Book reviews: Families, gardens and words galore with Usborne

Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy by Lara Williamson
Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy by Lara Williamson

Spring is bursting out all over as Usborne Children’s Books start the countdown to a new season of reading.

Enjoy a life-affirming story from award-winning author Lara Williamson, get busy in the garden with two exciting activity books and hop on board a big red bus.

Age 9 plus:

Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy by Lara Williamson

Family love comes first in a beautiful, sensitive and utterly life-affirming story from award-winning children’s author and queen of hearts Lara Williamson.

With two extraordinary books, A Boy Called Hope and The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair, already under her belt, Williamson captures our imaginations again in her new warm, honest and funny tale of an adopted 11-year-old boy who is learning what family really means.

Family is the core of Williamson’s books as she explores themes like loss of a loved one, rejection, disappointment, separation and illness, but this talented author always balances the downs with the ups of being part of a family… love, acceptance, connection with a parent, happiness and contentment.

Here we meet Adam Butters who loves comics, likes eating spaghetti hoops and is happy with his adoptive family comprising his two sisters and his loving mum and dad. But that doesn’t mean Adam doesn’t feel like a part of him is missing.

And when he finds a document in a dressing table drawer with his original name on it – Ace Walker – he is thrilled to learn that he actually has two names and two identities… in fact, he’s just like a superhero!

Adam, who considers the name Ace to be pretty cool, is now determined to actually be a superhero. He’s going to save a life, help animals and old people, and make everyone happy. He also thinks he will make his adoptive mum stop being so sad and make his birth mum want him again.

But it turns out this is not the easiest of superhero missions, and it takes a painful discovery for Adam to realise you don’t have to be super to be a hero…

Williamson uses her trademark blend of warmth, humour and hope as she weaves an entertaining but touchingly clever story about one boy’s journey of emotional and personal discovery.

Prepare to laugh and cry in equal measure…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Wild Garden Rub-Down Transfer Book by Felicity Brooks, Mary Cartwright and Emily Beevers

Everything is coming up roses in a blooming clever rub-down transfer book from the inventive book boffins at Usborne.

This amazing activity book offers the seeds of hours of fun and creativity as children – armed with transfers and crayons – are let loose on eleven exquisitely illustrated gardens.

From a cottage garden to a summer meadow, and from a butterfly garden to a tropical paradise, each garden has a delicate line drawing to colour in and a colourful picture to fill with beautiful rub-down transfers.

The seven sheets of transfers provide everything needed to embellish the intricately illustrated pages and the tips at the back provide step-by-step instructions on how to use the book. All that is needed is a ballpoint pen or pencil to add the rub-down transfers, and crayons or felt-tip pens to decorate the colour-yourself pages.

Fill the pages with flowers, butterflies, birds, bees, frogs, fish and an amazing collection of plants, shrubs and flowers, and use a handy wallet inside the front cover to store all the transfers.

Ingeniously simple but devilishly clever, The Wild Garden Rub-Down Transfer Book helps develop hand-eye co-ordination, and offers hours of hands-on fun and the chance to show off your own colour and design skills.

Creative play and learning at the turn of every page…

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Age 5 plus:

Country House Gardens Sticker Book by Struan Reid and Lucy Grossmith

Let your children help celebrate the imminent arrival of spring with this gorgeous new addition to Usborne’s much-loved Dolls House Sticker Books series.

Take a gentle stroll around the beautiful gardens surrounding an old country house in this fabulous, inspirational book. Choose from over 300 beautiful and intricate stickers to fill the gardens with flowers, fountains and patio pots, and rhubarb and cabbages for the vegetable garden.

Wander from one garden to the next and have fun arranging the pots and plants, or preparing for a picnic. Visit the walled garden, terrace garden, fountains, pergolas, an orchard and an orangery and marvel as your stickers make the country house garden burst into colourful life.

With a glorious array of stickers – from flowers and fountains to sunbeds and parasols, and from scarecrows and garden pots to wheelbarrows and watering cans, there is everything here for budding gardeners, picnic fans and pond lovers.

An exciting, interactive horticultural adventure guaranteed to provide hours of fun and discovery as well as the perfect canvas for budding artistic flair.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Usborne Big Picture Thesaurus by Rosie Hore and Rachael Saunders

Story-writing time is going to get better, easier and more fun with this fantastic new picture thesaurus from Usborne.

An entertaining and educational introduction to using a thesaurus, this fully illustrated and thematically designed book has over 2,000 amazing, useful and unusual words to inspire children who are learning to write their own stories.

Topics include getting around, how are you feeling, heroes and villains, describing people, food and drink, animals, telling a story, colours, shapes and patterns, and lots more, with lists of synonyms, opposites and tips on describing things.

What’s another word for big, silly or shiny? What is the opposite of freezing, stretchy or brave? The Big Picture Thesaurus helps little ones to find words of similar meaning when writing stories or letters, learn about opposites – bad and good, evil and lovely, villainous and nice – and gain an early understanding of how to describe things more precisely… for example, instead of using the word walk, try more descriptive words like tiptoe, sneak or creep.

Pages of eye-catching illustrations help to develop thought processes and there are simple word games to expand on knowledge gained from using the thesaurus and links to useful and complementary websites.

The wonderful world of words in one big, beautiful book…

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Peep inside a fairy tale: Beauty and the Beast by Anna Milbourne and Lorena Alvarez

Long before a child learns to read between the lines, here’s the perfect way to let them peep between the pages.

Usborne’s Peep Inside series has become a firm favourite with pre-schoolers and this exciting interactive book offers a beautifully illustrated retelling of the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.

Children can lift the flaps, peer through ingenious, intricate cutaways and mysterious holes as they follow Belle and the birds into the Beast’s house, discovering the shy Beast hiding in the garden, the harp that plays itself and the handsome Prince in the mirror.

Peer through the palace gates, look through its magnificent windows, look out for the Beast with each turn of the page and enjoy the thrill of discovering that he has turned into a handsome Prince!

The delicate cutaways and holes are cleverly layered to create a magical filigree effect which draws youngsters into the palace, deep into the story and to the heart of an irresistible fairy tale world just waiting to be explored.

Lorena Alvarez’s busy, bold and atmospheric illustrations bring the story gloriously to life and the appealing cut-outs offer discussion, fun and the magic of discovery on every page.

Fairy tale adventure for readers young and old…

(Usborne, board book, £9.99)

Age one plus:

Baby’s Very First Bus Book by Fiona Watt and Stella Baggott

The wheels on the bus really do go round and round in this gorgeous chunky board book!

Little ones will love climbing aboard this bright red bus and meeting all the colourful animal characters waiting to head off to the funfair.

Shaped like a bus, this book has sturdy working wheels and bright, lively illustrations showing Elephant, Monkey, Mouse, Panda and Baby Bear waiting for the bus then hopping aboard for a day out at the funfair.

Babies can spot all the animals, spin the wheels and then enjoy more hands-on fun as they push the bus to the funfair themselves.

A transport of delight for all adventurous youngsters!

(Usborne, board book, £6.99)