Clocking up history, a gorilla mum and seagoing skulduggery by various authors – children’s book reviews -

Take a look at our planet’s history, summed up in a single day, meet an orphan who’s adopted by a friendly gorilla, enjoy a historical adventure on board a ship full of mystery, discover how a problem shared is a problem halved, and follow a dream as it takes flight over the ocean in an exciting collection of new children’s books.

Earth Clock: The History of Our Planet in 24 Hours by Tom Jackson and Nic Jones
Earth Clock: The History of Our Planet in 24 Hours by Tom Jackson and Nic Jones

Age 8 plus:

Earth Clock: The History of Our Planet in 24 Hours

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Tom Jackson and Nic Jones

What would our planet’s history look like summed up in a single day?

Author Tom Jackson – who has written over 100 books and whose specialities are natural history, technology and all things scientific – and illustrator Nic Jones set their creative energies in action to imagine what tomorrow’s future holds for life on Earth in this stunning and informative book.

With the help of Jones’ richly detailed illustrations, and Jackson’s inspirational selection of topics for reading and discussion, this book charts the formation of Earth and the evolution of life through the analogy of a 24-hour clock.

Our planet has been spinning in the blackness of space for 4.5 billion years. People have only been around for a tiny part of it, so what happened before we arrived on the scene… before animals, dinosaurs, and even trees?

Starting the clock from the formation of Earth, young readers discover the most interesting and high-impact moments of our planet’s geological history as we count down to midnight. Watch oceans rise and life bloom across Earth’s surface as millions of years flash by in minutes, witness the asteroid that caused the dinosaurs’ extinction, explore endlessly evolving animals, and come face to face with our distant ancestors at just four seconds to midnight. And as the clock ticks closer to the present day, imagine what tomorrow’s future might have in store.

Jackson transforms the history of Earth into an exciting, fact-filled reading adventure as youngsters turn the pages on the past, present and future whilst poring over Jones’ atmospheric illustrations, all influenced by her passion for traditional drawing techniques, vivid colours and textured brushstrokes.

Get ready to be amazed at every fast-moving revelation… at every passing minute!

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

Age 6 plus:

The Ape Star

Frida Nilsson and LEE Films

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Every orphan dreams of being adopted… but surely not by a gorilla!

Frida Nilsson, one of Sweden’s leading children’s authors, explores adoption, prejudice, and what it means to be an outsider, in The Ape Star, an outstanding and entertaining book filled with black and white images from a LEE Films animated adaption, starring Stellan Skarsgård, which is now showing in cinemas worldwide.

First published in 2005 and instantly winning the hearts and minds of readers across the world, this eye-catching new edition of the bestseller – translated by Julia Marshall – captures all the exuberance, fun and poignancy of a story that asks important questions about society and conveys messages that speaks loudly to readers of every age.

Jonna lives in an orphanage where the manager is strict and obsessed with cleanliness. Like all the other children, Jonna has only one dream… to be adopted by a well-dressed mother who smells of perfume. But one day, a beat-up old car pulls up outside. The door opens and out step two thick hairy legs with muddy boots, followed by a belly as round as a barrel, and finally, a head like an overgrown pear. It’s a gorilla! Surely the orphanage won’t let a gorilla adopt a child but, to Jonna’s horror, the gorilla chooses her. Now Jonna sleeps in a hammock, and in the evenings the gorilla reads Dickens in her worn armchair. It turns out that Jonna and the gorilla have got a lot in common. But just when they have started to get along, a man from the council threatens to send Jonna back to the orphanage.

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This enchanting chapter book – ideal for reading aloud of new readers – tackles contemporary issues of economic hardship, marginalisation and justice with warmth, wit, compassion and insight as the unexpected friendship between a girl and gorilla becomes a love based on trust and a genuine sense of caring.

Children will love the quirky characters, the sparkling dialogue and the different slant on relationships that are the central themes of Nilsson’s resonant story. A triumph of storytelling by an exciting Swedish writer.

