Book reviews: Cool ghouls, a faint-hearted vampire and royal rabbits

Autumn is here and time to escape into a magical world of reading with a special '˜dark nights' selection of exciting new children's books.

Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School by Barry Hutchison
Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School by Barry Hutchison

Age 8 plus:

Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School by Barry Hutchison

There’s a ghoul in the school so who you gonna call? Forget Ghostbusters… this is one for the Spectre Collectors!

Barry Hutchison, an award-winning children’s author and screenwriter, returns to his own youth in the first of a brilliant new middle grade fiction series inspired by his love of cult film Ghostbusters and featuring all those time-honoured kids’ favourites… ghosts, magic and outrageous, all-action battles.

At the age of 10, Barry and his pal Michael Lopez decided to form their own ghost-hunting organisation, the Spectre Collectors, dedicated to battling otherworldly forces, and now Hutchison, a grown up father-of-two, is living his childhood dream in an adventure-packed, laugh-out-loud, ghost-hunting odyssey.

Denzel Edgar is having no luck with his maths homework. First, it’s too difficult and then, like a bolt from the blue, there’s an icy tingle running down his spine. Before you know it, a terrifying, writhing tangle of smoky black tendrils wants to kill him, and two teenagers explode through his window holding guns and throwing magic.

They are the Spectre Collectors, part of The Cult of Sh’grath, a top-secret organisation dedicated to protecting the human race from supernatural threats and whose speciality is anything spooky. Realising that Denzel has a special gift, they sweep him off to their headquarters for training.

Tested with awesome weapons and ancient magic, Denzel realises just how little he knows. But there’s a serious problem on its way from the Spectral Realm, so Denzel has a lot to learn, and fast…

Described by one 12-year-old as ‘a Scottish Billy Connolly,’ Hutchison is a born comedian and this crazy, comical caper, featuring Rob Biddulph’s suitably spooky illustrations, will leave young spines tingling and inspire a new generation of ghost hunters to seek out their own spooky adventures.

Along with Smithy, his best pal and assistant Spectre Collector, Denzel’s battles with the fearsome enemies of The Cult of Sh’grath are shape-shifting up to be a brilliant new collector’s series!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Poor little Vlad… being a member of the Impalers, the world’s most notorious vampire family, really does suck!

Much-loved children’s author Anna Wilson works a special brand of black magic in this entertainingly batty and wonderfully witty new series starring a fangtastic new vampire hero who is not only short of his parents’ ‘scary’ genes but is afraid of the dark as well.

Brimming with gentle humour, madcap escapades and natural warmth, this tale of a vampire boy who wishes he was human is set to win the hearts and minds of middle grade readers looking for fun and adventure with a Transylvanian twist.

Vlad is the youngest member of the Impaler family of Misery Manor, the bravest vampires that ever lived, but far from enjoying his twilight status, he’d rather be tucked up in bed reading books about the human world. But what Vlad wants most of all is some friends and he thinks he knows just where to find them… at a human school called the Jollywood Academy. So, with his hood up to keep the sun out of his sensitive vampire eyes, off Vlad goes, along with his pet bat Flit. But how will Vlad keep his true identity secret from his new friends, including the adorable Minxie, and will he be able to keep them all hidden from his family? Life just got a lot more complicated for poor little Vlad!

Rising star illustrator Kathryn Durst brings Vlad and his marvellously mixed-up adventures to life while Wilson has the devil of a time dishing up bat-loads of fun with an extraordinary boy trying to find where he belongs in an ordinary world.

Guaranteed to leave young readers well and truly impaled!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Royal Rabbits of London: Escape from the Tower by Santa Montefiore and Simon Sebag Montefiore

Husband and wife team Santa and Simon Sebag Montefiore have pooled their considerable writing talents again for the second book in their outrageously entertaining Royal Rabbits of London series.

