A sea mystery, dream dancing and canine capers by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Enjoy a twisting, turning mystery starring a colour-changing octopus, put on your dancing shoes for fun at Blackpool Tower ballroom, share the troubles of a girl finding school full of challenges, join in all the chaos of double doggy dilemmas at a school sports day, and meet British tennis superstar and reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu in a colourful collection of new children’s books.

My Friend the Octopus by Lindsay Galvin
My Friend the Octopus by Lindsay Galvin

Age 9 plus:

My Friend the Octopus

Lindsay Galvin

A group of children go in search of their true colours in a fabulous new twisting, turning mystery from Lindsay Galvin, the bestselling author of Darwin’s Dragons.

My Friend the Octopus is a thrilling, high-stakes aquatic adventure which packs in an addictive mix of mystery, adventure, science and natural history in an alluring and atmospheric story set in the sunshine of late Victorian Brighton.

In England in 1893, aquarium fever is at its height. Twelve-year-old Lavinia ‘Vinnie’ Fyfe from London is living with her Aunt Bets in Brighton and helping her manage the tea-shop at the resort’s aquarium while she waits for her milliner mother to return from Paris. A shy girl, Vinnie fears she has been abandoned by her mother but the arrival of a giant octopus at the aquarium changes her life for ever.

Vinnie has always used her talent for art to draw her mother’s fancy hats but now she has a new source of inspiration to draw over and over again… the extraordinary, colour-changing sea creature which she has named Ghost. She soon realises she can communicate with the octopus through colour and – as a gripping mystery begins to unfold – Vinnie and her new-found friends, Charlie, an aspiring reporter, and Temitayo, the ward of an English gentleman, will find their courage put to the test with the arrival of a sinister visitor.

Galvin, a former science teacher, certainly knows how to put the fun into learning. The touching connection between a young girl and an octopus lies at the core of this inspirational story with its valuable natural history lessons and an exciting underwater twist.

Blending a gripping adventure with a multi-faceted, historical mystery, My Friend the Octopus explores issues around human rights and the evils of sweatshops with a host of fascinating facts about the octopus… a creature with incredible intelligence, three hearts, nine brains and miraculous colour-changing camouflage.

A thrilling mystery guaranteed to wrap its tentacles around your heart…

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu

Maisie Chan

Never give up on your dreams! That’s the message that dances into the foreground in a funny and moving middle-grade novel from British-born Chinese author Maisie Chan. Blending an adventure, that begins in Glasgow and ends in Blackpool Tower’s magnificent ballroom, with an inspirational and heartwarming exploration of intergenerational family ties, this all-singing, all-dancing celebration is a sheer delight. Twelve-year-old Lizzie Chu lives in Glasgow with her grandad Wai Gong, and he has been acting a little strange lately. He is becoming forgetful and spends a lot of time talking to his statue of Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion, kindness and mercy. Lizzie is worried about Wai Gong, but doesn’t really know what to do to help him. She already has a lot on her plate with caring for him, doing the shopping and everything else on top of schoolwork and the usual trials of being twelve! Then Lizzie comes up with a madcap plan. She’s going to take Wai Gong on the trip of a lifetime, to Blackpool… to the Tower Ballroom, where he always longed to go, to dance with his late wife, Grandma Kam. Lizzie wants to rekindle his love for dancing and to see if Wai Gong can find his mojo again. The only problem is… how on earth is she going to get him there? With a little help from her friends Chi and Tyler, some ingenious costumes and an older brother with a beaten-up Mini, Lizzie might just make it… and maybe she will be able to help Wai Gong get better after all. Chan brings us a charming cast of characters, a story filled with love and humour, and a fabulous stage set that was just made to keep readers laughing and dancing all the way to the last page!

