Book review: Magicians, medics and dastardly dragons with OUP children’s books

There are thrills, spills and pills as Oxford University Press children’s books roll out a terrific selection of top titles for young readers.
Magicians, medics and dastardly dragons with OUP childrens booksMagicians, medics and dastardly dragons with OUP childrens books
Magicians, medics and dastardly dragons with OUP childrens books

A brilliant new series featuring a daredevil young Houdini leaps into action, two animals medics are on mission of mercy, a clockwork dragon wreaks revenge and a banana-loving ape slides into a tantrum.

Age 9 plus:

Young Houdini: The Magician’s Fire by Simon Nicholson

All great stories have a great beginning… so why not go back in time and find out what turned the boy Harry Houdini into the world’s most famous escape artist?

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Houdini travelled the globe, subjecting himself to spectacular and terrifying ordeals, including escaping from a nailed crate at the bottom of an icy lake and writhing out of a straitjacket while dangling from a 70-metre high bridge.

Simon Nicholson often wondered how the child from Budapest who arrived in America in 1878 with his parents and siblings grew up to be such an extraordinary man, and here he adds a large dollop of artistic licence to the first story in a cracking, all-action series for young readers which turns young Harry into a super sleuthing, fearless hero.

In 1880s New York, Harry Houdini is just a penniless shoe-shine boy dabbling with a few escape tricks. But when a well-known magician goes missing in mysterious circumstances, Harry and his friends, Arthur and Billie, are sucked into a deadly adventure which sees them racing across the city. It’s time for Harry to put all his extraordinary skills into action, not just to solve the mystery but to stay alive. And when he falls into the clutches of some of Manhattan’s most dangerous villains, Harry realises that his spectacular escapes aren’t just for show… they have become a matter of life and death.

Harry’s daredevil stunts, amazing magic tricks and the pulsating pace of this gripping, high-octane adventure and the brilliant cliffhanger ending will leave youngsters gasping for breath… and for more!

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Good job then that coming soon is Young Houdini: The Demon Curse, the next instalment in Harry’s hair-raising escapades.

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Dr KittyCat: Posy the Puppy by Jane Clarke

Is there a doctor in the house?

Meet cool, calm Dr KittyCat, the meowing medic, and her trusty helper Peanut, a mouse on a mercy mission, as they head off in their ‘vanbulance’ to rescue furry friends in need.

The two caring and adorably cute little creatures are stars of Jane Clarke’s original, warm-hearted and entertaining new series which follows their adventures as they chase round the countryside to dispense help and advice.

Full of fascinating first aid facts, all verified by a qualified paramedic, these gentle stories have instant appeal to little children who love animal stories and possess that all-too-familiar childhood penchant for fun medical dramas!

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In Posy the Puppy, first book in the series, it’s the day before the Paws and Prizes sports day and Posy is stuck in the agility tunnel with an injured leg. When the emergency call comes through to Dr KittyCat and Peanut, they zoom off in their vanbulance, a cross between an ambulance and a camper van, to treat the furry patient and save the day.

Also available is Dr KittyCat is Ready to Rescue: Clover the Bunny, the second adventure which sees the intrepid duo tackling an outbreak of ‘paw pox.’

These gorgeous, glossy, eye-catching books are packed with two-tone illustrations which mix photography and hand-drawn elements, and the reassuring, nurturing stories are ideal for the five to seven age group.

To celebrate the new series, Oxford University Press children’s books is launching a competition to find a new star pet to feature in the artwork of a future Dr KittyCat book. The winner will also receive a copy of the book in which their pet appears. To enter, send a photo of your pet via email to [email protected] or via Twitter using the #DrKittyCatComp. The deadline for entries is April 30 2015. Full terms and conditions can be found at

(OUP, paperback, £4.99)

Age 3 plus:

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The Clockwork Dragon ​​​​​Written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Elys Dolan

Get ready to be bowled over… by a clunky, charismatic, clockwork dragon!

Award-winning author Jonathan Emmett uses a picture book story of derring-do, dastardly dragons and clever contraptions to prove that using your own ingenuity can often be the key to success.

Budding inventor Max Cogsworth knows a thing or two about clockwork but his master, the Toymaker, is not impressed with the boy’s cog-and-spring horse so sends him packing. The only other job on offer in Cranktown is the challenge to rid the kingdom of Flamethrottle, a ferocious, man-eating dragon. With the help of Lizzie, the girl who helps at the armourer’s shop, Max gets to work on a plan to rid the town of its deadly enemy…

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Illustrator Elys Dolan brings Emmett’s imaginative, exciting and funny story to life with colourful, appealing artwork which maps out Max’s world inside the front and back covers and turns the clockwork dragon into a dynamic, larger-than-life creation.

This gorgeous book is filled with action, small detail and fun concepts which will provide plenty of talking points for parents and children. And who can resist a story that puts kids in the driving seat, in this case literally?

Destined to be a roaring success…

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Betty Goes Bananas by Steve Antony

Tears and tantrums… they are a familiar part of early childhood and a regular cause of headaches for exasperated parents.

So why not give your testy toddlers a ‘taste’ of their own grumpy gripes with author and illustrator Steve Antony’s creatively crotchety ape Betty?

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Betty might look beguilingly beautiful in her charming pink bow but she’s simply beastly when she doesn’t get what she wants.

Betty’s hungry and when she sees a banana, she wants nothing more than to eat it but the banana just won’t open. Poor Betty. She cries and sobs, and kicks and screams until her friend Mr Toucan swoops by. ‘There’s no need for that,’ Mr Toucan tells her. ‘Would you like me to peel the banana for you?’ Mr Toucan peels the banana for Betty and, after several more terrible tantrums, she can finally enjoy the fruits of her labour. It’s a relief all around but then Betty spots another banana…

With its bold and delightfully distinctive illustrations and wry humour, this is a book to calm, compose… and ensure smiles all round!

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)