Book review: Leading lights for autumn from Macmillan Children’s Books

As summer’s lease ends and the days shorten, it’s time to put reading at the top of the agenda… and Macmillan Children’s Books have a spine-tingling list of new titles for those long, dark nights.
Leading lights for autumn from Macmillan Childrens BooksLeading lights for autumn from Macmillan Childrens Books
Leading lights for autumn from Macmillan Childrens Books

From the delicious darkness of new kid on the block, Ada Goth of Ghastly-Gorm Hall, to a beastly beast and a sinister psychic troubling Young Sherlock Holmes to James Preller making us shiver with his Scary Tales and the fairytale curse-stricken teen Briar Rose, there is a book here to keep youngsters reading right up to the witching hour.

Age 9 plus:

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell

The colour purple… or is that black and silver? You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover… but if you did, this symphony in black, purple and silver would be at the top of the book pile.

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With its silver leaves and skulls ornamentation, sparkling purple page effect and velvety smooth black cover, Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is a gift in every sense of the word.

Truly stunning black and white illustrations bring to life this funny and yet bittersweet tale which pays homage to the outlandish adventuresome style of Alice in Wonderland and the stars of other literary classics whilst offering a more contemporary and knowing way of looking at the world.

When Ada Goth wakes in the middle of the night to find the disgruntled ghost of a mouse on her bedroom carpet, she is more intrigued than scared. The mouse, formally known as Ishmael, is rather cross about his ghostly predicament so Ada decides to befriend him.

In a house where it is believed that little girls should be heard and not seen, it is hard to find someone to talk to and in spite of her good nature and active imagination, poor Ada is rather lonely. Even her father, Lord Goth, will not make time for his daughter because she reminds him too much of her mother who tragically died in a tightrope accident when Ada was a baby.

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But whilst exploring the vast halls and winding corridors of Ghastly-Gorm Hall, Ada, her new friends William and Emily Cabbage and Ishmael uncover a dastardly plot to sabotage her father’s Metaphorical Bike Race and Indoor Hunt. It’s the most anticipated event of the year and famous people from across the country are expected to attend. Can Ada and her ‘team’ foil the plot before disaster strikes?

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is a warm, witty and beautifully illustrated and presented book which delivers an original, entertaining and heart-warm tale of courage, friendship and loyalty as well as a teeny, weeny surprise tucked into the back cover.

Ghastly-Gorm Hall, home to grumpy gamekeepers, suffering spectres, petulant poets and an unforgettably courageous heroine, is a place you won’t forget and a story you will return to time and time again.

(Macmillan, hardback, £9.99)


Saving Silence by Gina Blaxill

Gina Blaxill is not afraid to take her teen readers on a walk into the dark side in her powerful and thought-provoking novels which portray life in all its raw reality.

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Here she tackles city gang culture and all the inherent dangers it poses through the eyes of two youngsters at a London high school.

Plotting is Blaxill’s forte and Saving Silence has some clever twists and turns whilst delivering a thrilling and fast-moving drama which sets the heart pounding and the spine tingling.

It’s not easy being the new kid at school and it’s even harder when people seem to want you dead. Sam Costello has been an outsider ever since he moved to London, regarded by most as a loner from the North who won’t let anyone in.

Former head girl and all-round school star Imogen had pretty much given up trying to befriend Sam before that night on Walthamstow high street, the night he wanted to tell her a secret and someone tried to murder him.

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But Sam isn’t the only one whose life is in danger. Although she doesn’t know it, Imogen is being watched. And if she doesn’t give these people what they want, they’ll silence her too… permanently. Will the hidden secrets be shared or will silence reign?

With a narrative that alternates between the perspectives of Sam and Imogen, the story unfolds in all its terrifying and cautionary reality. A raw and gritty reminder that inner city life is tough for kids as well as adults.

(Macmillan, paperback, 6.99)

Briar Rose by Jana Oliver

How about an exciting novel that puts a dark – and sexy – twist on the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty?

