An angelic mission, museum mysteries and a festive Alice by various authors - children's book reviews -

Join two daring youngsters as they race to save Christmas, escape to Ancient China in a thrilling historical fantasy, enjoy a truly Wonderland keepsake edition of Lewis Carroll’s iconic book star Alice, and meet a bear in need of some human help in a super-sparkling line-up of new children’s books.

Operation Nativity by Jenny Pearson
Operation Nativity by Jenny Pearson

Age 7 plus:

Operation Nativity

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Jenny Pearson and Katie Kear

It shouldn’t happen to the Angel Gabriel! The race to save Christmas is on in a sparkling, festive, feel-good adventure from the Costa Award-shortlisted Jenny Pearson whose brilliant books are based on a wonderful mix of all the children she has ever taught.

With beautiful cover and inside illustrations from the talented Katie Kear, and some extra fun Christmassy activities to enjoy, Operation Nativity has everything you could want from a Christmas story... laughter, heartwarming messages about love, hope and togetherness, and the timeless joy of celebrating the season with your family.

Oscar, Molly and their parents are spending Christmas with their grandparents, the Cuthbert-Andersons, at their grand home, Barlington Hall, in the pretty Hampshire village of Chipping Bottom. Mum isn’t keen because of the ordeal of taking part in Barlington’s chaotic annual nativity play but what they don’t yet know is that this year is going to be a Christmas they will never forget! It all starts when Oscar and Molly rush outside to investigate a crash in the night and are shocked to find a dazed Angel Gabriel wandering around their grandparents’ back garden. And they are certainly not expecting to find themselves in a race to save Christmas but if they don’t track down a missing shepherd called Steve, Balthazar the wise man, the donkey and the actual Mary and Joseph, who have all crash-landed in Chipping Bottom thanks to an angelic mishap, not only will Christmas cease to exist but they will too. Operation Nativity is on!

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If you love epic adventures, a cast of the quirkiest characters you’ll find this side of Christmas, an extra-large dose of festive vibes, and a story that acts like a warm and cuddly book hug, then Operation Nativity is the Christmas cracker you’ve been looking for. Don’t miss the ride!

(Usborne Publishing, hardback, £12.99)

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Age 9 plus:

The Three Hares: The Terracotta Horse

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Scott Lauder and David Ross

Immerse yourself in a thrilling and danger-filled historical fantasy adventure based on real works of art, characters and events.

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The Three Hares: The Terracotta Horse is the work of Ayrshire-born Scott Lauder, who now lives in the UAE, and David Ross who has travelled and taught throughout Asia since he first moved there in 1987. Rich in mythology and history, this is a fast-paced, action-packed adventure and the third book in the exciting Three Hares series which can all be read as standalone novels.

Salma Mansour is a black belt in taekwondo, a skill she will need to stay alive. One second, she’s in the British Museum, the next a thousand years away in a battle between the Saxons and Vikings. How on earth is she supposed to help? Things momentarily brighten when she encounters Sara and Sanjeev, who seem to understand. They don’t have much time to plan though because without warning, all three are transported to Xi’an, stronghold of Chan, a wealthy gang leader bent on immortality. Chan has kidnapped world-famous geneticist Lin Dan and assembled fragments of an ancient magic. Chan will stop at nothing to fulfil his dream… even if it means releasing forces far beyond his control. The destiny of the world is in their hands. The Three Hares must work together to defeat Chan and the power that controls him… or else.

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With its diverse cast of characters, spectacular settings, and a gripping time-slip adventure which explores both Ancient China and the age of the Vikings, The Terracotta Horse is a fabulous thrill ride travelling from present day London to Xi’an, home of the famous terracotta Army.

History, mystery and magic, all perfectly pitched for youngsters aged between nine and early teens.

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(‎Neem Tree Press, paperback, £8.99)

Age 12 plus:

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The Long Weekend

Savita Kalhan

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‘It was a decision made without thinking... you just act. Or follow. You don’t stop and think: Should I be doing this?’

