A musical odyssey, monstrous fun and brainy babies by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Sit back and enjoy the music on a magical journey to discover the different instruments of the orchestra, take care to hide from the monsters in a brilliantly inventive lift-the-flaps, fairy tale adventure, treat your curious babies and toddlers to the first ever Britannica’s Baby Encyclopedia and discover the thrills and chills at a haunted lighthouse in a super section of new children’s books.
The Very Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra: With 10 Musical Sounds!  by Tim Lihoreau, Philip Noyce and Olga BaumertThe Very Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra: With 10 Musical Sounds!  by Tim Lihoreau, Philip Noyce and Olga Baumert
The Very Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra: With 10 Musical Sounds! by Tim Lihoreau, Philip Noyce and Olga Baumert

Age 5 plus:

The Very Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra: With 10 Musical Sounds!

Tim Lihoreau, Philip Noyce and Olga Baumert

Tune up and take your seats because the orchestra is ready to play!

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Discover the main instruments of the orchestra and enjoy listening to ten sound clips of child-friendly famous pieces with a fabulous new picture book created in a partnership between the experts at DK and popular radio station Classic FM.

Written and curated by Classic FM’s breakfast show presenter Tim Lihoreau, a church organist who runs three amateur choirs in his home village, and Philip Noyce, managing editor of Classic FM and a keen musician, this fascinating musical journey is the ideal introduction to classical music for young children and those beginning to learn an instrument.

Follow youngsters Ava and Jayden on a magical, musical odyssey as they discover the various instruments of the orchestra and explore beautiful scenes inspired by the music. And then press the ten sound buttons to hear the individual instruments played in 10-second clips of famous classical pieces performed by a live orchestra.

Information panels reveal how each instrument – from trumpets and timpani, flute and oboe, cello and violin to piano and clarinet – is played, where each section is positioned in an orchestra, and information of famous composers and their most popular works. Then press the sound button to hear clips from wonderful compositions like The Lark Ascending, Flight of the Bumblebee, Carnival of the Animals, Swan Lake, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and Rhapsody in Blue.

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Parents and carers – save the batteries, and your patience, with an on/off switch for the musical sounds located on the left of the back cover. Ideal for young fans of classical music and those beginning to learn an instrument, The Very Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is guaranteed to amaze and inspire.

Also featuring entry level music vocabulary, Olga Baumert’s exciting and inspirational illustrations and added information about legendary music performers and less well-known instruments like the bassoon and tuba, this super gift book will be music to the ears of all budding maestros!

(DK, hardback, £20)

Age 4 plus:

Gotcha!

Clotilde Perrin

Quick, hide... three scary monsters are coming and they want to gobble you up!

Youngsters will be in a flap when they turn the pages of this brilliantly inventive lift-the-flaps adventure which offers all the magic and surreal mayhem of traditional fairy tales but with a dark and delicious edge.

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Gotcha! – published in large format hardback – is the work of Clotilde Perrin, an illustrator living in Strasbourg, who has her own magic touch when it comes to creating fun and interactive books full of intriguing multi-layered flaps and fold-outs, and funny stories laced with dark deeds and dark humour.

Translated from the French edition by Daniel Hahn, this dazzling and daring new adventure features a frantic fairy tale hide-and-seek with a child finding hiding places in three famous fairy tale houses before turning on the hide-and-seek pursuers.

Chased by monsters – a hairball, a stinkwart and a creeper – each hairier and stinkier than the one before, the child needs to find shelter in the Three Little Pigs’ brick home, Sleeping Beauty’s palace and Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread mansion.

Youngsters will love lifting the flaps, both big and small, to discover curious places for the child’s best chance to hide. Knock on the door of the Little Pigs’ bathroom, open up Hansel and Gretel’s oven (if you dare!) or see who’s already inside Sleeping Beauty’s stopped clock. Fortunately, the hero of our story has read the famous story books and knows how to vanquish villains and make those monsters turn tail and flee!

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Intricately designed and stunningly illustrated by Perrin, this fabulous fold-out book is both a celebration of fairy tales and a child-empowering story full of humour and rich detail on every page, including over 40 interactive elements to enjoy.

Prepare for villainous villains and spine-tingling fun on an adventure that children will want to experience time and time again!