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

A Flash of Fireflies

Aisha Bushby

Coping with the symptoms of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Order) can sometimes feel like you are battling demons… a theme turned into a fairy tale mystery in a moving middle grade novel from Aisha Busby. Having suffered bouts of OCD since she was eight or nine, Bushby harnesses her own experiences and emotions for this heartfelt tale of family, friendship and finding your feet in a world that seems perplexing. After leaving Kuwait, Hazel Al-Otaibi’s new life in England should have been the stuff of fairy tales… after all her Great Aunt’s cottage looked just like a gingerbread house, with a magical garden and whispering fireflies promising quests and adventures. But as Hazel struggles to deal with the challenges of the everyday world –⁠ making friends, missing her family –⁠ she also learns that every fairy tale has a dark side. And there are terrifying creatures that lurk in the shadows… Bushby is a born storyteller as she renders Hazel’s new world in England as uncertain and sometimes frightening. Using magic and the eternal mystique of fairy tales, Bushby also brings readers a subtle and sensitive exploration of immigration and identity. Full of hope, heart, thrilling atmospherics and a story that will educate and enchant, A Flash of Fireflies is both spellbinding and memorable.

(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Remarkably Ruby

Terri Libenson

School is full of challenges… just ask Ruby. Her best friend used to be Mia, her total opposite, but now they have nothing in common any more. Or do they? The new book in the bestselling Emmie & Friends graphic novel series from bestselling US author and cartoonist Terri Libenson is once more packed full of her lively illustrations and is perfectly pitched at the eight-plus age group who are just starting to learn the ways of the world. Ruby (aka the hilarious Baked Bean Girl) is an outsider at school who has always pushed other kids out of the way to get to the toilets and is now in the spotlight herself. She’s big for her age, doesn’t have the best reputation, and is a bit socially awkward. And it doesn’t help that she has lost Mia, her once closest friend. But life – and middle school – take a turn for the better when she is tasked with creating a poetry club. Suddenly, others start to see that there is more to Ruby than meets the eye! And maybe Ruby realises this too. But appearances mean everything to the perfectionist Mia and her embarrassing former friend Ruby is ruining her perfect image. And when the friction between them leads to a fight, Mia starts to question whether perfection is really something she should be striving for. Libenson’s funny, tender and insightful story about how there is more to everyone than meets the eye is full of relatable incidents, dialogue and friendship issues which are guaranteed to appeal to young readers.

(HarperCollins, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Noodle the Doodle Wins the Day

Jonathan Meres and Katy Halford

School sports day turns into canine chaos when everyone’s favourite pet (and occasionally pest!) Noodle the Doodle gets in on the action! Enjoy a warm welcome back to a new canine caper from stand-up comedian, author and actor Jonathan Meres. This is the third adventure with adorable class pet Noodle the Doodle in a super-funny series published by Barrington Stoke in their trademark dyslexia-friendly format. Illustrated throughout by Katy Halford, Noodle’s new adventures are full of hilarious mishaps and mayhem as our four-legged friend brings double doggy trouble at Wigley Primary. Sports day has arrived and everyone is excited to take part in unusual events like Book Balancing, Frisbee Throwing, a Tug of War and seeing who can race in the most layers of clothes! Of course, Noodle the Doodle, is desperate to join in all the fun but when he gets a new partner-in-crime, Daniel the spaniel, are the canine capers going to spiral out of control… or can Noodle win the day? First prize again to the ever-imaginative storyteller Meres for this warm, wise and laughter-packed adventure which celebrates friendship, fun and finding your self-confidence. Add on Halford’s gallery of playful black and white illustrations to bring the action to life, and you have a class act from a top team!

