Book review: A smelly witch, a monster hunter and bedtime blues

A muck-raking witch makes a welcome comeback, a terrifying other-world takes shape and a mischief-making girl makes everyone laugh out loud in a new summertime collection of sparkling children's books.

Friday, 25th August 2017, 11:13 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 11:56 am
A smelly witch, a monster hunter and bedtime blues
A smelly witch, a monster hunter and bedtime blues

Age 8 plus:

The Pongwiffy Stories: A Witch of Dirty Habits and The Goblins’ Revenge by Kaye Umansky and Katy Riddell

When Pongwiffy: A Witch of Dirty Habits was first published in 1987, it was just the start of an exciting, laugh-out-loud and anarchic series that was destined to become a much-loved classic.

Kaye Umansky has now written over 130 books for children, ranging from picture books to novels, but the Pongwiffy series, a bestseller from day one, remains a favourite with readers young and old.

And to celebrate 30 years of Pogwiffy, which stars the smelliest, ugliest witch ever, publishers Simon & Schuster are re-issuing these hilarious books with a gorgeous gallery of new illustrations from Katy Riddell, daughter of the former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, and an emerging illustration talent in her own right.

This first book includes a bind-up of the first two titles, A Witch of Dirty Habits and The Goblins’ Revenge, which introduce us to the one-and-only Pongwiffy who lives in a stinking cave with Hugo the fearless hamster from Amsterdam, and causes havoc amongst the witches of Witchway Wood.

In A Witch of Dirty Habits, we meet Pongwiffy has just moved into a new cave, and it’s dirty, smelly and damp… in other words it's perfect for a witch like Pongwiffy! At least it would be if her next door neighbours weren't a group of extremely noisy Goblins... in fact they are not just a group but a gaggle, and they are very, very, very stupid. Well, what do you expect when they have names like Plugugly, Stinkwart, Slopbucket and Eyesore? Before long Pongwiffy can bear it no more and enlists the help of her best friend, Witch Sharkadder, to find her somewhere else to live. And that’s when the problems really start!

In the second story, The Goblins’ Revenge, the Goblins are back and up to their usual tricks! But that’s not the only thing troubling the long-suffering Pongwiffy. Her broom is behaving strangely, there’s a bonfire disaster waiting to happen and a strange genie is causing a problem…

These warm, funny stories have a special charm and wit that will enchant a new generation of young readers. Pongwiffy’s world of slime, grime and exceedingly bad habits grows more addictive with each adventure and ensures that youngsters will queueing up for more jokes and mucky mishaps when the next books hit the shelves!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Boy With One Name by J.R. Wallis

Step into the Badlands, a hidden world of ethereal shapeshifters and creatures that should exist only in fairy tales… and nightmares.

The ordinary and the extraordinary merge together with thrilling visual intensity in a magical new middle grade adventure from exciting YA author J.R. Wallis, a fabulous fantasy which will appeal to fans of Harry Potter and Joseph Delaney’s Lancashire-based Spook books.

There is an addictive air of menace to this exhilarating all-action adventure which has an enthralling cast of supernatural beings inspired by folklore and Anglo-Saxon mythology, and a scary, imaginative other-world guaranteed to send shivers down the spine.

Twelve-year-old Jones is an orphan, training as an apprentice monster hunter alongside his mentor, Maitland, tackling ogres, trolls and all manner of creatures that live in the Badlands. But all Jones secretly wants to be is an ordinary boy and to leave the magical world for ever.

When an ogre hunt goes wrong and Maitland is killed, Jones finally has a chance to find out where he came from. But the truth he uncovers isn’t what he was expecting and it seems that if Jones is going to make his dream come true, he’ll have to defeat a creature not even Maitland had dared take on.

Jones won’t be able to do it alone and he is going to need help from Ruby, the first girl he has ever met. She is outspoken, fearless and determined to prove she is as good as any boy, and unlike Jones, being ordinary is the last thing on her mind.

Ruby is desperate to find her place in the world and thinks the Badlands could be it. So, working together isn’t going to be straightforward. In fact, it could be downright dangerous. But who said getting what you want is supposed to easy… even if it is just longing to be ordinary?

Thrown together by mishap and magic, Jones and Ruby are an exciting and original partnership, both with very different ambitions but using their skills and intuition to fight against a terrifying monster.

With an enthralling glossary of Badlander terms to guide readers through the mists and murk, a plot packed with twists and turns, a dark adventure yielding gripping action, and with an inspirational friendship at its heart, this is top-notch reading for middle graders.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Simply the Quest by Maz Evans

Elliot Hooper’s life changed for ever when a shooting star crashed to earth and he ended up having to save the world!

Author Maz Evans is back to prove lightning can strike twice with the latest instalment in her heart-warming and heart-pounding Who Let the Gods Out? series which stars a youngster caring for his seriously ill mother and sharing adventures with a cast of immortal Olympian gods.