Two schoolboys find themselves in deadly danger when they accept a lift from a stranger in a tense and compelling tale from Savita Kalhan, an author who was born in India but moved to the UK when she was young. On the run from a cruel and remorseless abductor, The Long Weekend will have readers on the edge of their seats as Kalhan weaves a fast-paced and action-packed adventure which sends out important messages as well as providing a gripping, contemporary thriller.

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Eleven-year-old Sam is the new kid at school but fortunately he has already made a new friend... Lloyd who just happens to be the coolest kid in the class. ‘Isn’t this your car we’re riding in?' In a mix-up over who is supposed to be collecting them from school, Sam and Lloyd make a colossal mistake when they accept a lift home in a big, flashy car driven by a man who seems to be friendly. But now they are in a dark mansion in the middle of nowhere with the man who wants to harm them. And Sam doesn’t know how to get them out. First, they were trapped, then separated and now they are alone. Can either of them get out alive?

There are chills and thrills from almost page one of this breathless and hypnotic story which carries a brutally honest warning about stranger danger and the risks of taking lifts but also celebrates the power of bravery, loyalty and true friendship. Perfectly pitched for young teens longing to have their freedom.

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(Troika Books, paperback, £8.99)

Age 12 plus:

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Scattered Showers

Rainbow Rowell and Jim Tierney

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Bestselling US author Rainbow Rowell has won fans all over the world by writing about love and life in a way that feels true and after the big success of teen books like Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, Attachments, Landline, Pumpkinheads, and the Simon Snow trilogy, she leaps back into the spotlight with her first short-story collection, Scattered Showers. And it’s everything you would expect from a Rainbow Rowell book... nine beautifully crafted love stories. From girl meeting boy camping outside a movie theatre and best friends debating the merits of high school dances to a prince romancing a troll, a girl romancing an imaginary boy and Simon Snow himself returning for a holiday adventure, Scattered Showers is a feast of irresistible characters, hilarious dialogue, and masterful storytelling. With nine short stories to enjoy and the welcome appearance of familiar faces from previous books (think Reagan from Fangirl and Beth and Jennifer from Attachments), Omaha-based Rowell has put her heart and soul into this book of love which features the fabulous illustrations of Jim Tierney and is an unmissable treat for Rainbow fans old and new.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £16.99)

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Age 10 plus:

The Marcus Rashford You Are a Champion Action Planner: 50 Activities to Achieve Your Dreams

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Marcus Rashford with Katie Warriner

‘One of the best things you can do for yourself is imagine a world where you can reach your full potential. The more you picture that, the easier it becomes to make that dream happen.’ Be inspired and empowered by the words of star footballer Marcus Rashford with his You Are a Champion Action Planner, an interactive guide that will show you how to become a champion in anything you put your mind to. Rashford has inspired millions of children around the world with his award-winning guide for life, You Are a Champion, and now he has created a fun and engaging action planner packed with positive activities, brilliant advice and inspiring challenges that will help youngsters reach their full potential. Rashford has once again teamed up with performance psychologist Katie Warriner and journalist Carl Anka, his collaborators on You Are a Champion, to help youngsters achieve their dreams. With chapters including Mindset Matters, Fuel your Adventures and Success and Setbacks, each section of the book asks children thought-provoking and pertinent questions and sets them tasks to do as well as space to fill in their answers, results and thoughts. Just like each child, the action planner is unique to each of its owners and will become a diary-like tool for children to use both now and in the future.

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

Age 9 plus:

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The Wild Verses

Helen Mort and Sarah Maycock

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Love, hope, healing and the consoling wonders of the natural world take centre stage in a beautiful and emotive poetry collection from award-winning author Helen Mort. Fabulously illustrated by self-taught animal artist Sarah Maycock, The Wild Verses invite you to slow down, reflect and to seek solace in our fast-paced world through poetry and nature. From comforting words of hope and healing to meditations on love and friendship, this striking collection has a verse for every feeling. From joy to hard times, and from time out and letting go to regrouping and finding safety in numbers, Mort’s thoughtful and inspirational words reveal the mind as an incredible landscape of moods, reflection and emotions. Siblings, partners, friends and family all come under her watchful eye while Maycock’s glorious ink-based artwork adds extra power to the words within this stunningly crafted book. Verbal and visual perfection!