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99, published on July 7)

Age 8 plus:

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun

Tolá Okogwu

Meet Onyeka… a superhero girl with hair-raising powers! Black Panther meets Percy Jackson in this fantastic, all-action and empowering new middle-grade series from Tolá Okogwu, a British Nigerian author, journalist, and hair care educator. Starring a British-Nigerian girl who learns that her Afro hair has amazing psychokinetic powers, Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun packs in plenty of thrills and spills as well as exploring topical themes of identity, family and friendship. ‘I close my eyes, trying to push the power bubbling in me back down. Hairbands snap as my hair shoots out like superfine arrows, tearing through everything in its path.’ Onyeka has a lot of hair – the kind that makes strangers stop in the street. She has always felt insecure about her vibrant curls until she makes an important discovery… she can control her hair with her mind! Her mother quickly whisks her off to the Academy of the Sun, a school in Nigeria where Solari – children with superpowers – are trained. But Onyeka and her new friends at the Academy soon have to put their powers to the test as they find themselves caught up in an epic battle… one that puts the future of all Solari at risk. Onyeka proves to be a courageous and inspirational hero as she discovers – through trials and tribulations – that the greatest power comes from within herself. With a cast of charismatic characters, fun, fantasy and friendships to enjoy, this super heartwarming series certainly won’t be hair today and gone tomorrow!

(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Bunny vs Monkey: Rise of the Maniacal Badger

Jamie Smart

Get ready for more side-splitting laughs as Bunny and Monkey bounce back in an exhilarating remastered comic-book series that delivers all the comedy and chaos of the daffy duo’s helter-skelter world! This outrageously funny series from comic genius Jamie Smart collects together Bunny vs Monkey’s adventures and misadventures in a never before published book form with an easy-to-read, chunky format featuring 230 pages of fast and furry-ous exuberant fun. The books are part of the Phoenix Presents series, published by David Fickling Books in partnership with The Phoenix comic. The partnership is going from strength to strength and much of that success is due to Smart’s extraordinarily talents. In this latest adventure, the Maniacal Badger has arrived and he’s determined to take over the Woods. But wasn’t that also Monkey’s plan? This cannot happen… What japes await when Bunny and Monkey team up to beat this new menace! They've never managed to work together before. And will Skunky rediscover his passion for evil inventions, to defeat his rival at their own game? One thing's for sure… giggles are guaranteed! Outrageously funny and fabulously illustrated, these manic, high-energy stories were just made for reluctant readers who like their books to come with plenty of comic-strip pictures and loads of laughs. Madcap antics for your action kids!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £8.99, published on July 7)

Age 6 plus:

Sports Superstars: Raducanu Rules

Simon Mugford and Dan Green

Serve up an ace for Wimbledon fortnight with a fantastic new book in the sparkling Sports Superstars series from everyone’s favourite sports pairing, writer Simon Mugford and illustrator Dan Green. This visual series of illustrated sporting biographies is aimed at building a love of reading from a young age, with fun cartoons, inspirational stories, a simple narrative style and a cast of characters chipping in with quotes, jokes and comments. Here we meet British tennis superstar and reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu. Emma only turned professional in 2018 but the 18-year-old has already taken the game by storm. The signs were already there when she made her main draw Grand Slam debut at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships and reached the quarter final. But it was her amazing triumph at the 2021 US Open that has shocked the world and made her into a household name. Packed with cool facts and delightfully fun illustrations, Emma’s remarkable story is a page-turner for young fans who want to be inspired by the new golden girl of tennis. Game, set and match to Emma!

(Welbeck Publishing, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Hat Full of Secrets

Karl Newson and Wazza Pink

The magical bond between a child and his grandfather is celebrated in fun style in a new book in a highly illustrated, full-colour fiction range from the creative book boffins at Little Tiger Press. With their enchanting stories and brightly coloured, glossy pages, these chapter books are ideal for newly independent readers and youngsters who regard picture books as too babyish. In The Hat Full of Secrets, we meet Henry Pepper who has got a secret (a big one!) and he doesn’t know what to do with it. Grandad suggests he should keep it under his hat but Henry doesn’t have a hat. Luckily Grandad has one to spare and it’s just the hat for the job. But when Henry puts it on, he discovers that Grandad has some secrets of his own! Words maestro Karl Newson delivers a delightfully lyrical and timeless tale full of family love, imagination and the memories we make and treasure, and all brought to vivid life by Vietnamese artist Wazza Pink’s gallery of vibrant, emotive and action-packed illustrations. A heartwarming tale to read alone or share with the family.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £5.99, published on July 7)