(Gecko Press, hardback, £20)

Age from birth:

Britannica’s Baby Encyclopedia

Sally Symes, Hanako Clulow and Dr Amanda Gummer

Just because you’re a baby doesn’t mean you can’t – or don’t – want to learn!

Very young children are constantly learning about the world. Their brain grows more in the first three years of life than at any other time, and they use their senses to perceive and understand things around them.

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So treat your curious babies and toddlers to some (enjoyable!) lessons about the world they live in with the first-ever Britannica Encyclopedia for children aged under three... a big, beautifully illustrated, large-format board book packed with an enthralling spectrum of topics from animals and machines to music and numbers.

Baby Encyclopedia – with its alluring cover featuring six holes to reveal colourful images beneath –explores big ideas through a little one’s eyes. The book uses lively, rhythmic words to introduce tots to common features whilst building their vocabulary and encouraging curiosity.

All the facts have been specially tailored to babies and toddlers, and reviewed by early-years specialist and child development consultant Dr Amanda Gummer, as well as a host of Britannica subject experts.

The big themes covered are earth, animals, plants, food, machines, art, music, numbers and shapes, with each explained in author Sally Symes’ simple, clear text which includes plenty of playful sound words for an enjoyable reading-aloud experience

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Bringing the book to life is New Zealand-based Hanako Clulow’s gallery of 200 colourful, eye-catching and child-friendly illustrations, each paired to the relatable subject matter to prompt questions, and make reading and understanding an enjoyable journey.

The extra-sturdy Baby Britannica has been specially designed to lie flat so that it is perfect for tummy time, shared reading on the floor, or to be held on the lap.

The perfect ‘foundation course’ for a lifelong love of reading!

(Britannica Books, large-format board book, £20.99)

Age 10 plus:

Ghostlight

Kenneth Oppel

When the guide at a haunted lighthouse accidentally awakens the ghost of a murdered girl, he and his friends are swept up into a dark mystery that threatens not only them but the whole of mankind. Canadian-born Kenneth Oppel – award-winning author of an astonishingly varied output of stunning novels – enthrals readers with this heart-stopping, high-stakes and excitingly original ghost story which has all the perfect vibes for the approach of Halloween. Rebecca Strand was just sixteen when she and her father fell to their deaths from the top of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in 1839. Whether they fell, or were maybe pushed, remains a mystery but their ghosts haunt the lighthouse to this day. Gabe tells this story every day when he gives the ghost tour on Toronto Island. He tries to make it scary enough to satisfy the tourists, but he doesn’t actually believe in ghosts... until he finds himself face to face with Rebecca Strand. The true story of her death is far more terrifying than any ghost tale Gabe has told. Rebecca reveals that her father was a member of the Order, a secret society devoted to protecting the world from ‘the wakeful and wicked dead’... malevolent spirits like Viker, the ghost responsible for their deaths. But the Order has disappeared and Viker’s ghost is growing ever stronger. Now Gabe and his friends must find a way to stop Viker before they all become lost souls. Oppel is on fine storytelling form as he sweeps readers into a truly spectacular adventure full of chills, thrills, spooks, stormy seas, and the stirrings of first love. With a sense of time and place that you can almost reach out and touch, this is mystery, murder and malign magic at its very best!

(Guppy Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Adventures on Trains: The Arctic Railway Assassin

M.G. Leonard, Sam Sedgman and Elisa Paganelli

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Agatha Christie meets Indiana Jones as schoolboy Harrison Beck and his Uncle Nat climb aboard the night train to Narvik for a thrills, chills and spills ride to the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Railway Assassin is the sixth and final drama-packed railway romp in Adventures on Trains, the exhilarating and prize-winning middle-grade series from bestselling author M.G. Leonard, and Sam Sedgman, a writer, playwright and lifelong train fan. These terrific tales of the rails are ideal for young train buffs and with Elisa Paganelli’s vibrant black and white illustrations providing the extra bells and whistles, the books have built up an unstoppable speed on the fast track to reading heaven. In this new all-action adventure, we join budding young artist Harrison (Hal) Beck and his travel writer Uncle Nat as they wrap up warm for a special trip the Arctic Circle to see the northern lights for Christmas. But as their train leaves Stockholm, Hal and Uncle Nat realise they are being followed by a sinister figure, and Hal’s powers of observation are tested when Uncle Nat’s past comes back to haunt him. Journeying into the never-ending night of the Arctic winter, our railway detectives must outsmart an assassin in their most chilling adventure yet, an adventure in which nothing is as it seems. With a cast of dynamic characters, a train-load of fascinating facts, adventure at every junction, and a baffling and dangerous mystery to solve, Leonard and Sedgman pull out all the stops in a fitting finale to a witty, clever and enthralling series that has captured readers’ hearts.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Book of Legends

