Book review: Perfect adventures, secret cooking and wild mazes

A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan
A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan

Summer fun just got better with the arrival of a sunshine collection of new children’s books.

Visit a town where everybody is frighteningly perfect, dine out with a group of young cooks, help save the world from evil aliens or follow the amazing journeys of some of the world’s most fascinating animal migrants.

Age 9 plus:

A Place Called Perfect

Helena Duggan

Nobody’s perfect... but exactly the opposite appears to be true in a place called Perfect.

Put on your rose-tinted specs and view the world through the eyes of exciting new author Helena Duggan in a thrilling and original debut novel that delivers a fantastical, eye-popping adventure.

A graphic designer and illustrator, Duggan reveals that the inspiration for this offbeat, creepily addictive and excitingly imaginative story was Kilkenny, her medieval, haunted home city in the south of Ireland.

Brimming with darkness and light, chills and thrills, magic and menace, this action-packed, utterly enchanting story fulfils every must-have ingredient for a classic adventure story.

Ten-year-old Violet Brown never wanted to move to Perfect but when her father is offered a job he can’t possibly refuse at the local opticians, she is unwilling to be thrust into a town full of overly obliging rose-tinted spectacle wearers.

Who wants to live in a town where everyone has to wear glasses to stop them going blind? And who wants to be neat and tidy and perfectly behaved all the time? Violet soon discovers there is something weird going on in the town but now her own eyesight is deteriorating, she keeps hearing voices and her mother is acting as strangely as the other residents.

Lonely and confused, Violet vows to discover the secret at the heart of Perfect but then her dad disappears. It’s only when she meets the invisible orphan Boy that she realises that her dad is not the only person to have vanished and that the mysterious Watchers are guarding a perfectly creepy secret.

With the help of Boy and a little imagination, can Violet save her family?

Violet proves herself to be a feisty, determined heroine, bravely seeking out the truth about her malevolent enemies and their scary secrets wherever that might take her.

Her willingness to go where the cowering adults fear to tread sends out a subtle and inspirational message to young readers about the power that lies within us all to think outside the box, tackle danger and face up to those who would do us harm through bullying, intimidation or threats.

With its whimsical humour, dark mystery and exhilarating escapes, A Place Called Perfect is a brilliant debut and the good news is that Duggan is already at work on another perfectly creepy adventure!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Secret Cooking Club: Confetti and Cake

Laurel Remington

Lawyer-cum-author Laurel Remington tickled everybody’s taste buds two years ago with The Secret Cooking Club, a brilliant debut novel that won the Times /Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition.

Bubbling over with food, fun and friendship, this brilliant story for the internet generation cooked up a storm with young readers who fell for Remington’s delicious combination of cupcakes, cool blogging adventures and a sprinkling of first love.

And now baker and blogger extraordinaire Scarlett Cooper is back with her recipes, romances and family problems in another chapter of her incredible new life as an internet star.

When 12-year-old Scarlett became the star of her mum’s popular blog, it left her the butt of school jokes and eager to stay out of the spotlight. But one evening, she found a gorgeous kitchen in the house next door, left empty by an elderly neighbour in hospital. As Scarlett baked, she started to transform her life, discovering new friends and forming an online blog called the Secret Cooking Club.

Now Scarlett’s own blog has found success beyond her wildest dreams. A TV show is on the cards and the Secret Cooking Club has several new members. What’s more, her mum is getting married to their next door neighbour, MP Emory Kruffs, and Scarlett is baking the wedding cake. Everything is perfect ... or is it? Her estranged dad arrives in town unannounced, and Scarlett’s friends say fame has gone to her head. As the wedding approaches, she has much more on her mind than the perfect bake...

Brimming with warmth, humanity and the magic ingredients of love, food and friendship, this engaging story is not just a delicious cookery concoction but a sensitively written novel which tackles contemporary family issues with wit, wisdom and understanding.

Perfect for aspiring young cooks, adventure lovers and blogging fans...

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Pet Defenders: Escape from Planet Bogey

Gareth P. Jones and Steve May

What are our pets doing when we’re not around… saving the world from evil aliens!

