Book reviews: On the road with a new-look Mr Toad

The star of Kenneth Grahame's classic novel makes a comeback in a new season of fabulous reading with Oxford University Press children's books.

Tuesday, 21st February 2017, 10:34 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st March 2017, 9:05 am
The New Adventures of Mr Toad: The Race to Toad Hall by Tom Moorhouse and Holly Swain
The New Adventures of Mr Toad: The Race to Toad Hall by Tom Moorhouse and Holly Swain

And other familiar faces make a welcome return… Winnie the Witch and her black cat Wilbur star in three techno tales, favourite author Ali Sparkes is on electrifying form, and illustrator and writer Richard Byrne has more comedy capers.

Age 6 plus:

The New Adventures of Mr Toad: The Race to Toad Hall by Tom Moorhouse and Holly Swain

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Kenneth Grahame’s classic and much-loved children’s novel, The Wind in the Willows, has been a perennial favourite since it was first published in 1908.

The madcap adventures of Rat, Mole, Badger and the preposterous Mr Toad (with his ‘poop-poop-poop’ road-hogging car) were later dramatised by author and playwright A. A. Milne and became a Christmas treat as Toad of Toad Hall.

And now a fresh generation of young readers can enjoy the original mix of eccentricity, fun and adventure in an exciting new series from zoologist and celebrated author Tom Moorhouse who has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie award for his outstanding novel Trickster.

Taking his inspiration from the cherished classic, Moorhouse – with the help of stylish two-tone illustrations from Holly Swain – brings the action and the characters bang up to date without losing the spirit of Grahame’s 100-year-old story.

Teejay (Toad Junior), Mo and Ratty really shouldn’t be exploring the ruined, overgrown grounds of Toad Hall, but that has never stopped them before. This time, though, they fall into a tunnel. Undaunted by tales that the hall is haunted, they find something – or someone – in the ice house. It’s none other than Mr Toad, and he has been there for a hundred years.

It seems the children have found him in the nick of time because Wildwood Industrious (the shady operation run by the descendants of the Stoats and Weasels) is on the brink of claiming legal ownership of Toad Hall. Defrosted and dangerous – especially behind the wheel of a car – and with the help of his new friends, Mr Toad is ready to settle a score with some very shady weasels!

Moorhouse’s lively, high-impact story, featuring reimagined and brand new characters, is packed with comedy capers and outrageous antics as the intrepid Mr Toad takes the young animals on a hair-raising ride through thrills, spills and skulduggery.

And with a breathless road race to round off the adventure, and Swain’s illustrations capturing all the magic, mayhem and mishaps, this captivating series is set to drive haphazardly and headlong into the hearts of young readers everywhere.

(OUP, paperback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

Thunderstruck by Ali Sparkes

With over 30 children’s books to her name, award-winning author Ali Sparkes has her finger well and truly on the pulse of her young readers.

And this electrifying story about two ten-year-olds who get struck by lightning and then start seeing ghosts will certainly set hearts beating!

Thunderstruck is essentially a thrilling adventure story with a reality-bending twist, but it has a poignant real-life spark running through it as it was inspired by the true story of three teenagers struck by lightning in Southampton.

Getting struck by lightning whilst huddling under a tree isn’t exactly the way ten-year-olds Alisha and Theo would have chosen to get out of sports day at Beechwood Junior School. Surviving the strike makes them see life differently. It also makes them notice Doug and Lizzie. Struck by lightning under that same tree on the common in 1975, the two teenagers have been hanging out there ever since.

Doug and Lizzie are funny, clever, brave, and quite happy about making friends with a pair of ten-year-olds. OK, they are dead and Doug’s trousers are worryingly flared but you can’t have everything. But something sinister is going on at school… although only Theo and Alisha seem to be able to see it.

What can it mean when ragged, faceless entities keep staring in through the windows? Not all ghosts are friendly like Doug and Lizzie but are these phantoms really harbingers of doom for all the kids at the school? Together with their new ethereal friends, Alisha and Theo will have to stop some sinister goings-on before it’s too late…

Ideal for fans of Dr Who and brimming with nostalgic charm, fast-paced action, fun friendships and witty dialogue, this gorgeously ghastly and ghostly mystery is set to add an extra sparkle to reading time for children aged nine to eleven.

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Winnie and Wilbur Gadgets Galore by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

The crazy adventures of Winnie the Witch and her black cat Wilbur have provided spellbinding, bite-size stories for nearly three decades and now the two madcap stars are centre stage again for a fantastic three-stories-in-one picture book.

The Winnie and Wilbur books, written by the ever-inventive Valerie Thomas, have sold over five million worldwide and are a firm favourite with children.

Brilliantly illustrated in Korky Paul’s distinctive and charismatic style, the chaotic escapades of Winnie and Wilbur are always mad, bad and dangerously hilarious but scatterbrained Winnie is not as simple as she seems with her comic capers and special brand of anarchic fun often conjuring up some important life lessons for young readers.

Here we find Winnie and Wilbur discovering that although they both love their gadgets, their gadgets don’t always love them… sometimes a dollop of magic is needed to fix things. In the first story, In Space, Winnie says she has always wanted to go into space but Wilbur is not so sure… chasing moths, bats and shadows at night is more than enough adventure for him. And he was right because Winnie’s space escapades turn out to be mission impossible!

In The New Computer, Winnie plugs into more madcap antics when she logs on to the internet on her new computer. And as for the Big Bad Robot which Winnie builds at her art class, he turns into a monster out of control when she casts a magic spell on him.

Chaos and chortles all the way in three terrific three techno-tastic stories!

(OUP, paperback, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

This Book is Out of Control by Richard Byrne

Comedy slapstick in a picture book!

Ben and Bella, Richard Byrne’s playful storybook stars, are up to their eyes in page-turning troubles again as Ben’s remote-controlled fire engine causes some upside-down, inside-out, eye-boggling chaos.

The two friends live inside books and the pesky pages are up to their usual naughty tricks when Ben’s remote-controlled fire engine refuses to turn, spin or sound its siren. The remote buttons won’t work and while Ben and Bella scratch their heads over what to do, strange things are happening to Bella’s dog. It’s only when Ben tries the Voice button that the dog is able to speak. And what does he say? ‘Help! This book is out of control.’ Can readers come to the rescue?

Little ones are invited to join in the fun, press the buttons and then sit back and enjoy the hilarious, topsy-turvy results every time the page is turned!

Byrne is such a versatile author and illustrator, performing creative magic tricks for kids with his off-the-wall, visually entertaining stories and artwork.

Fun to read and fun to look at, this is another Richard Byrne book destined for the favourites pile!

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)