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £16.99)

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Age 9 plus:

The Corny Scaredy-Cat Paranormal Investigation Squad

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David Wandsworth and Rory Walker

Get ready to giggle and gasp as you dive into teacher (and now author) David Wandsworth’s captivating debut novel starring a neurodivergent boy whose fears are banished by the hilarious antics of a charismatic sibling duo... and a bunch of ghosts! Eleven-year-old Alastair leads a lonely life in darkest Cornwall... his parents ignore him, his only friend has moved away, and he’s beset by a host of frankly embarrassing nervous conditions that ensures permanent ostracism from the rest of his class. But then who should arrive in the village but Saoirse, a new girl, cool where Alastair is pathetic, smart where he is perennially confused, unconcerned with school popularity contests and obsessed with unsolved mysteries involving ghosts. In her wake is her adorably potty-mouthed little brother Billy, crazy, reckless, a force of nature and a law unto himself. Everywhere he goes, Billy creates a hurricane of chaos to which he is oblivious. Saoirse pressgangs Alastair and Billy into a team of wonderfully incompetent ghost hunters and, through their adventure into the village’s murky past, replete with sinister sword-wielding ghosts, Alastair is forced to confront his own shortcomings as well as his greatest fears. With Rory Walker’s anarchic illustrations bringing the ghost hunters’ comic adventures to life, Wandsworth’s twisting, turning, riotous romp cannot fail to tickle young readers’ funny bones. Add on a cast of adorable and quirky characters, important themes of friendship, being true to yourself and overcoming insecurities, and you have a brilliant story that entertains, empowers... and makes you laugh!

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(Everything with Words, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

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Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There Festive Edition

Lewis Carroll and Sir John Tenniel

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There could be no better way to celebrate Christmas than with a truly Wonderland keepsake edition of Lewis Carroll’s iconic Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There. First published by Macmillan more than 150 years ago, Carroll’s iconic stories about Alice – illustrated by Sir John Tenniel – have been loved and enjoyed by generations of children the world over, and this charming miniature hardback, with a special gold-foiled jacket and pages, is the ideal stocking filler for all Alice fans and a must-have for every collector’s bookshelf. Featuring a Christmas letter from Lewis Carroll as a foreword, this unique edition contains Carroll’s complete, original text and Tenniel’s illustrations throughout as Alice’s extraordinary adventures are brought to life. Follow her as she gets caught up in the great looking-glass chess game, sets off across a gigantic chequerboard landscape to claim her crown on the final square and meets unforgettable characters along the way, such as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and Humpty Dumpty. Add on famous poems like The Walrus and The Carpenter and Jabberwocky to enjoy, and you have the perfect festive package!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99)

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Age 8 plus:

Speak Up!

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Written and illustrated by Rebecca Burgess

A young girl’s struggles to manage her autism and beat the bullies takes centre stage in an inspirational and moving coming-of-age graphic novel debut from Rebecca Burgess, an autistic writer and illustrator who has faced personal battles. Speak Up!, published by Quill Tree Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, follows an autistic girl who finds friendship where she least expects it and learns to express her true self in a world where everyone defines her by her differences. Twelve-year-old Mia is just trying to navigate a world that doesn’t understand her true autistic self. While she wishes she could stand up to her bullies, she has always been able to express her feelings through singing and songwriting, even more so with her best friend, Charlie, who is nonbinary, putting together the best beats for her. Together, they have taken the internet by storm but little do Mia’s classmates know that she is the viral singer Elle-Q! While the chance to perform live for a local talent show has Charlie excited, Mia isn’t so sure. She will have to decide whether she will let her worries about what other people think get in the way of not only her friendship with Charlie, but also show everyone, including the bullies, who she is and what she has to say. This clever, empowering and emotion-packed story pushes against many stereotypes and provides much-needed autism representation as Burgess writes from personal experiences and the self-acceptance of being autistic. Life-affirming and brimming with wonderfully expressive artwork, Speak Up! sends out important messages in a voice that is loud, clear and convincing.