This illustrious couple are renowned storytellers whose books have been published all over the world. Santa pens popular women’s novels and her husband writes both fiction and non-fiction, but this exciting children’s book collaboration has won the hearts of both youngsters and their parents.

These terrific, high-octane adventures are set in a secret underworld of rabbits caught up in paparazzi-style conspiracies organised by a band of nasty, scheming rat photographers who are under the pernicious paws of their aptly named boss Papa Ratzi.

The non-stop action in this exciting and beautifully imagined world of heroic rabbits and dirty rats, which seduces with its air of nostalgia and chivalric charm, is brought to life by the lively, atmospheric illustrations of Kate Hindley.

In his daring new adventure, our unlikely little rabbit hero Shylo Tawny-Tail and his friends have to stop a visit by the US president from going horribly wrong…

Shylo is proud to call himself one of the Royal Rabbits of London, a secret order who live under Buckingham Palace and fight evil across the world. But high up in London’s famous skyscraper, the Shard, the horrible Ratzis are plotting to cause chaos during a visit from the President of the United States. And when the Grand Burrow is attacked and Shylo is kidnapped, it looks as though they might just manage it. Can Shylo escape in time to save the day?

Even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero in this enchanting and inspirational series which speaks loudly to children about challenging your fears, following your instincts and learning how empowering it can be to fight for what’s right, however dangerous that may be.

With its gorgeous silver-foiled jacket, fabulous illustrations and the promise of another adventure next year, this is the perfect gift for readers young and old.

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £10.99)

Age 6 plus:

Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties by Dav Pilkey

Hold on to your hats, Dav Pilkey is off the leash again and that means only one thing… the danger of death by laughter!

Graphic novels for kids don’t come better than the hilarious adventures of Dog Man, the newest hero from the ever-inventive Pilkey, creator of Captain Underpants.

Half-man and half-dog, Dog Man is the outlandish hero of an exciting, full-colour comic book series which is simply bursting with amazing illustrations, brilliant jokes, crazy cartoons and tail-wagging antics that tickle the funny bones of both young and older readers.

In his new outrageous outing, we find canine cop Dog Man still learning a few tricks of the trade. If only the Chief would throw him a bone every once in a while... Dog Man needs to dry up the drool, dust away the dander, and roll out of the refuse if he’s going to impress the Chief, and he needs to do it fast! Petey the cat is out of the bag, and his criminal curiosity is taking the city by storm. Can the canine crime biter unleash justice on this ruffian in time to save the city, or will Petey get away with the purrfect crime?

Dog Man has his work cut out as he battles to bust the furballs in this clever comical caper starring a lovable cat-and-dog double act.

Pilkey has the gift to keep us laughing from first page to last and with over 250 pages to fill your boots, the riotous fun really could leave you fighting for breath!

(Scholastic, hardback, £10.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Invincibles: The Beast of Bramble Woods by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton

Welcome back to the Henry household… a place where chaos reigns but fun is never far away!

The Beast of Bramble Woods is the third adventure featuring The Invincibles, a wonderfully playful series from the dream team of author Caryl Hart and illustrator Sarah Warburton, and the perfect introduction for middle graders starting to read alone.

These beautifully created stories – starring Nell Henry and her best friend Freddie Spoon, otherwise known as the Invincibles – are packed with lively illustrations, knockabout fun and a magical brand of subtle wit and knockabout fun.

In their latest mischievous outing, troublesome twosome Nell and Freddie gatecrash a camping party with hilarious results. Nell’s big brother Lucas, who likes staying in bed all day, and his nerdy teenage friends are camping out in the garden. They have got a fire, marshmallows and everything else to make the evening go with a swing. Nell and Freddie are desperate to join in but they have to go to bed at eight-thirty… yes, eight-thirty! So they come up with a plan to sneak back out and play some tricks.

They steal all the marshmallows and put a frog in a sleeping bag. However, their best prank on Lucas and his pals is pretending to be the Beast of Bramble Woods. But when Lucas catches them, they run off into the woods so that they don’t get told off. And then they get lost and hear scary noises. It’s just Lucas… isn’t it? Eek, maybe not!