(Gecko Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

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The Accidental Stowaway

Judith Eagle and Kim Geyer

Immerse yourself in a fantastic historical adventure on board a ship full of mystery… and containing a girl who shouldn’t be there! A librarian in secondary schools, Judith Eagle – author of The Secret Starling and The Pear Affair – gets up a head of steam with this nautical thriller full of waves of fun and decks overflowing with high seas drama. In Liverpool in 1910, Patch runs up the gangway of the steamship, RMS Glorious, although she isn’t planning to hang around. But if she leaves her hiding place, the constable who is chasing her might catch her and ruin her reputation… so sitting tight is worth the risk. Too late, she realises that the ship is setting sail meaning Patch has become an accidental stowaway. Luckily, Patch’s unconventional past has made her pretty fearless when it comes to fending for herself and besides, there are friends in high – and low – places to be made on board. But hiding away becomes less and less easy… her new friends urgently need her help and there is a mystery that needs solving, all before they reach New York. Artist Kim Geyer provides the engaging chapter head illustrations which bring extra atmosphere to a maritime adventure with an invigorating salty tang and more than a whiff of seagoing skulduggery. Add on perfect pace and plotting, rich and vibrant period detail, a tough, feisty heroine to root for, and an unforgettable cross-Atlantic voyage to enjoy, and you have the dream escape for young readers.

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £7.99)

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Age 9 plus:

Filippo, Me and the Cherry Tree

Paola Peretti (translated by Denise Muir)

A teenage girl’s battle with losing her sight – and the difficult choices she must make along the way – are at the beating heart of this emotional and bitter-sweet story from Italian writer Paola Peretti. Inspired by her own experiences of living with loss of vision – after discovering she had a rare genetic and progressive illness called Stargadt Disease which causes eventual blindness – Peretti’s powerful, uplifting and moving story is the sequel to The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree which was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal in 2019 and introduced readers to Mafalda when she was nine and facing the life-changing diagnosis that her sight, would fail completely within six months. Mafalda is now thirteen and has been blind since she was ten. Her best friend is the cheerfully rule-breaking Filippo, and she is accompanied everywhere by Ottimo Turcaret, her devoted cat. Mafalda is always looking on the bright side, thinking of things she can do both now and in the future despite her loss of sight. But other things are worrying her too… her father who has lost his job and is now in the depths of depression and refusing to leave his bed, and Debbie, the horrible girl in school who seems very interested in Filippo. So now Mafalda has to start thinking what Filippo really means to her. Then two new adults come into her life… Elsa, a homeless young woman, and Nino, the elderly upstairs neighbour with an awful temper and a great passion for Charles Dickens. Little by little, Mafalda learns their stories, and how their lives have also been shaped by brave and difficult choices. Mafalda’s journey through the next phase in her life cannot fail to win hearts as she grows to understand the different facets of friendships and to hang on to your dreams however hard that might sometimes be. Beautifully written, sensitively translated by Denise Muir, and with inspirational messages for readers of any age.

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(Hot Key Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Feeling Good Club: Smash Your Worries, Bella!

Kelly McKain and Jenny Latham

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A problem shared is a problem halved… the old, and very wise, adage takes centre stage in the first book in a fresh and informative new series which helps youngsters to understand the healing power of sharing your feelings. Written by bestselling author Kelly McKain in journal format, and packed with the fun illustrations of Jenny Latham, The Feeling Good Club books put the benefits of mindfulness activities at centre stage. Meet Bella, Archie and Shazmin who learn to help each other to feel good and face their worries. Bella couldn’t be feeling worse about it being Feeling Good Week at school. With her best friend Rosh having moved away, she’s sad and lonely, and to top it all she has a Big Worry on her mind… the class talk. Then Bella is partnered with Shazmin and Archie, and is surprised to see the shoots of a new friendship growing. They even form the Feeling Good Club to share their problems and express their feelings. But when Shazmin and Archie try to help Bella with her Big Worry, things go badly wrong. How can Bella show her new friends how she feels? Youngsters with their own worries will empathise with these perfectly pitched stories which feature some brilliant mindfulness practices and show that sharing feelings with friends is the best way to banish your problems!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, ££5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Whisper on the Wind

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Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft