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(Quill Tree Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus:

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Luna

Holly Webb and Jo Anne Davies

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One of the UK’s best-loved children’s authors, Holly Webb works her mesmerising animal magic on an enchanting time-slip adventure starring a bear in need of some human help. Luna is just the latest book in Webb’s adorable Animal Stories series which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since the first book hit the shelves in 2006. In this new wintertime story, we meet Hannah who knows there is something special about the wooden bear cub puppet from the moment she buys it at a Christmas market. So when the puppet gets broken, distraught Hannah cries herself to sleep. Woken by a growling noise, she finds herself in a stable and wearing strange old-fashioned clothes. And then she comes face to face with a real-life bear cub! The cub has been locked in, ready to be put on show at the local market. Can Hannah return the bear to the wild and find a way back to her own time? Jo Anne Davies provides the gorgeous black and white illustrations, and with cover art by Britta Teckentrup, this beautiful, heartwarming and snow-sprinkled adventure is the perfect gift and guaranteed to capture the heart of any child who can’t resist the mystery, magic and majesty of animals!

(Stripes Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

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Age 5 plus:

The Midnight Moon Feast

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Emma Beswetherick and Anna Woodbine

How to save the planet... one adventure at a time! Author Emma Beswetherick and illustrator Anna Woodbine return with the latest exciting, eco-themed mission in their empowering The Playdate Adventures series which teaches young readers about the value of friendship and the issues facing our planet today. Join Katy, Cassie, Zia and Luca as they work together to save the planet. The friends are having a sleepover when they discover that the usually fearless Zia always sleeps with the light on. To help her, they plan their first ever magical midnight feast. Soon, they find themselves in a moonlit forest surrounded by nocturnal creatures. But something isn’t right... the animals don’t know if it’s night or day. The four friends and Thunder the cat race to the rescue. Can they save their sleepy forest friends before the clock strikes twelve? Beswetherick – whose aim is to write exciting, inspirational and enabling adventure stories to share with children – covers everything from deforestation and litter on the streets to climate change and water conservation in this entertaining and informative series. With Anna Woodbine’s illustrations bringing the fun and action to life, these books are the perfect read for your own little eco-warriors.

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(Rock the Boat, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

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Lunar New Year Around the World

Amanda Li and Angel Chang

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Celebrate the most colourful time of the year! From fireworks and festivals to home-cooked meals and treasured traditions, Lunar New Year is a colourful celebration across the world and now youngsters can learn all about it in this stunning picture book. Lunar New Year Around the World, written by award-winning author Amanda Li and brimming with the gorgeous illustrations of Angel Chang, an illustrator from Taiwan who lives with high-functioning autism symptoms, is the perfect introduction for little ones to Lunar New Year celebrations. Through the eyes of the children across the globe, meet families in China, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, as well as in bustling cities like San Francisco, London, Sydney and Toronto. And join them in their celebrations at home and on the streets in parades, lantern festivals and in temples. Packed with fascinating facts, eye-catching artwork and a gold-foiled cover, this is a beautiful and informative book for curious young readers who love finding out about then world’s different traditions.

(Studio Press, paperback, £7.99)

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Age 3 plus:

Eight Nights, Eight Lights

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Natalie Barnes and Andrea Stegmaier

And as Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, draws near, discover how this special time of year brings people together and light to the darkness in a beautiful, atmospheric picture book from Hertfordshire writer Natalie Barnes and German illustrator Andrea Stegmaier. Eight Nights, Eight Lights is a story celebrating Chanukah, told across eight nights, and exploring the much-loved time for songs and prayer, delicious food and friendship, and fun and family. Celebrate each night of Chanukah, known to some as Hanukkah, with eight different families and learn about the rituals and traditions which make up this wonderful holiday. With Stegmaier’s rich, emotive and colourful illustrations and Barnes’ lyrical, rhythmic text, this lovingly created book is the ideal gift to share with children. With its comforting and cosy ethos, the book is also perfect for any child who wants to learn more about The Festival of Lights which this year will be celebrated from Sunday, December 18 to the evening of Monday, December 26.

