Book review: Mystery, history and the wonders of nature

Spring is here and it's time for children to get reading!

The Book Case: An Emily Lime Mystery by Dave Shelton
The Book Case: An Emily Lime Mystery by Dave Shelton

Meet a bossy but super-clever schoolgirl with a mystery to solve, a boy who can’t stop telling lies, a bull on the horns of a dilemma and a sparkling collection of new books that take us up close and personal to the natural world.

Age 9 plus:

The Book Case: An Emily Lime Mystery by Dave Shelton

Pack your suitcase, sharpen your pencils and try not to snigger too loudly because you’re off to St Rita’s School for Spirited Girls!

Author and illustrator Dave Shelton, creator of the slapstick comedy noir comic strip Good Dog, Bad Dog – as seen in the DFC, the Guardian and the Phoenix – is on laugh-out-loud form in this crazy new mystery caper series starring a crime-solving genius schoolgirl with a penchant for berets and baddies.

Award-winning Shelton is himself proving to be a ‘comic’ genius with his irrepressibly exuberant and vibrant illustrations proving a big hit with youngsters who like their adventure stories to come with lashings of comic-style pictures and knockabout fun.

A cross between Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers and Famous Five books, plus the anarchy of St Trinian’s, Emily Lime’s adventures are set in a bygone age of gymslips but with the added enjoyment of an intriguing mystery and a fine line in humour.

Daphne Blakeway is off to St Rita’s, an exclusive girls’ boarding school. It sounds awfully respectable and Daphne herself is awfully respectable too. She loves to read and is delighted to be offered the chance to interview for librarian’s assistant’s assistant immediately upon arrival.

But it turns out nothing is quite what you would expect at St Rita’s… the building looks like something from a ghost story, you can’t trust a padlock if the fourth graders are around, the floor has holes from cannonballs and the smell in the dining room is disgustingly foul.

And what’s more, Daphne discovers that the school’s large and elaborate library has hardly any books… and the librarian doesn’t really exist.

But there is a librarian’s assistant, Emily Lime, a small, bossy girl in wonky glasses and a beret. And she is really a crime-solving genius who is looking for a new assistant of her own. Fortunately, book-smart Daphne is just the girl for the job because mystery and intrigue are about to strike St Rita’s and Emily is going to need all the help she can get as they set out to solve a break-in at the library and catch a dastardly villain.

Shelton pulls out all the stops as he dishes up lots of old school nostalgia, two super-sleuthing girls, their adorably droll and dishevelled pal George (just imagine being the only boy in the school!) and a cast of equally outlandish characters.

With rib-tickling humour, an intriguing mystery, and Shelton’s own gallery of brilliant black-and-white illustrations, the school day flies when you’re having fun!

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 9 plus:

Lyttle Lies: The Stinky Truth by Joe Berger

Honest truth… serial liar Sam Lyttle is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud!

Author and cartoonist extraordinaire Joe Berger turns fibbing into an art form in the second book of Lyttle Lies, a vibrant and playful graphic series brimming with wit, anarchy and plenty of porky-pies, and starring a little boy who loves telling BIG lies.

Sam Lyttle is a habitual liar. Even he admits, albeit reluctantly, that he sometimes tells the odd untruth and has been known to occasionally strrrrrretch the truth a little.

To be totally honest (well, sort of) Sam would rather skirt the truth and avoid trouble. However, he soon finds out that in trying to avoid trouble, not telling the truth gets him in to all sorts of scrapes. His mum (who thinks maths homework is the sole purpose of being a child), dad (who is happiest jazz-guitar noodling), his big sister Suzy (who thinks herself SO superior) and Grandpa (aka The Great Wonderoso) would like him to be more honest.

It’s the school holidays and Sam and his best friend can’t wait to see Cry Wolfe, the first movie starring their favourite crime-fighting hero. But Sam’s mum has set him a challenge. He can only go and see the film IF, and only if, he can make it through the entire holiday without telling a single fib. Can Sam go six whole weeks without a single porky!?

With its bold, comic-style illustrations and marvellously mischievous humour, this pitch-perfect series is ideal for reluctant readers who like their books to come with lots of comic capers and pictures. The lively, fun-filled illustrations make the story visually exciting and bring madcap Sam’s adventures and misadventures to life in all their glorious anarchy.

But be warned… this story contains fibs, farts and zumba-dancing mums!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Explorer: Bugs! by Nick Forshaw and William Exley

You would be hard stretched to find a more original way to journey through 500 million years of natural history than in the pages of this stunning exploration of the wonderful world of bugs.

This super-clever book is part of the amazing new Explorer series developed by What on Earth Publishing in partnership with London’s Natural History Museum and featuring four titles taking a close-up look at dinosaurs, bugs, plants and mammals.

This fascinating and educational series has been developed alongside experts from the museum. Nick Forshaw, a British author with a love of the natural world, provides the text while William Exley’s spectacular and intricately detailed illustrations bring nature to life in all its extraordinary colour, detail and diversity.