There are over 700,000 young carers like Elliot living across the UK and Evans is the first ever ambassador for Spurgeons, a leading children’s charity which supports families and children affected by social disadvantage.

We first met Elliot in Who Let the Gods Out? in which he discovered that the fallen star was teen goddess Virgo, a young woman on a mission. Elliot and his new friend accidentally released Thanatos, a wicked death daemon imprisoned beneath Stonehenge, and had to turn to the old Olympian gods for help.

In his new adventure, reluctant hero Elliot must team up with Virgo, Hermes, Zeus and their cohorts once again to stop Thanatos from unleashing his dastardly plans.

Elliot’s troubles, we learn, are far from over. His mum’s health is getting worse, he’s struggling at school and the anarchic Greek immortals have moved into his home… including Virgo who is in trouble with the Zodiac. What’s more, Thanatos and his scary mum are at large. As even more immortal allies and enemies emerge, Virgo and Elliot must learn how to be heroes...

Witty and packed with full-on action, this is a rip-roaring, classic adventure story leavened by moments of heartbreaking intensity and touching emotion.

Prepare to laugh, marvel, cry… and beg for Elliot’s next mission seemingly impossible!

(Chicken House Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 12 plus:

The Potion Diaries: Going Viral by Amy Alward

A classic-style fairy tale with a delicious modern twist… Amy Alward is back with the third instalment of her magical The Potion Diaries teen adventure series.

Old and new are in perfect harmony in these gorgeous stories about a girl who has the powers of an ancient alchemist and must mix together special potions to solve mysteries and undertake life-saving missions.

After finding her great-grandmother’s potion diary, escaping the clutches of Emilia Thoth, saving her grandfather’s memories and become a Master Alchemist, surely it’s time for Sam Kemi to have a good, long rest? And maybe, just maybe, a proper date with her boyfriend Zain? But now that Princess Evelyn of Nova is married to the sinister Prince Stefan and showing symptoms of the Gergon illness, it looks as though Sam’s latest adventures are just beginning.

The good news is that there might be a cure for the virus spreading like wildfire through the city. The bad news is that it’s buried in a remote village in a far-flung country next to an active volcano, and Sam’s not the only one after it. With a TV crew trailing Sam’s every move and time fast running out, it looks like things are about to go viral!

Refreshingly different and inventive, Alward’s irresistible new adventure starring ambitious alchemist Sam spreads more magical stardust in a story brimming with nostalgia, romance, adventure… and secret potions of course!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)

Age 4 plus:

Where is Grandma? by Peter Schossow

World-renowned German picture book artist Peter Schössow uses his imaginative flair in a funny and gentle picture book which aims to demystify hospitals for young children.

Where is Grandma?, which features a little boy called Henry searching the wards for his gran, tackles the often bewildering concept of illness, conditions like dementia and long corridors full of doctors, nurses, visitors and patients, and helps children to gain more understanding of hospitals.

This informative and original book comes from Gecko Press, an independent publisher based in Wellington, New Zealand, and purveyors of ‘curiously good’ children’s books. They are on a mission to translate books by some of the world’s best writers and illustrators, and by championing stories rich in language and illustration and with a strong ‘heart factor,’ they aim to encourage children to love to read.

Henry is visiting his grandmother in hospital but when his nanny has to take a call, he decides to go on alone. After all, he knows Grandma well! But the hospital is bigger than he thought, and his visit becomes an odyssey… up and down lifts, in and out of rooms. Now Henry isn’t sure he will find Grandma after all. Down every corridor, Henry does find people to talk to; staff, patients, and visitors fill his journey with conversation, humour, information, and a wonderful variety of human nature.

Schossow’s distinctive voice is dry and crisp, the reassuring and child-friendly story is told with charm and the lightest of touches, and the illustrations are full of wonderful perspectives and funny humanity.

Fun to read aloud and ideal for children who need an introduction to the life and purpose of hospitals…

(Gecko Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Molly Mischief: My Perfect Pet by Adam Hargreaves

As the son of Roger Hargreaves, creator of the phenomenally successful Mr Men series, Adam Hargreaves has had some big boots to fill.

But the talented author and illustrator has been building his own reputation since his father’s death in 1988, continuing to write and illustrate more books for his father’s series and now venturing outside the outside the world of Mr Men and Little Misses for the first time.

Inspired by his own daughter in whom he saw ‘a mischievous girl who is clever, brave and wants to do whatever she feels like,’ Hargreaves brings us Molly Mischief, an impish youngster with a twinkle in her eye and method in her madness.

Molly is a bit cheeky to say the least. Determined, imaginative and resourceful, she is a girl with big ideas and now she wants a pet, a big pet, a pet much bigger than her tiny pet mouse Polka. But Molly being Molly, mischief is never far away. Molly decides that a hippo would be her perfect pet so she brings one home from the wildlife park... but it’s a bit too big for her house! So Molly tries again but the tiger is too fierce, the giraffe is too tall, the polar bear gets too hot and the elephant squashes dad’s car. Will Molly ever find the perfect pet?