Lenny Henry and Keenon Ferrell

What if stories turned out to be real? That’s the conundrum facing two very ordinary siblings embarking on an extraordinary journey in a thrilling new novel from comedian, writer, philanthropist and award-winning actor Sir Lenny Henry. The Book of Legends, fabulously illustrated throughout by talented New York-based artist Keenon Ferrell, is full of the same brand of magic and adventure that won the hearts of young readers in Sir Lenny’s all-action and thought-provoking debut novel The Boy With Wings. In this new funny and fast-moving tale, we meet Bran and Fran Harrison who love living with their mum, the storyteller at the Once Upon a Wow bookstore in their small Midlands town. Ever since Dad disappeared in a bolt of lightning, Mum and her big book of stories filled with fantastical people and places have been the centre of their world. But when Mum goes missing too, and her stories turn out to be a portal to another world, Bran and Fran are going to have a huge, magical adventure on their hands. Luckily, they have Wilma, the Wizard’s Wife, and Zack, the wisecracking Zebracorn, to help them on their journey. And they’re going to need help because there are evil princes, mud monsters and Viking armies all standing in their way. Can they find their mum, and just maybe their way home too? Filled with the intriguing concept of stories within the story, Sir Lenny’s latest adventure gives free rein to his trademark wit, sense of fun and soaring imagination but also his empathy and keen eye for the challenges of youthful angst. With its wonderful evocation of a magical other-world and the warm-hearted dynamics of family love and friendship, this high-octane adventure will have youngsters giggling, gasping and guffawing from first page to last.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

S.T.E.A.L.T.H.: Ice Breaker

Jason Rohan

They look like just an ordinary bunch of school kids... but, in truth, they are anything but ordinary! Welcome back to the perilous world of S.T.E.A.L.T.H., a crack team of young agents in charge of the most cutting-edge piece of tech the world doesn’t even know exists... MANDROID. Always flying under the radar, they solve crimes, prevent disasters and rescue the innocent but STILL have to get their homework in on time. Ice Breaker is the second thrilling book in a breathless, all-action adventure espionage series from exciting London author Jason Rohan, the man who talked his way into an internship at Marvel Comics in New York when he was only 16. And this new witty and wonderful spy caper – packed with intrigue, danger, secret agents and truly villainous villains – certainly delivers a gripping, white-knuckle ride. So join Arun Lal and his friends and team-mates –computer geek Sam and sassy, tough-talking Donna – when they are called up for their latest assignment. An armoured train with a top secret cargo has been hijacked by terrorists in the Austrian Alps and an avalanche has cut off all help. British Intelligence is forced to call on its youngest recruits to mount a dangerous rescue mission with the clock ticking down. Can Arun, Donna and Sam save the world and get back to school before they are missed? From ordinary kids to a fearless team of agents, this is Mission Impossible for a new generation. Don’t miss the fun but stay out of the firing line!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Around the World in 80 Festivals

Nancy Dickmann and Lucy Banaji

Take a fast-track trip across the world and see the different ways that people celebrate! This fact-packed book – brought to life by the dazzling illustrations of Lucy Banaji – covers a huge range of festivals, with an emphasis on the planet’s vibrant and varied cultures. As youngsters journey around the world, they can explore celebrations of food and drink, nature, culture, religion and history, plus ways to mark the passing of the year. Discover where and when people eat the strangely named ‘bread of the dead,’ find out why people walk barefoot across red-hot coals, where you might dress up as a demon in a hairy suit and huge horned headdress, and just what you are celebrating if you climb an 18-metre high tower made out of buns. All these strange festivals and more are explored in music teacher Nancy Dickmann’s armchair voyage of discovery which includes a stunning central gatefold that opens out to reveal a calendar of all the festivals featured in the book. From the Junkanoo festival in the Bahamas and Juneteenth in the United States to Matariki in New Zealand and Poland's Great Dragon Parade, this visual celebration of eighty amazing festivals from across the globe is full of colour and wonder. From camel racing to reed dancing and naming baby gorillas, there is something here for everyone!