Youngsters will love joining super-sleuth and time explorer extraordinaire Agent Eagle of the Eagle-Eyed Explorer Club as he journeys from the ancient oceans and Cambrian period 500 million years ago right through to today’s Quaternary period.

Follow him as he packs his trusty rucksack and leaves no stone unturned to uncover the fascinating world of bugs, a veritable voyage of discovery that includes a unique and spectacular six-foot long, eight-page pull-out timeline featuring over 100 bugs from their first appearance about 230 million years ago through to their living descendants, and reveals how they survived and thrived.

Read Agent Eagle’s compelling 38-page journal to find out why these amazing creatures were so successful, who discovered the first one, how they support our environment, and lots more.

Each title in this exciting series is packed with information and illustrations, a multiple choice quiz to test the knowledge of family and friends, and the fantastic pull-out timeline which is perfect for hanging on a bedroom, library or classroom wall.

Creepy crawly heaven for young naturalists!

(What on Earth Publishing, hardback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Journeys by Jonathan Litton, Chris Chalik, Dave Shephard, Jon Davis and Leo Hartas

There are journeys of a different kind in a gorgeous new book that sweeps children away to some of history’s most amazing and daring adventures.

‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page,’ wrote Saint Augustine almost 1,700 years ago, and his words continue to resonate down the centuries.

But if you can’t travel the world in person, here’s the chance read your way around it instead with some of history’s greatest story makers. These amazing and drama-filled journeys and expeditions – including Nobu Shirase who raced Scott and Amundsen to the South Pole, and Henry ‘Box’ Brown, a slave who posted himself to liberty – are utterly captivating and guaranteed to set young imaginations alight.

The stories feature some of the bravest and most intrepid travellers in history, focusing on lesser known journeys as well as those that have become familiar the world over. Female and non-European explorers also taking starring roles… ride with the pony express in the Wild West of America, climb aboard a dog sled in freezing Alaska, and head for the skies with the intrepid female flier Amelia Earhart.

And if young adventurers still need more thrills, let them set sail with the lawless Mary Bryant, an 18th century Cornish convict sent to Australia but who famously became one of the first successful escapees from the fledgling penal colony.

Written in a simple, informative and engaging style by Jonathan Litton, an author who loves using his science background to write about sea creatures, space and saving the planet, Journeys is superbly illustrated by Chris Chalik, Dave Shephard, Jon Davis and Leo Hartas with eye-catching and evocative, colour-washed, pen-and-ink pictures to help to transport youngsters to lands far and wide.

Journeys comes from 360 Degrees, a non-fiction imprint of the Little Tiger Group which offers a stimulating and creative approach to presenting facts and aims to create accessible and unique non-fiction books with the highest production values and attention to creative detail.

Beautifully designed, with each spread featuring a different adventure, Journeys is both a visual spectacle and a fascinating learning tool.

(360 Degrees, hardback, £17.99)

Age 5 plus:

National Trust: Nature Origami by Clover Robin

Spring is shaping up to be fun both indoors and outdoors with this nature-loving activity book created from an inspired partnership between the National Trust and inventive children’s publisher Nosy Crow.

There is fun and learning in every fold of this stunning origami gift book which has elegant cut-paper illustrations and an extract from an animal poem on each spread as youngsters read the beautiful verse, enjoy the picture and then make the origami figure.

Nature Origami has been lovingly conceived and crafted by Clover Robin, a surface pattern designer and illustrator, who delights in nature and all things botanical after a Devon childhood of woodland walks and countryside rambles.

From squirrels and snails to foxes and flowers, these amazing origami figures are all inspired by nature and feature 13 animals and objects to create with 50 sheets of exquisitely patterned origami paper. And with three difficulty levels and easy, step-by-step instructions for children to follow and learn, the book is ideal for complete beginners as well as more experienced origami fans.

And if you need a little more help, there is a handy QR code linking to how-to-do videos which provide tips and inspiration.

Creative, hands-on play for nimble little fingers!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £9.99)

Age 3 plus:

Secrets of the Mountain by Libby Walden and Richard Jones

Spend a day on a beautiful and serene mountain… and discover its amazing secrets.

‘Our mountain watches over us – steadfast and strong. It holds the secrets of our world on its ancient slopes.’

Little ones will delight in opening the pages of this enchanting picture book and watching the world of the mountain transform as day turns to night, and the creatures who live there journey across its slopes between dawn and dusk.

Author Libby Walden and illustrator Richard Jones’ gentle, enlightening picture book whisks us away to the calm plains and bathes readers in the gorgeous setting sun. With a beautiful, lyrical text and a gallery of wistfully charming creatures painted in a palette of gorgeous shades, Secrets of the Mountain is a visual and verbal feast of inspirational facts.

Explore the never-ending possibilities of nature and its ancient secrets as you travel up and down the picturesque mountain. Look out for the stretching bobcat, spot the prowling wolverine and marvel at the sleeping bears and the scampering pikas.

