

With a gallery of colourful illustrations full of child appeal, and a story that will have parents laughing too, The Big Stink is destined to be a family favourite.

(Pavilion Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Goodnight World

Nicola Edwards and Hannah Tolson

Wan ān, buona note, gute nacht and shubh raatri … there are many ways to say goodnight and here are just some of them!

Cosy up at bedtime with this intriguing, calming journey through a wealth of world languages as little ones share a gentle, rhyming wind-down to a busy, active day.

When the day’s at an end, up to bed we will go,

The sky becomes dusky and so the night grows.

When the bright golden sun sheds the last of its light,

We turn to each other and we say, ‘Goodnight!’

Youngsters will love listening to and learning how to say goodnight in a variety of languages from Mandarin, Russian and Italian to Finnish, Swahili, Arabic and German. There is a helpful pronunciation guide with each foreign word, and an amazing cross-section of children and their parents preparing for bedtime.

Nicola Edwards’ gentle, rhyming verse is perfectly pitched and paced for settling young children to sleep, and is paired with Hannah Tolson’s warm and appealing illustrations which celebrate the diversity of language and people from around the globe.

A sweet dreams bedtime book wherever you are!

Published on June 13.

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Trains, Boats and Planes

William Bee

William Bee is just buzzing with excitement… the man who loves vehicles is back and this time he’s showing us his amazing collection of trains, boats and planes.

In his first book, William introduced little ones to his incredible trucks and now little transport enthusiasts are treated to a trio of delights… trains, boats and planes.

Brimming with pages of eye-catching vehicles in all their wonderful detail, this marvellous mix of fun and facts is proving irresistible to young readers who have plenty to spot as they make an exciting whistle-stop tour of William’s collection.

Each double-page spread is packed with beautiful, graphic full-colour illustrations and there is plenty of humorous detail to spot along the journey plus signals, signage, logos and lights to explore.

From a steam engine to a super-fast bullet train, a biplane to a jump jet, a hovercraft to a submarine, and the ultimate travel vehicle – a space rocket – this manual of machines and engines is destined to be a favourite with kids who love transport.

Marvel at the jump jet which can take off vertically, a First World War fighter plane that can perform amazing stunts, a chug-along steam locomotive, a mini submarine, a speedboat (which is occasionally stolen by Sparky the dog!), and take off with William’s super-powered space rocket!

Laugh along with the comical cone family who seem to be more of a hindrance than a help and enjoy mischievous madcap Sparky’s antics. Perfect for every child fascinated by amazing vehicles that can fly, float, dive underwater, travel on tracks and blast off into outer space, this is engine-powered fun for your own little dynamos!

(Pavilion Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

I Really Want to Win

Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti

Everyone’s a winner when it comes to top picture book team Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti!

And the talented author and illustrator duo are on another winning streak with this enchanting follow-up to their lip-smackingly delicious I Really Want the Cake which won the hearts of children and parents two years ago.

Blending Philip’s wonderful rhyming text – full of fun, joy and down-to-earth common sense – with Gaggiotti’s gallery of big, bold illustrations, young readers meet up again with our playful little heroine.

And this time, she is determined that she is going to win all the events at school sports day. The problem is that winning isn’t as easy as it looks. She doesn’t win the running race or the tug of war… and she can’t even win a game of hide-and-seek. But maybe winning isn’t really the point? Sometimes, it’s taking part and making friends with your rivals that really counts!

There is so much to enjoy in this engaging picture book… the sense of youthful exuberance and optimism, the delightful illustrations, and the important messages about learning to be both a winner and a loser. Great stuff!

Published on June 13.

(Templar Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Harris Finds His Feet

Catherine Rayner

A decade ago, talented author and illustrator Catherine Rayner struck gold with her enchanting picture book story of a little hare who sets out on a journey to find his own feet… and discover the wonders of the world.

And to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Harris Finds His Feet, the timeless classic which won the prestigious CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal in 2009, publishers Little Tiger have created a brand new board book which captures all the magic and mood of the original.