Jana Oliver’s action-packed re-telling blends all the traditional facets of fairy tales – handsome heroes and vengeful villains – with a fabulously feisty heroine, lashings of laughs and a southern USA style that puts the fun into fantasy.

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Briar Rose has always loved fairy stories. Tales of dashing heroes, beautiful princesses and evil villains are so much more interesting than her real life in Bliss, the mundane town where she has been brought up.

She is desperate to escape her life, her stifling and protective parents, the politics of friendship and the boy who looks set to break her heart. But on the eve of her 16th birthday, Briar’s parents drop a bombshell. When she was younger, she was cursed by dark magic and when the clock strikes twelve on the day of her birth, she is doomed to fall asleep for 100 years.

Briar is forced to say goodbye to her parents and her closest friends before drifting off into a timeless sleep... but then she wakes up in the darkest, most twisted fairy tale she could ever have dreamed of, miles away from the safe, boring small-town life that she has left behind.

The only thing she can do now is to fight her way out of the story but she can’t do it alone. She always believed in handsome princes and now she has met one. She must put her life in his hands even though there can be no guarantee of a happy-ever-after ending.

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Romance and rogues aplenty in this tantalising teen thriller…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

A Horse Called Hero by Sam Angus

War, hope, courage and a brave, little horse are the inspiration behind a beautiful and moving novel from the pen of the very talented Sam Angus whose children’s stories spring from her love of history and travel.

It is 1940 and barrage balloons are floating above London. As the Second World War escalates and the capital becomes a target for German bombs, Dodo Revel and her horse-mad little brother Wolfie are evacuated to the Devon countryside, away from everything they know.

Their father, a First World War veteran awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery, won’t be returning home from the front as quickly as they had hoped. He finds himself court martialled following the infamous massacre by the Nazi SS at Wormhoudt.

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News of his imprisonment reaches Devon and the villagers are dismayed. The children are asked to leave by their host family and banned from the local shop but there is a glimmer of hope when they come across an orphaned foal and adopt him.

They name the horse Hero for surviving against the odds and together they raise him, train him and learn to ride. Buoyed by their father’s letters and thriving in the care of the local vicar and his daughter, Wolfie and Dodo begin to enjoy their new life. Their days are suddenly full of life and excitement again but the shadow of war looms over their peaceful existence, and soon Hero must live up to his name…

Immaculately researched and based on true events, Angus’s novel has all the warmth, charm and poignancy of The Railway Children and is a wonderful addition to children’s wartime classic fiction.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Young Sherlock Holmes: Knife Edge by Andrew Lane

Author, journalist and lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan Andrew Lane is in ‘seventh heaven’ here as his brilliant series which imagines Holmes as a cerebral but authentically sceptical teenager reaches its sixth book.

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Young Sherlock Holmes is Lane’s first book series for young adults and he is on top form imagining our young detective on a spiritual adventure in Ireland.

Lane’s passion for the original novels of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his determination to create an authentic teenage Sherlock Holmes made him the perfect choice to work with the Conan Doyle Estate to reinvent the world’s most famous detective as a teenager.

His classy, intelligent stories are fast-paced with thrilling plots, plenty of action and marvellous mysteries which are a real treat for youngsters who like their books to be a challenge as well as a cracking adventure.

Young Sherlock Holmes discovers that something sinister is afoot in the house in the west of Ireland where he is staying with his brother Mycroft. There are frightened whisperings among the servants and the house’s owners are clearly scared. But who, or what, has terrified them so much that nobody will speak out?

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Young Sherlock must bring all his powers of deduction to unravelling his greatest mystery yet. With scary séances, conversations with the dead, conundrums to solve and a fresh crop of sinister, clever criminals, Sherlock certainly has his work cut out…

As always, Lane pits young Sherlock against some venal villains and dastardly deeds in a story that is both intriguing and thrilling.

There’s nothing elementary about this excellent series which puts an exciting and youthful spin on an old-fashioned hero.