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(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

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Floof

Heidi McKinnon

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Everyone loves a kitten... but not many people have yet encountered a kitten like this! So meet fluffy Floof, a furball of laid-back loveliness and the creation of Melbourne author/illustrator Heidi McKinnon. The bestselling creator of I Just Ate MY Friend, Baz & Benz and There’s No Such Thing is back to make cat lovers purr with delight as she introduces Floof. Floof is floofy. Floof is VERY floofy. Floof is the floofiest! Floof is going to have a very busy day... sleeping, meowing, sleeping, hiding, sleeping, eating and sleeping. With its superbly understated, bold and expressive illustrations and clever design, Floof provides lots of fun for grown-ups reading the story aloud to little ones who will love noticing when the text says one thing and the illustrations say quite another! A must-have for cat fans of every age!

(Allen & Unwin Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

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Age 3 plus:

Perfect Presents!

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Anke Kuhl

Some gifts are not to everyone’s taste but a little lizard is quite sure that the presents he has bought for his owl friend will go down a treat! Spread love, giggles and happiness this Christmas with a comic gift book that will delight readers of any age... but especially those who are hard to buy for. With lots of comic strip style fun and the hilarious illustrations of award-winning German Anke Kuhl, this story about gifts and the joy of giving stars the lizard who watches increasingly fearfully as the owl wolfs down each one of his presents... and then reaches out greedily for the lizard! With comic tension and a funny twist, the reader thinks the lizard may get eaten, but all turns out well as the story finishes with a big kiss and a cup of peppermint tea. ‘Perfect presents,’ says his friend. This whimsical, warm-hearted tale makes an ideal stocking filler or a present for giving all-year round at birthdays, anniversaries or any celebration.

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(Gecko Press, hardback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

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I Can Learn: I Can Count

Lauren Crisp and Thomas Elliott

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Learning how to count is hands-on fun with this innovative and interactive board book from Little Tiger Press’s bright and bold I Can Learn series. The series lets youngsters explore colours, shapes, counting and many other first concepts through special features such as tactile elements like beads, sound buttons and flaps, helping to reinforce learning and strengthen hand-eye co-ordination. In this clever new novelty book, a colourful ten-piece wooden bead abacus encourages youngsters to enjoy using their hands as they get to grips with counting and gain the skills and confidence to recognise how numbers work. With a text that prompts children to use the abacus and put their counting skills into practice, little ones learn the concept of counting in a way that is both educational and entertaining. Add on Thomas Elliott’s bright, child-friendly illustrations, a simple vocabulary, author Lauren Crisp’s gentle rhymes and the fun of sliding the beads, and you can count on the perfect gift book for the Christmas season!

(Caterpillar Books, board book, £9.99)

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Age one plus:

123 Sleepy Me

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Sophie Aggett and Gareth Lucas

The countdown to bedtime begins when little ones get their hands on this super board book and its special magic touch! 123 Sleepy Me – written in a sweet rhyming text by Sophie Aggett and illustrated by the award-winning Gareth Lucas – is the new title in Little Tiger Press’s Textured Touch Counting Books series which features unique textured numbers on its pages. ‘One little night star shining over you. Glow worm spots another and that makes… two!’ Settle down with five sleepy bugs as they say goodnight to their friends and count the twinkly stars using the special, colourful numbers. Each title features fun and simple counting prompts to engage little learners. The tactile numbers one to five, each made of moulded plastic, peek through the pages for little hands to trace and each number has a different textured pattern to help with memory association. Ideal for practising hand-eye co-ordination and teaching first numbers, this is a bedtime counting book with a difference!

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(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

Age from birth:

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Houses

OKIDOKID and Liuna Virardi

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Opposites are part of everyday life and it’s a concept that children are never too young to learn. So here’s an inventive board book series that teaches little ones first opposites in the most delightful and entertaining way. Fourth in the series – which was created by OKIDOKID, an agency founded by Justine de Lagausie who now works hand-in-hand with children’s author Raphaël Martin – is Houses which lets little ones discover a world of opposites with different kinds of houses. From new houses to old, a country house to a town house, and a small house to a tall house, little hands will love lifting the flaps of this bright and chunky board book. Featuring the bright, stylish and quirky illustrations of Liuna Virardi and simple, accessible pairings ideal for language development, the book’s fold-out flaps transform the pictured scenes to make the opposite come to life. Simply lift, learn and explore, and look out for Vehicles, People and Animals, the three earlier books in this inventive opposites series.

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £6.99)