Welcome back to the ani-madness of Gareth P. Jones and Steve May’s outrageously funny Pet Defenders, an unlikely but daringly dynamic cat and dog duo who work together for the good of mankind and pet-kind.

The Pet Defenders are secret agents with a difference. The Earth’s safety is their primary goal; they must defend it at all costs. The second imperative is to protect humans from the truth, and that isn’t always easy.

These madcap secret agents are on their third anarchic adventure and this time they have picked the worst kind of enemy… ruthless Snot Snatchers from Planet Bogey in the galaxy of XS Mucus, a fearsome foe not be sneezed at.

Animals are disappearing from Nothington-on-Sea and the Pet Defenders suspect alien activity. Secret agents Biskit and Mitzy start investigating and their search lands them to a horribly slimy world where they are soon caught up in the Planet Bogey Games.

Biskit suspects the contest might hold the key to finding his missing partner, Champ. Can our heroes win the game? And what’s more, can they get back home afterwards? To return to Earth, our two intrepid heroes need to win the Wild Alien Reality Show, a very sticky challenge for Biskit and Mitzy!

Packed with laugh-out-loud comedy, out-of-this-world adventures, May’s zany illustrations and stories positively bubbling with Jones’ energy, imagination and irreverent sense fun, these full-on adventures are ideal reading for all young mischief makers.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Animazes

Katie Haworth and Melissa Castrillón

Follow the journeys of the world’s most fascinating animal migrants in this beautifully created and illustrated book of mazes.

Many animals – both great and small – make incredible journeys to migrate. Some travel by sea and some by air, some travel through ice and some across deserts. Some, like reindeer, migrate to find food. Others, like Christmas Island red crabs, travel to find the right environment to help the next generation survive.

Inquisitive youngsters can trace the incredible journeys of 14 very different animals by following the mazes with their finger and learning all sorts of fascinating facts along the way. Can you find a safe path for the wildebeest and trace a rockhopper penguin’s trail up the slippery cliffs?

And did you know that humpback whales are some of the furthest travelling mammals in the world? They swim thousands of miles to give birth to their calves in the warm seas near the equator. Arctic terns fly from the Arctic to Antarctica and back again every year, teacup-sized ruby-throated hummingbirds make a dangerous journey over the Gulf of Mexico and one hundred million Monarch butterflies fly south to California and Mexico every winter.

Katie Haworth digs out the fascinating facts and Melissa Castrillón provides the intricate illustrations and stunning twisting, turning mazes which let young readers follow these incredible migrations.

Packed with detail, interactive fun and colour, Animazes opens up an exciting world of animal migration and reveals the amazing obstacles and distances these creatures encounter in their battle to survive and breed.

A thrilling, interactive walk through the wildest corners of our planet…

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Wilfred and Olbert’s Totally Wild Chase

Lomp

Take a walk on the wild side this summer with warring Wilfred and scheming Olbert!

No stone is left unturned and no jungle animal undisturbed in this amazing journey of discovery with two budding and battling adventurers as they lead youngsters on an action-packed, interactive hunt through land, air and sea to identify a menagerie of animals, and solve fascinating puzzles along the way.

Talented new author and illustrator German-born Lomp serves up a treat for fans of wildlife and the great outdoors in this brilliant, super-sized book which allows youngsters to discover animals from across the world on every big, busy page.

When Wilfred and Olbert spot an unidentifiable butterfly, they realise that they have the chance to discover their very own species. But who will get to the butterfly first and win the Nature Discovery Prize? Through coral reefs, desert and jungle, the intrepid explorers battle to reach the butterfly first – but it is their teamwork that eventually helps them to complete their mission and claim their prize!

As well as teaching important lessons about sharing, this riotous story’s use of interactive quests and Lomp’s wild, energetic and whimsical illustrations provide a truly exhilarating reading experience. Children will love seeking out the letter clues on every page to work out the name of the elusive new butterfly species that completes this fantastic interactive adventure.