(Welbeck Editions, hardback, £15.99)

Age 7 plus:

Magic Keepers: Crystal Chaos

Linda Chapman and Hoang Giang

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Magic needs protecting... who’s up for the job? Meet the Magic Keepers, the charismatic young stars of a spellbinding new series from Linda Chapman, author of the much-loved Star Friends books. Packed with the power of magic and friendship, these books – full of Hoang Giang’s vibrant black and white illustrations – are set to deliver excitement and adventure at every turn. Hidden away in a bustling old market town, Curio House and its mysterious collection of artefacts and crystals have been undisturbed for years... until now! When her mum inherits the creaky Victorian villa, Ava is nervous about moving in there, especially when she discovers a room filled with unusual objects and a box of ‘magic’ crystals. Ava knows they can’t really be magic, but when her mischievous Tibetan terrier Pepper tries to eat one of the artefacts, a series of strange and definitely magical events unfold... and soon the whole town is in trouble! Luckily her new friends Sarah and Lily are on hand to help, but can three ordinary girls (and Pepper) learn to control the crystals and protect the world around them? Newly independent readers will love this beautifully created first chapter book with its alluring mix of magic and mystery, and all the fun of shared adventures and friendship.

(Stripes, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Pizazz vs Everyone

Sophy Henn

Enjoy more super-awesome laughs in the fifth book of award-winning author and illustrator Sophy Henn’s hilarious comic-book strip style series starring scintillating superhero schoolgirl Pizazz. Classroom politics, friendship fails and laugh-out-loud humour are the hallmarks of this perfectly pitched series which has all the ‘powers and stuff’ that you expect from a superhero story but with the added delight of some very human characters and some very human dilemmas. Being a superhero is the best thing ever, right? Wrong! Pizazz is everyone’s favourite 9¾-year-old (reluctant) superhero. You probably think being a superhero is really awesome and while it can be, it’s also REEEEEEEAAALLLLY annoying. Always having to zoom off to save the universe can be tricky at the best of times, but at the worst of times it’s practically impossible! It’s making Pizzaz wonder if being good is the problem because she is currently facing her biggest challenge yet...EVERYONE (and EVERYTHING)! Will it all prove too much? Will Pizazz manage to keep using her powers for good, or will this push her over the edge to... the dark side? Expect lots of wicked humour and some unexpected ‘badding’ as Henn serves up a ferocious and fast-paced feast of super-powered, caped crusader fun!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Luma and the Hiccuping Dragon

Leah Mohammed and Loretta Schauer

There’s a special kind of ‘puppy’ love in this adorable debut series from Leah Mohammed who was inspired by her British-Pakistani heritage and the kind of warm, family orientated story she would have loved to read as a girl. Starring schoolgirl Luma Dewan, who has discovered that there is always mischief and magic when you have a lovable baby dragon as a pet, the book features two warm and funny stories packed with Loretta Schauer’s lovely, cuddly illustrations. Luma’s best friend in the world is her pet Timir, who looks like a puppy most of the time... except when he turns into a talking baby dragon! Luma loves looking after cheeky Timir, but when he gets the hiccups, neither of them knows quite what to do. Nothing they try seems to help and it’s not long before purple flame begins bursting from his nostrils! And that's not the only adventure ahead. In the second story, The Prickly Tickle, there's a dog show to get ready for, an important decision to be made about their fancy dress costume and a strange tickly itch on Timir’s wings that might be more than it seems. Expect lots of laughs and family fun, flame-loads of mischief, and a truly magical friendship as Luma and her cheeky dragon steal the show!