‘This is the wind that carries the whisper from Ren’s dream. This is the sailor, long at sea, who catches it.’ The multi-award-winning duo, author Claire Saxby and illustrator Jess Racklyeft, take youngsters on a magical and mesmerising over and under the ocean with Whisper on the Wind, a stunning picture book about separation, connection and reunion. A little girl called Ren who sleeps in a lighthouse dreams a glorious, colourful dream which is carried aloft in its bottle by the waves and the breeze over the dolphins that glint in the moonlight and into the fishing net of a sailor far out at sea. With Saxby’s gentle, lyrical, cumulative text, Racklyeft’s whimsical, richly imagined and atmospheric artwork, and a moving finale as we discover just who that sailor is, Whisper on the Wind is a celebration of the wonders of the ocean and a reassuring reminder to little ones that even when we are separated from family, love has the power to find us wherever we are.

(Allen & Unwin Children's Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

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To Catch a Cloud

Elena de Roo and Hannah Peck

Join an exhilarating chase across land and sea with a beautiful, colour-soaked, poetic picture book from the inspiration al team of New Zealand author Elena de Roo and Brighton-based illustrator Hannah Peck. To Catch a Cloud – with its lyrical rhyming verse and mesmerising pictures – is an epic tale full of nature’s potential dangers but with the action wrapped up in the vibes of a traditional sea shanty. We watch as a boy and a dog follow a cloud out to sea but as the weather worsens, he relies on the whales and waves to bear him home. ‘I spy a cloud go floating by Where do you go, Cloud, so high? To the sea She sings Where the wild gulls fly Then catch me if you can I cry We race each other to the sea Can’t catch me, Cloud Can't catch me’ With a stylish, refined colour palette, and an alluring sing-song quality to the writing, this classy picture book offers breathtaking beauty in both its words and its illustrations.

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £6.99)

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Age 2 plus:

How to Catch a Rainbow

Naomi Jones and Ana Gomez

Can you ever catch a rainbow? Naomi Jones – author of bestselling shape-themed books The Perfect Fit and One More Try – and Spanish illustrator Ana Gomez cast their magic over this colourful picture book which comes packed with fun, learning and creativity. Freya loves rainbows. She loves their bright colours and their curvy shape. And more than anything, she wishes she has one of her very own, one that she can keep forever. So Freya decides to become a Rainbow Hunter! She searches high and low, but no rainbows are to be found, so she decides to make her own, collecting items in every colour of the rainbow from the garden. But when things don’t go quite to plan, Freya has to use her imagination and creativity to come up with a way to make her wish come true. This vibrant, imaginative story – brimming with Gomez’s technicolour illustrations and a playful exploration of problem-solving – encourages little ones to talk about how rainbows are made… and is a joy to both look at and read.

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(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Lionel Eats All by Himself and Lionel Poops

Eric Veillé

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Learning about looking after your own body is all part of the very early years of a child… and there could be no more lovable character than cheeky toddler lion Lionel to teach some of the golden rules! French author and illustrator Eric Veillé has fun with two mischievous, earthy and gently educational board books starring an over-enthusiastic, impulsive little lion who likes to test his daily routines to their absolute limit. In Lionel Eats All By Himself, he can’t help but enjoying the remarkably messy results of his eating escapades. He sits in his highchair and insists on eating all by himself. His veggies… well done, Lionel! His soup… nice one, Lionel! But each bite leaves more and more mess in the room… and on Lionel. Watch out for the big burp to finish off before Dad helps Lionel who loudly insists on getting down from the table! And in Lionel Poops, we see Lionel cheerfully trying all sorts of places to poop before ending up proudly on the potty. He’s bouncing on his trampoline when all of a sudden he needs to poop. Where will he do it? On some cows! No, Lionel, no! On some wildcats! No, Lionel! Lionel thinks of many wrong places but eventually poops on his potty. Well done, Lionel! But wait… it seems that’s not all! With Lionel’s naughty grin and his dad’s eternally patient and amused voice leading the way, and Veillé’s charming illustrations to put Lionel in the picture, this clever, comical adventure of early learning will have all the family giggling and guffawing through Lionel’s misadventures!

(Gecko Press, board books, £6.99 each)