Busy, colourful illustrations are filled with crazy characters, exotic animals and thrilling locations that will inspire youngsters to make their own discoveries. With mazes, search-and-find puzzles, pictures to match and spot-the-difference exercises to enjoy, this is the wildest companion you will meet this summer.

A visually exciting and fascinating exploration of wildlife and the great outdoors…

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Mr Left & Mr Right

Daniel Fehr and Celeste Aires

Knowing left from right is all very well… but is getting the two together simply off the page?

Author Daniel Fehr and illustrator Celeste Aires have lots of fun and games in this creative picture book with an ingenious concept, fold-out pages, fantastic graphic art illustrations and a page-turning twist in the tail.

Mr Left lives on the left page. And Mr Right lives on the right page. They just want to be together, but there is no way of getting from one page to the other. And they have used every trick in the book! They try jumping across the page, they try climbing over the page and they even try digging under the page, but nothing seems to work. And just when they decide that they will have to be lonely on their own facing pages, Mr Right comes up with a brilliant plan!

Mr Left & Mr Right is a truly delightful novelty book full of inventive ideas and intriguing challenges. Little ones will love to lift the flaps as they follow the bright, bold story to discover whether left and right can ever come together.

Fehr provides the word fun and Aires’ illustrations, based entirely on geometric shapes with just a few distinctive colours, add a wealth of visual entertainment.

Fun from right to left, and first page to last…

(Templar, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Crocodali

Lucy Volpin

Meet Crocodali, he’s a brilliant crocodile artist but he can be snappy so make sure you do exactly what he tells you!

Little ones will love getting in the picture in this warm, witty and interactive book from exciting new talent Lucy Volpin who says she loves to capture expression and movement in her work along with ‘humour and silliness.’

Crocodali is the greatest artist in the whole world, and you have just walked into his studio. He is too busy for signings today but as you are here you might as well lend a hand. Crocodali playfully asks young readers to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the action as they tilt, turn, shake and blow the book to help him create a masterpiece.

And there’s a laugh on every page as the crocodile artist loses control of his reader’s actions and watches his studio descends into chaos.

With a riot of colourful and imaginative illustrations, painterly puns to entertain all the family and some unexpected creative mishaps, this wonderful work of art and anarchy is guaranteed to delight budding artists and fun lovers of every age.

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Poppy and the Blooms

Fiona Woodcock

Meet four little flowers who cannot help but grow on you!

Author and illustrator Fiona Woodcock creates a unique and distinctive gallery of pictures and woodland flower characters for this warm and imaginative story simply bursting out all over with fun, positivity and adventure.

When a group of zesty wildflower characters discover that the last green space in the city is about to be paved over, Poppy and the other blooms, Dandy, Bluebell and bright little Buttercup, decide they have to act! Enjoy the journey as these skateboard-loving flowers scatter magic wherever they go and set about saving the grey city and turning it into a blooming colourful wildflower haven.

Woodcock’s powerful message about how the actions of even the smallest can have a giant impact certainly hits the spot in this clever picture book. Vibrant colours on a black, white and grey backdrop bring light and life to an inventive and uplifting escapade packed with adventure, fun… and gardens full of flowers.

The pick of the bunch when it comes to picture books!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Salty Dogs

Matty Long

Author and illustrator Matty Long is back with a shipload of potty pirate pooches… and he’s let them off the leash!

Long’s distinctive, quirky and funny debut, Super Happy Magic Forest, had everybody talking, not least about his imaginative storytelling and incredibly detailed artwork. And kids can’t get enough of his zany, all-action books which positively crackle with energy and life, and always include plenty of hilarious one-liners for parents to enjoy as well.

and now he is setting sail on another playful voyage of discovery with the Salty Dogs as they journey through the Pirate Islands in search of treasure in a comical caper brimming to the decks with salty jokes.

The Salty Dogs are down on their luck but their tails are wagging at the thought of one last treasure hunt to turn their fortunes around. Their journey won’t be easy though. They must outwit rival pirates, navigate stormy seas and keep the poop deck clean if they are to become pirate legends. Can they outsmart the Crazy Horn Crew, the Sea Monkeys, the Green Shell Gang and the Feathered Furies and become top dogs?