(Welbeck Flame, paperback, £6.99)

Age 4 plus:

Carnival of the Clocks

Nick Sharratt

An unusual celebration of the winter solstice takes centre stage in a charming and colourful story from award-winning author and superstar illustrator Nick Sharratt. The Burning of the Clocks, the brainchild of charity Same Sky, takes place in Brighton every year on December 21 to mark the shortest day when members of the local community make paper lanterns and parade them through the streets before burning them in a bonfire. Filled with colour and the spirit of togetherness, Carnival of the Clocks is the latest book in the super-readable Little Gems series which brings together leading authors and illustrators, and a host of clever design and finishing techniques, like dyslexia-friendly fonts, to create easy-to-read, first chapter books in a format ideal for little hands, and with some extra activity fun inside the cover. On a dark winter’s evening at the end of December, something strange is happening in the school playground. Lessons finished long ago, but there are lots of children still at school and they are all carrying... clocks! Clocks of every shape and size... big, small, round and square, heart-shaped, star-shaped. What’s going on? Join the children as they celebrate the Carnival of the Clocks! Sharratt, who has created illustrations for over two hundred and fifty books, fills his story with fun, magic and colour as the school mystery starts to take shape and the lantern lights puncture the darkness. The perfect book for youngsters taking the first steps on the path to reading independence.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Who Will Kiss the Crocodile?

Suzy Senior and Claire Powell

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They’re having a ball... and you won’t want to miss it! Author Suzy Senior and illustrator Claire Powell – the dynamic duo behind the incredibly successful Octopants series – turn their talents to this hilarious, rhyming retelling of Sleeping Beauty... which comes with added bite! Baby Princess Liss’s first birthday is celebrated with a fancy royal ball. But as guests arrive in their smartest clothes, ONE fairy has not been invited and she isn’t at all pleased. And as the dancing, fun, laughter and partying gets under way, she casts a spell and now the sleeping princess has turned into a snoring crocodile with very sharp teeth! Will anyone be brave enough to wake her with a kiss and turn her back into a girl? And who needs a prince? Expect heroic handy-grans armed with mops and drills, a sharp-toothed crocodile and an amazing Eighties party in this hilarious, feminist twist on a favourite fairy tale. Packed with Senior’s super snappy and playful rhymes and Powell’s trademark richly detailed, bright, bold illustrations, Who Will Kiss the Crocodile? is a rip-roaring romp that youngsters will love sinking their teeth into!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

My Rhinoceros

Jon Agee

If you should ever choose a rhinoceros for a pet, you’re in for a BIG surprise! It’s eleven years since master of the absurd Jon Agee’s gloriously mischievous picture book, My Rhinoceros, was published in America and now youngsters in the UK can enjoy an outing with the talented author and illustrator’s zany, zingy humour. Featuring a boy who discovers that his giant-size pet can do more than he bargained for, this offbeat tale of the (totally!) unexpected is a walk in the park when it comes to capturing readers’ hearts. When the boy bought his pet rhinoceros, he really didn’t know what he was getting into. It won’t chase a ball, or a stick, or a frisbee. In fact, according to the experts, a rhinoceros does only two things... pop balloons and poke holes in kites. So a walk to the park, where there’s a man selling, balloons might be just what’s needed to spark the rhinoceros into action. But the boy soon finds out rhinoceroses can do more – so much more – than that! This veritable feast of visual and verbal wit is a joy as Agee takes the concept of absurdism and raises it to (literally!) new heights. In the author’s trademark style, My Rhinoceros is a perfectly understated picture story, brimming with humour, imagination, surprises and wonderfully expressive illustrations. Fun, playful and perfect to read aloud or alone, this is Agee at his entertaining best.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age from birth:

Night-Night Animals

Patricia Hegarty and Thomas Elliott

Shhh... it’s time for the forest animals to go to sleep! Encourage your little ones to head into the land of dreams with a super, slider, slumbersome board book that was just made for bedtime. Toddlers will love pulling the sliders to help some favourite animals to wake up or go to sleep... from the depths of the sea and the snoozy savannah to the restful rainforest, there are so many habitats to explore. And then turn the final page to find out who else should be in bed, fast asleep! With its bedtime message, this adorable board book is a gentle read to help your little one drift off to sleep and ideal for little hands. Chunky pages and the clever sliding mechanisms encourage a hands-on reading experience. With Patricia Hegarty’s simple, soothing words, a funny twist in the tail, and Thomas Elliott’s colourful illustrations, this is the perfect, wind-down book for tired babies and toddlers. Bedtime bliss... well, almost!

(Caterpillar Books, board book, £6.99)

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