Warburton’s fantastic three-tone illustrations – whether it’s long-haired, grouchy Lucas or ‘Pester Power’ double act Nell and Freddie – add bags of visual impact and energy to a story buzzing with perfectly pitched humour and outrageous antics.

Warm, witty and with all the action set in a reassuringly familiar family landscape recognisable to children from all walks of life, these are clever and entertaining stories for a new generation of young adventurers.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett

Is it a carnivore, is it a herbivore? No, it’s a bookivore!

He’s back and he’s chomping his way into danger… Nibbles, the adorable yellow monster who stole our hearts with his fairy tale-crunching antics in Nibbles: The Book Monster, is creating more mayhem and munching madness but this time he might have bitten off more than he can chew!

Multi-talented author and illustrator Emma Yarlett goes into her special brand of imaginative overdrive as naughty Nibbles chomps, munches and gnaws his way through a dinosaur guide packed with some of the scariest creatures that every roamed the Earth.

Only young readers can save the mischievous little monster from the jaws of death but first they will have to chase him through the pages of this prehistoric encyclopaedia, lifting the flaps and peeking through intriguing cut-out holes on a journey of fun, facts, jokes and crazy adventures.

Can he escape the clutches of Jurassic giants like triceratops, diplodocus and velociraptors as he chomps through the chapters, and will he finally meet his match when faced with the most terrible lizard of all… the tyrannosaurus rex, famous for having some of the biggest teeth EVER?

This ingenious new Nibbles book is ideal for little children who will enjoy the thrill of the chase with its flaps, fun and peepholes, but there are also plenty of subtle jokes and fascinating dinosaur facts for older, wiser readers to digest.

Innovative, cleverly interactive, brimming with the kind of bright and lively illustrations that children love and with a tasty twist in the tail, Nibbles’ book-eating adventures have the legs to run and run!

(Little Tiger, hardback, £12.99)

Age one plus:

I thought I saw a… dinosaur! by Lydia Nichols

Everyone loves a game of hide-and-seek, but with a dinosaur… surely not!

Lydia Nichols, an illustrator and designer who doodles for Google by day and draws anthropomorphic objects and animals by night, slides into ‘silly’ mode for a stylish board book packed with games and giggles.

Her enchanting ‘slider’ book invites curious babies and toddlers to join in a game of hide-and-seek by pushing a series of ingenious sliders to reveal where the dinosaur is hiding in every scene. Is it behind the sofa, at the hairdresser’s or in the shower? Just push the slider to find out!

With familiar scenes from everyday life and Nichols’ fresh and funny artwork, this clever board book is guaranteed to entertain readers both young and old.

A simple but joyful concept that will have little readers laughing all the way to the final slide show!

(Templar Publishing, board book, £5.99)

Age one plus:

Animals and First Words by Britta Teckentrup

Search-and-find games are fun whether you are aged nought to ninety, so here’s the perfect introduction to the joys of interactive books.

Much-loved author and illustrator Britta Teckentrup works her magic on two board books based on her popular first-concept titles and featuring her bold, stylish, retro-inspired artwork.

In Animals, little hands will enjoy turning the sturdy format pages as they match mothers to babies. Look for a mummy elephant, a big, cuddly bear, a worried seahorse, and a red parrot with a yellow beak. But can you find their babies?

And in First Words, little ones enjoy a beautiful introduction to first words, from pets and vehicles to objects around the home. Look through all the toys and find one that is soft and cuddly, peep under the sea and find a creature that has five arms. And say hello to the animals at the zoo. One is tall and spotty, which one is it?

A gentle rhyming text combined with spotting activities offer early concepts in a fun new way, inspiring young imaginations and providing a world of learning and discovery on every page!

Also included in this range are Colours and Opposites.

(Templar Publishing, board book, £6.99 each)