Watch the colours transform as the sun rises and daylight streams over the natural world and its many creatures, and witness that same light fading to black as the sun sets and night draws in. And then enjoy the gallery of amazing creatures featured at the end of the book!

A spectacular day and night in the life of a mountain and its natural wonders…

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

When the Bees Buzzed Off! by Lula Bell and Stephen Bennett

Little ones are going to get a buzz out of this beautiful picture book which turns readers into busy little bees!

When the Bees Buzzed Off! is so much more than just a tale of adventure… the clever and appealing lift-the-flaps story gently encourages children to get interested in conservation and the idea of protecting our natural world.

Uh-oh! The bees have buzzed off and now the mini-beasts are in a pickle. Who will pollinate the fruit and flowers? It’s up to three brave bugs – and one very grumpy snail – to bring those buzzy bees back as they follow wandering worms, scaredy-cat snails and bossy beetles.

This energetic romp through the wild outdoors is an exciting hive of activity and comes packed with large fun flaps to lift, fascinating bee facts, hilarious asides, quirky characters and an interactive story in which children can play a leading role.

When the Bees Buzzed Off! is the perfect book to explore the natural world and encourage little ones to think about important environmental issues. The imaginative picture book formula blends Lula Bell’s funny but educational story with Stephen Bennett’s bright and engaging illustrations and large, easy-to-lift flaps hiding witty wisecracks and some surprising facts.

A playful but powerful reminder of the fragility of our eco system…

(Little Tiger, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

A Bear is a Bear by Karl Newson and Anuska Allepuz

Meet an adorable but baffled bear with an identity crisis!

Karl Newson provides the charming rhymes and Spanish illustrator Anuska Allepuz draws on her artistic talents for a super-cuddly and funny picture book romp to read and share with your little ones.

When a sleepy bear wakes up early from his winter sleep, he’s so confused. Is he a bird? Or a moose? A fox perhaps? Or even a squirrel? No, he’s definitely a bear and it’s about time he went back to sleep so that he will wake up refreshed and know exactly who he is!

Allepuz’s simple, uncluttered and painterly illustrations are the perfect match for Newson’s short, sweet and whimsical verse which gets straight to the heart of a little bear unsure of his place in the animal world.

With its sleepy, curl-up-tight theme, this is the perfect book for winding down… and destined to become a bedtime favourite for little ones and their (tired!) parents.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

AdoraBULL by Alison Donald and Alex Willmore

Farmer’s boy Tom has a very best friend… Alfred the bull. He’s reliable and dependable but could he ever be called adorable?

Inventive author Alison Donald and star illustrator Alex Willmore work their special magic on this bewitching picture book story about a bull on the horns of a dilemma when his best friend goes in search of a more cute and cuddly pet.

This marvellously entertaining mix-up farm adventure comes from Maverick Arts Publishing, a young and energetic publisher which started small but now has over 130 titles including board books, picture books, early readers, graphic reluctant readers, junior fiction and activity books.

They firmly believe that, with everyone leading such busy lifestyles, it is important for children to spend time with adults sharing and engaging over a picture book. Maverick also has a strong ethos of championing new authors and emerging illustrators, with a strong emphasis on supporting them once their book is published.

In the ingeniously titled AdoraBULL, we meet Alfred the bull who has an inseparable friendship with little Tom. They share everything, even their dreams, but when Tom starts school he declares that he needs a pet… one that is cute and snuggly and absolutely, totally adorable. Now bulls might be reliable and dependable but maybe not adorable. And that means Alfred will have to change if he wants to stay number one in Tom’s heart. But can bulls ever be adorable, even if they put ribbons in their hair and draw pretty pictures?

AdoraBULL is the second collaboration between Donald and Willmore and certainly hits bullseye when it comes to delivering a heartwarming story with important messages about loyalty, self-confidence and being true to yourself.

(Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Not My Hats! by Tracy Gunaratnam and Alea Marley

Also from the classy Maverick stable comes a delightful illustrated tale about a polar bear who lets her love of hats go to her head.

Not My Hats! Is the third word perfect picture book from Tracy Gunaratnam who has pooled her writing talents with the extraordinarily expressive illustrations of Alea Marley in a story that speaks loudly and lovingly about the joys of sharing and the fun of friendship.

Hettie the polar bear loves hats. She has tall hats, small hats, any size at all hats, round hats, pointy hats and fancy hoity toity hats. She wears them all, but she will NEVER, EVER share them! When a chilly Puffin turns up looking for a hat to keep him warm, Hettie tells him she shares her lollies, her dollies, her books and her brollies but never ever her hats. But Puffin won’t give up in his quest to find a hat and his persistence might just mean that Hettie will have to take her hat off to him…

Gunaratnam and Marley’s warm, wise and witty picture book is guaranteed to melt the hearts of readers young and old!

(Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £7.99)