Age 3 plus:

A Seed Grows

Antoinette Portis

‘A seed falls, And settles into the ground, And the sun shines, And the rain comes down, And the seed grows…’ Sow the seeds of a lifelong love for the natural world and its many wonders with a beautifully created picture book bursting with fun, facts… and sunflowers! US author and illustrator Antoinette Portis’ enchanting book explores how a seed becomes a sunflower, inviting youngsters to peek beneath the soil and wait patiently as winding roots grow, a stalk inches out of the earth, and new seeds emerge among blooming petals. With an eye-catching gallery of bold and evocative illustrations, and a simple text, A Seed Grows offers a close-up view of each step of the growth process and the ways in which flowers and seeds depend on other creatures. Little ones will love feasting their eyes and minds on Portis’ fresh and original approach to exploring the natural world through lyrical words, outstanding artwork, a striking fold-out spread of a full-grown sunflower, and the bonus of additional material at the back of the book explaining the science of plant life cycles. Idea for reading aloud and sharing, the book is both a beautiful work of art and a source of education, entertainment and discovery.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Tiny Crab is a Tidy Crab

Paula Bowles

Author and illustrator Paula Bowles gets her claws into the hearts of little ones with a beautiful picture book starring a caring crab whose greatest love is looking after his beach. Tiny Crab is a tidy crab, and a crab who loves his beach. So, when he invites a few friends to come and join his favourite place, he knows they will look after it, too… won’t they? But what if they don’t? And, worse, what if LOTS of friends arrive then leave rubbish everywhere, which Tiny Crab is forced to tidy up. Maybe even the smallest voices need to make themselves heard. With a fun but resonant environmental message about keeping our planet clean and tidy, a celebration of the rewards of friendship and caring for each other, a cast of adorable animal characters, and a gallery of Bowles’ gorgeous, heart-melting illustrations, this is the perfect book for your own young eco-warriors.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

I Spy Island: Book vs. Shark

Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

Welcome back to I Spy Island, a happy place where adventures wash in with the tide… and the fun begins! Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet, everyone’s favourite husband and wife picture book team, and creators of the bestselling Supertato! books, sail back into view with the second adventure in their unmissable new series. In the middle of the ocean, miles from anywhere, is a happy little island who loves to play I Spy... Join Island, Glove, Banana, Bird, Bottle and Treasure Chest on their second sunny adventure as they spy a book which has washed up on Island's chin and finds that it has lost its story, and a shark who just might eat them all simply because he’s bored! Can Book convince the Shark that it can’t be bored when there are so many exciting and amazing things to see, visit and do in the world? This terrific tale of fun and friendship – illustrated in a rainbow of vibrant colour – celebrates just some of the wonders of the world and the sheer brilliance of books.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99, published on July 7)

Age 3 plus:

The Fairy Dogmother

Caroline Crowe and Richard Merritt

Wagracadabra… meet the Fairy Dogmother who makes wishes come true! The joys of friendship and the rewards of putting others first speak loudly and clearly in a captivating picture book from the inspirational team of author Caroline Crowe and illustrator Richard Merritt. Cinders loves living at Woofington’s Dog Shelter. He has fantastic food, a cosy bed, fabulous friends and lots of holes to dig. So when, one day, Priscilla Paws, his Fairy Dogmother appears, whatever will he wish for? His pals all have their own ideas… sausages, a bone and being able to finally catch his tail. But the clock is ticking for Cinders to make a decision and with everyone else’s wishes coming thick and fast, Cinders might run out of time! Crowe’s fabulously fresh and funny story has a delightful twist in its fairy ‘tail’ as Cinders unexpectedly finds his forever family… and the happy ending he longs for. Ideal for reading aloud, and with pups aplenty and Merritt’s gallery of brightly coloured, bold and adorable illustrations, this magical blend of woofs, wags and wishes cooks up the perfect picture book recipe for your young dog-lovers!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99, published on July 7)