This beautiful book, with its sturdy, durable pages ideal for little hands, and gentle messages about growing up and becoming independent, is set to become a favourite all over again as we join Harris and his Grandad on a coming-of-age odyssey.

Harris was a very small hare with very big feet. ‘Why do I have such enormous feet, Grandad?’ Harris sighed. So Grandad shows Harris how to hop high into the sky, to climb to the tops of the mountains, and to run very fast. Harris not only learns about the world around him, but also the importance of finding his own feet to create his own adventures...

The magic of Rayner’s fresh, honeyed and painterly illustrations, and the poignancy of the loving bond between a little hare and his grandfather, spring to glorious life again as a new generation of youngsters learn to fall in love with Harris.

A stunning gift edition of a childhood classic…

Published on June 13.

(Little Tiger, board book, £6.99)

Age one plus:

There’s a Spider in my Soup

Megan Brewis

We’re all told not to break the rules… but sometimes they are made to be broken!

Join a naughty little spider as she swings high and low in her search for adventure, and then ends up in the soup, in a super, multi-coloured and imaginative picture book from author and illustrator Megan Brewis.

Little Spider loves swinging from her web, even though Mum and Dad Spider have warned her not to do it. But when Mum and Dad have a snooze one afternoon, she swings into action and lands in Mr Moustache’s soup! Fortunately, Mr Moustache and his cat are happy to rescue Little Spider and what’s even better, the adventure has given her an opportunity to make new friends and do something daring that now the whole family can enjoy.

This playful and endearing story carries positive messages about learning through your own experiences and breaching barriers, even if it does mean breaking the rules… and the web! Brewis’ distinctive artwork, which is inspired by her love of pattern, uses hand-stamped and stencilled shapes in combination with collage to bring her story to life.

With sound effects to imitate and repeat, this gorgeous book is accessible to little ones, full of the spirit of adventure and encourages everyone to be kind.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Lula and the Sea Monster

Alex Latimer

There’s magic in the air – and in the sea – in a beautiful and thoughtful new picture book from South African author and illustrator Alex Latimer.

As the fight to save our environment takes centre stage, this clever and creative story features one little girl’s battle to save her seaside home from the bulldozers when they arrive to make way for a huge new highway.

Lula lives in a house next to the beach with her family. She loves looking for things washed up on the beach and watching the creatures that live in the rock pools. But when they are told they must leave their home to make way for a coastal highway, Lula is desperate to protect the beach and its wildlife but how will a small girl like her be able to do it? But then a chance encounter with a tiny but magical creature changes everything…

Latimer’s evocative and meditative picture book celebrates the relationship between humans and nature, and the power that children possess to focus adult minds and help make a difference to our world.

With vivid, brightly coloured and bold illustrations that reflect the bright light of the seaside, this is a charming story full of warmth, wisdom and important messages.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

The Story of Rock and The Story of Rap

Nicolas Edwards and Lindsey Sagar

Move over all those traditional nursery rhymes and make room for some new kids on the block!

Budding little rockers and rappers will be doing some serious rocking, rolling and rapping when they get their hands on these adorable board books which introduce them to the big names who helped to transform the music charts.

In The Story of Rock, we meet up with the rockers that started it all… Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Queen, Tina Turner and David Bowie. Learn how this powerful and passionate style of music has resonated down through the generations and thrilled millions of listeners along the way.

And in The Story of Rap, youngsters can lay down a baby beat and learn all about the history of rap! From Grandmaster Flash to Kendrick Lamar, rap has shaped generations and brought a voice to the voiceless. Bop along with the greats in this super, sassy book that introduces little ones to the rappers that started it all. But parents be warned… this book may cause toddlers to develop excessive amounts of swagger!

A jaunty, verse style of narration carries the reader through the pages alongside bright, colourful and quirky illustrations of the well-known musicians. So rockers get ready to rock and practise your best air guitar, and rappers get ready for the beat and drop the mic.

Boogie time for all the family!

Published on June 13.

(Caterpillar Books, board books, £5.99 each)