(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon by Frank Cottrell Boyce

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It’s almost 50 years since James Bond author Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a bedtime story for his son Caspar and now the little car is flying again thanks to the storytelling talents of scriptwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce.

In the third official sequel to Ian Fleming’s classic book, the Tooting family is stuck in 1966. Somebody has stolen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and left them behind but that’s not their biggest problem. Little Harry has been kidnapped by whoever took their magical car and there is only one solution. The Tootings must find the Potts, the family that originally built Chitty. Sharing their combined knowledge of how Chitty works, the families stand a chance of rescuing Little Harry and finding the most brilliant car in the world. However, a fiendish criminal has other plans, ones that involve flying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the moon and putting an explosive scheme into action…

Fast-paced, entertaining and laced with wry humour, Chitty’s 21st century adventures are perfect for a new generation of readers. With suitably quirky illustrations by Joe Berger to add to all the fun, Boyce has filled Chitty’s tank with his trademark wit, warmth and sense of adventure to create a thrilling and collectable trilogy and a superb tribute to the original story.

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)

Age 7 plus:

Scary Tales: Home Sweet Horror by James Preller

Remember those addictive Goosebumps books? Well, get ready to be scared silly again with these super spooky stories for younger readers.

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With their spine-tingling illustrations by the talented Iacopo Bruno and stories to chill your blood, this new series of scary (but not too scary!) books are set to become creepy classics.

When Liam’s family moves into an eerie old house in a strange new town, he immediately feels like something is wrong. It’s as if the house is trying to tell him something and whatever it is, it’s something really bad. Dad thinks Liam’s just missing his dead mother but when Liam and his sister summon a terrifying spirit through the bathroom mirror, the battle with the house becomes a life-or-death situation. Can the children persuade Dad to listen to them before it’s too late?

Scary Tales come wrapped in suitably dark and atmospheric page colouring and text to add an extra thrill to the ghostly adventures.

Join in the freaky fun… if you dare!

(Macmillan, paperback, £4.99)

Poo! What IS That Smell? by Glenn Murphy and Lorna Murphy

A brother and sister team are on a mission to help children make sense of science and their latest quirky exploration is causing quite a stink!

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Glenn Murphy, author of 20 popular science books, and his sister illustrator Lorna, who works in a library, have put together this funny, fascinating and funky journey through the five senses.

Find out which animal has the biggest eyes, what’s inside your ear-holes, why sweaty socks smell so stinky, why sprouts and ice cream taste completely different and why we can touch and feel things.

Did you know that pigeons see the world in different colours, that the same patch of grass smells very different to a cat and a dog, that if we could hear it, a bat’s scream would be louder than a gunshot and that spiders can hear through their feet and butterflies can taste through theirs?

Discover what’s inside the human eyeball and why some smells make us feel sick, why sharks can smell blood underwater and how bats use their ears for radar.

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There’s everything here you ever wanted to know about the science of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch… and you know it all make sense!

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 4 plus:

Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

And now for something completely different… Are you bored with being sensible and hearing people talk about the weather? Do you want to have more fun? Mr Tiger knows exactly how you feel. He too wants something fun, something exciting, something different. He’s fed up of tea parties, top hats and talking about the weather so he astounds his friends by making up his mind to go… wild! But by taking things into his own claws, does he go too far and what do his friends think? Will they disapprove or will they follow him? The wilderness can get pretty lonely and it would be good to have them along…

Youngsters will enjoy letting their own imaginations go wild with this brilliantly funny book from award-winning artist Peter Brown. It’s a story which encourages us all to discover the freedom of being ourselves. And to complete the picture, Brown’s unusual and vibrant illustrations were all made with India ink, watercolour, gouache and pencil on paper then digitally coloured.

A wonderfully wacky walk on the wild side which proves there’s a time and place for everything…

(Macmillan, hardback, 11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Star Paws Animal Dress-Up

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There’s no time to ‘paws’ as the magical sticker book series gets into gear for another round of amazing adventures with the ever-inventive Star Paws menagerie.