Hargreaves delivers a delightful, laugh-out-loud story, packed with irresistibly cheeky illustrations, perfect for sharing with little ones and the ideal vehicle for talking about the importance of appreciating what you have.

Big, bold illustrations in a dazzling, eye-catching palette of colours and a naughty but adorably nice girl on a mission of misadventure, mishap and mayhem are destined to tickle the funny bones of your own little mischief-makers!

(Pavilion Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

I Can’t Sleep by Stephanie Blake

Bedtime should be a haven of peace but for one little rabbit, it means venturing out into the cold dark night…

Welcome to a brand new adventure starring Simon the cheeky rabbit… the cuddly creature who won everyone’s heart in the bestselling Poo Bum, first book in a series which has proved a big hit all over the world.

Simon’s hilarious escapades have featured in I Want Spaghetti!, I Don’t Want to Go to School! and Super Rabbit! and now the riotous little rabbit hops back into action in I Can’t Sleep!, a universal tale of bedtime blues.

The series is the work of US-born author Stephanie Blake whose passion for writing and illustrating began in childhood when she created books for her brothers and sisters as birthday presents. After moving to France, she discovered other writers and artists whose work continued to inspire her stories and drawings. She now is the author and illustrator of dozens of highly successfully books in France, many of them children’s favourites.

In her new rabbit adventure, we discover that Simon’s little brother Casper can't sleep without his special blanket. Simon usually just tells Casper what to do but not this time. Simon knows exactly where the bedtime blanket is but as it is cold, dark and very scary outside, he is going to have to be very, very brave to solve this problem!

Blake’s instantly recognisable bold illustrations will delight young readers and the funny, frantic story is guaranteed to strike a chord with both children and parents alike.

(Gecko Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

Super Rabbit by Stephanie Blake

And in another classic story starring Simon the rabbit, our intrepid hero’s bravado is spiked by – of all things – a splinter!

Simon wakes up, convinced that he is a Super Rabbit! Naturally super rabbits fight supervillains but things don’t always seem to go the way they should for a Super Rabbit. And one day when he goes out to save the world yet again, Super Rabbit, who is afraid of nothing, comes across a painful situation he wasn’t expecting... will fear and pain finally convince him he’s not actually a Super Rabbit after all?

Super Rabbit is one of the most popular books in the series and this gentle, comical story will certainly tug at the heart-strings of parents everywhere.

(Gecko Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Find the Wolf and Hidden Animals by Agnese Baruzzi

Italian graphic designer, author and illustrator Agnese Baruzzi works her magic on two beautifully imaginative board books brimming with ingenious peek-through pages.

In Find the Wolf, the wolf is wanted for being big and bad, but can you find him on your journey through the woods? Are those his ears… no, they’re trees! Are those his paws… no, just some busy squirrels! Could those be his teeth… no, it’s just the fallen leaves! Will we ever find him? And will he really be big and bad?

Beautiful illustrations and intriguing, clever peep holes make this a big bad adventure with a wolfish but gentle surprise at the end. A lovely concept and not too scary for little ones!

In Hidden Animals, see and say the colour shape with your little ones and then turn the pages to reveal the hidden animal surprises. Enjoy your youngster’s smiles when a green oval turns into a beetle, a red triangle turns into a fox and a grey square turns into a cat.

Both these sturdy books are illustrated in Baruzzi’s signature graphic art and stylish palette of colours while her innovative use of die-cuts and the turn-of-the-page revelations give the colour and shape adventures an original and exciting twist.

With discoveries on every page, these innovative board books are ideal for sharing and reading aloud.

(Templar Publishing, board books, £6.99 each)

From birth:

Jane Foster’s Paris and Washington DC

The wonders of Paris and Washington DC, two of the world’s most exciting cities, spring to life in a pair of captivating board books by leading textile designer Jane Foster.

Jane Foster’s Paris and Jane Foster’s Washington DC are a stunning and colourful introduction to iconic landmarks and famous sights. With bold, eye-catching artwork, these beautifully produced board books have a special appeal for design-conscious parents and are the perfect gift for a new baby or first birthday.

From croissants, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower to the White House, a dollar bill and burgers, these two inventive books use high-contrast images to introduce little children to each city.

Enjoy the intricate topiary of Parisian trees, see a colourful selection of French fashion or marvel at the architecture of the Jefferson Memorial and lick your lips at the delicious American-style pancakes.

Foster’s images, featuring vivid colours and thick black lines, provide hours of early learning fun whilst also acting as a stylish alternative to traditional photographic board books. The glossy pages are appealing to both the eye and little hands, and sturdy enough to withstand the roughest handling.

City sprees for the very youngest family members!

(Templar Publishing, board books, £6.99 each)