Children will love exploring the super busy illustrations, the hilarious humour and getting to know the brilliantly quirky and comical cast of characters. To help youngsters on their way, the inside cover features a character study of each salty dog and by the last page, they will be joining in their victory chorus.

A woof voyage with a barking mad pirate crew!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Rhyme Crime

Jon Burgerman

Multi-talented illustrator Jon Burgerman dishes up the rhyme without the reason in a joyously playful new picture book.

Rhyme Crime, a rhyming tale packed with knockabout fun and wondrous wordplay, is the second children’s book from an author and illustrator noted for his playful, bright artwork and off-the-wall humour.

Burgerman, a UK-born, Brooklyn-based artist famed for his instantly recognisable drawings, doodles, characters and murals, won hearts and plaudits with his delightful debut picture book, Splat!, an anarchic visual experience full of splats, splashes and squishes.

His interactive follow-up story features fantastic, eye-catching graphics, the same brand of quirky comedy and is powered by Burgerman’s belief that through playful, creative acts, art can act as an agent to change the world.

Once upon a time, a thief committed a crime. Everything he stole was replaced with a rhyme! Hammy’s brand new hat was swapped for a cat, Arney’s comfy chair was switched for a bear and Moomoo’s fancy clogs were swapped for some frogs! Will the rhyme thief ever be brought to justice? Can you solve the story’s mysterious ending?

Burgerman uses his artistic skills and lots of imaginative wordplay to help and inspire children’s linguistic learning, and to encourage active participation in the story and emphasise the joys of using your imagination.

Packed with the silliest of rhymes and wordplay, this original, fun-filled story will have the youngest children in fits of giggles and is ideal for reading aloud at home or nursery.

(Oxford University Press, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Dino

Diego Vaisberg

Having a new pet in the house is always exciting… but what if the new arrival is a dinosaur?

Argentinian graphic designer and illustrator Diego Vaisberg draws on his giant imagination to play a comical curve ball in this gloriously anarchic picture book story about a pint-sized pet who grows into an outsized dinosaur.

When a large egg appears in the backyard, everyone is left wondering whether it’s a giant canary, a large lizard or a huge turtle. But it’s not any of those... it’s a dinosaur! And having Dino, who grows into an enormous dinosaur, in the house can be very tricky. He makes a mess wherever he stomps, eats almost anything and scares away the postman. Follow a day filled with mayhem, excitement and fun in the life of Dino, as he causes havoc in the house, makes new friends and learns right from wrong… the goldfish is definitely not food! But pets are for life… and so is Dino.

Vaisberg’s debut picture book is a heartwarming story of unconditional love wrapped up in a madcap adventure full of mishaps, mayhem and madness. The quirky, screen-printed illustrations in vivid shades of red and blue are exciting, inventive and gloriously original and add colour, artistic flair and texture to Dino’s laugh-out-loud misadventures.

Spills and thrills on every page!

(Templar, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

I Really Want the Cake

Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti

Gorge yourself on a slice of picture book chaos as a mischievous little girl tries to resist the urge to eat a forbidden chocolate cake!

Simon Philip’s wonderful rhyming text, garnished with gusto and lashings of humour, is a real tasty treat while Lucia Gaggiotti’s gallery of big, bold pictures provide the icing on the cake as the crumbs fly in this flavoursome romp.

‘There's a smell I can’t ignore. It’s wafting through the kitchen door. It’s time for me to find out more. I think it might be cake.’

How do you resist the most amazing cake ever? Especially when the icing looks like such a treat and it smells so chocolatey and sweet! Mum has left a note saying that you must not eat the cake so what can you do to resist temptation? Reading a book, playing shuttlecock, riding on your hobby horse, making music with the dog or simply counting doesn’t work for long. It seems you just can’t have a cake and not eat it!

Enjoy the shenanigans as this naughty girl falls to temptation and if you fancy making your own chocolate cake (with the help of mum of course!) there’s a super tasty recipe to try out at the back of the book.

A lip-smackingly delicious story!

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)