What child can’t fall in love with the irresistible furry friends whose adventures get them into all sorts of sticky, stickering spots? And with four new and exciting titles to choose from, these books are guaranteed to keep hands busy and the fun factor on full throttle.

From the world of brave knights and smelly peasants to buying the simple bear necessities on a madcap shopping trip and an early Christmas outing, there are hundreds of colourful stickers, charming animal characters and plenty of crazy one-liners to keep the whole family laughing every step of the way.

Knights Sticker Book

Step into a medieval world of chivalry, heraldry, dramatic battles and revolting peasants with Star Paws Knights. You can meet and dress the dashing Sir Arthur Sixpence or join the Knights of the Hound Table as they joust and feast and attend Knight School. And when school’s out, there’s a chance to design shields for the brave, apply pustules to the poor and enjoy dressing up dogs, cats, guinea pigs and rabbits in some truly stunning medieval outfits.

Amazing Jobs Sticker Book

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Get ready for work everyone! It’s time to pick some exciting careers and dress up a whole host of animals in Star Paws Amazing Jobs. There are plenty of outfits here to choose from, including doctor, gardener, spaceman, film director, dentist, pop star and wrestler. With this gallery of adorable creatures, you’ll be spoilt for choice!

Shopping sticker book:

How about enjoying the complete retail experience in a funky animal dress-up style by getting ‘stuck into’ the fabulous Star Paws Shopping? Choose hats, help out in the changing rooms, become a stylist, a beautician, or simply shop until you drop! There’s so much to try on and so much to buy from smelly perfumes and crazy fingernails to bright purple pants and cool shoes.

Star Paws: Christmas Sticker Book

And if the festive season is in your sights and moving Ding Dong Merrily closer, it’s never too early to get stickering with the fabulously festive Star Paw Christmas. There are presents to wrap, feasts to prepare, snowballs to throw, halls to ‘deck’ and outfits to choose. Help the animals spread some Christmas cheer with bells, bows, snow-white beards and jazzy winter knitwear. And look out for that mistletoe!

Big, bold and addictively entertaining, the Star Paws sticker books are a feast of fun for every season!

(Macmillan, paperback, £3.99 each)

Poppy Cat’s Counting Adventure by Illustrated by Lara Jones

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You can count on Poppy Cat to come up with the right numbers in this adorable new book which offers a fun and innovative lesson for early learners.

Lift the flaps, peep through the holes and look out for the counting clues as the popular puss Poppy Cat plays in the garden, goes to the beach and has a yummy picnic with her friends.

Every page spread of this imaginative and robust book has lots of things to spot and count, from butterflies to seashells to planets and stars. But there’s the added bonus of hidden fun as some of them are tucked away behind fun flaps and secret peep-holes!

Little ones will love discovering and counting all the beautifully illustrated things that Poppy Cat encounters on her adventures. This bright and colourful board book, with its rhyming text and bold pictures, is ideal as an interactive teaching aid or as a simple but effective story.

A wonderful gift for any child aged two and over.

(Macmillan, hardback, £9.99)

A Patch of Black by Rachel Rooney and Deborah Allwright

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Is there a little one in your house who is afraid of the dark? Here’s the answer... an imaginative and reassuring picture book to bring some welcome light and understanding to the dark shadows of scary night-time.

What can you do with a patch of black, a moon and a silver star? From a magical wish-granting cloak to a hammock rocked by jungle animal friends, there’s nothing that a patch of night-time sky can’t become with a bit of clever thinking, and there’s certainly no need to be afraid of the dark!

Patch of Black is a beautifully soothing lullaby and is a wonderful book to read aloud when bedtime beckons and day turns to night. It’s the stuff of dreams for toddlers feeling fraught after a busy day, providing the perfect wind-down with its colourful, dream-like illustrations by Deborah Allwright and hypnotic verse by Rachel Rooney. A truly classic bedtime book, sure to become a favourite with all the family.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)