An evil dragon, an epic voyage and life on Earth By various authors - book reviews -

As the nights draw in, there’s more time for reading and youngsters have an exciting collection of novels in which to share some epic adventures as a raft of thrilling new children’s books start to hit the shelves.

Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 12:30 pm
Dragon Mountain
Dragon Mountain

Age 9 plus:

Dragon Mountain

Katie Tsang and Kevin Tsang

Deep within the mountain, a creature is stirring in its sleep and as its eyes roll back in its head, and its wings jerk wide open, a great adventure is about to unfold.

Husband and wife team, Katie and Kevin Tsang, authors of the Sam Wu is Not Afraid young fiction series, are back breathing fire with the first book in their thrilling new Dragon Realm fantasy series featuring dragons, danger and daring deeds.

And children will certainly be fired up when they share the adventures of four friends who stumble upon warrior dragons trapped inside a secret mountain and join forces to fight a deadly enemy.

When 12-year-old Billy Chan finds out his parents are sending him on a long train journey to a summer camp in middle-of-nowhere China, he doesn’t know what to expect.

In a place surrounded by huge mountains which climb to dizzying heights, he meets fellow campers Dylan, Charlotte and Ling-Fei and together they discover an age-old secret… four powerful, clever and fearsome warrior dragons are hidden deep within a mountain behind the camp.

They have been trapped since an epic battle with the Dragon of Death and now they need the children’s help to set them free before terrible evil is unleashed on the earth.

Billy and his friends must set off on a dangerous adventure that will take them to the heart of the Dragon Realm… but can four children save the dragon and human worlds from destruction?

Dragon Mountain is a fabulous, fun-filled, escapist adventure for young readers who love fantasy, action, friendships and humour, and all set against the fantastic backdrop of Chinese mythology and legends.

With the tension ratcheting up at every turn of the page, a brilliantly imagined cast of characters, and a thrilling storyline wrapped up enticingly with mystery and magic, this is a dazzling opener to what promises to be fiery new series.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Haunting of Aveline Jones

Phil Hickes and Keith Robinson

Hands up if you love a scary ghost story?

There will be plenty of eager takers for this brilliantly spooky and spine-tingling new mystery series from debut author Phil Hickes who grew up near Manchester in a house that overlooked a graveyard and liked nothing better than a scary bedtime read.

Starring ghost-mad, bookworm schoolgirl Aveline Jones, who firmly believes England is jam-packed with spooky beings, Hickes’s thrilling and atmospheric first book was inspired by a visit to Lyme Regis and the notion of second-hand books and how they create a connection between the new reader and someone they have never met before.

Aveline Jones loves reading ghost stories, so a dreary October half-term at the windswept Cornish seaside home of her Aunt Lilian – she’s ‘nice but cold, like ice-cream’ – becomes much more exciting when she discovers Ghosts and Phantoms of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, a spooky old book in a tiny second-hand bookshop.

Not only are the stories spine-tingling, but it once belonged to Primrose Penberthy, who vanished mysteriously over 30 years ago, never to be seen again. Intrigued, Aveline decides to investigate Primrose's disappearance. But someone... or something, is stirring, and it’s looking for Aveline!

Hickes ratchets up the tension with masterly precision in this perfectly paced and gripping story which contains all those ingredients which turn a mystery into a page-turner… strange apparitions, stormy seascapes, scary scratching noises, spooky sightings and revelations galore.

And at the heart of all the action and drama is the adorable, brave and determined Aveline who fights all her fears to discover the truth about missing Primrose wherever that may take her and however dangerous it may prove to be.

Creepy, compulsive and crammed with thrills and chills, this is the perfect book to smuggle under the bedclothes and read by torchlight!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk

Natasha Farrant

Get ready to shed tears, have your heart well and truly captured, and share an epic voyage across the English Channel with an enchanting standalone novel from much-loved children’s author Natasha Farrant.

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk takes middle-grade readers on an action-packed adventure from England to France with two troubled youngsters as they struggle to find their way in the aftermath of the First World War.

In the first spring after the Great War, everyone in the village of Barton is trying to rebuild their lives. Ben is alone with his dog, Elsie, and has no one to look after him. If he is to avoid being sent back to the orphanage by the authorities, he needs to find his brother, Sam, wounded in action and now missing.

Meanwhile, Lotti’s horrible aunt and uncle want to send her away to boarding school (when she has just so successfully managed to get expelled from her last one!) so now she’s on the run with a stolen Chihuahua dog. And Clara, their young teacher, is waiting for news of her missing fiancé.

When disaster strikes, Lotti and Ben know they must get away. And so they hatch a plan… to cross the Channel on Ben’s narrowboat, The Sparrowhawk, and find Sam. And there’s something in France that Lotti is looking for too...

Buffeted by storms and chased by the police, Lotti, Ben, Clara and a growing number of dogs set out on an epic journey, in search of lost loved ones and a place to call home.

Farrant’s dazzling, delightful novel has all those ingredients that turn a story into a page-turner… a charismatic cast of characters, exciting adventures, inspirational messages about family and friendship, a sense of youthful adventure and optimism, and riveting action sequences.

A maritime odyssey with a heart full of love and compassion…

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Key to Finding Jack

Ewa Jozefkowicz

The power of friendship and family speaks volumes in a beautiful and emotive mystery story from Waterstones Prize shortlisted author Ewa Jozefkowicz.

Flick Chesterford’s big brother, Jack, goes missing in Peru and she is desperate to find him. But can she solve the greatest mystery of all… who Jack really is?

Twelve-year-old Flick adores Jack and loves solving puzzles with him. But prankster Jack, who is six years older than her, is soon to flee the family nest and Flick worries he will change and she will lose her partner in crime.

But during his gap year in Peru, tragedy strikes when an earthquake devastates the region and no one knows what has happened to Jack. Flick and her family are thrown into the horrible unknown.

And Flick is bewildered to discover that Jack has left behind his treasured key on a fine gold chain and a note tucked inside the chain saying ‘For SF to keep until I’m back.’ She clings to the hope that SF (whoever that is) might hold the clue to finding her brother.

When she sets out to uncover the identity of its owner, she meets new friends, rekindles a special relationship and discovers a whole new side to Jack. Fascinating clues from a legend about Inca gold, and the key with magical powers help her along the way but can she solve the greatest mystery of all… who Jack really is?

There is a joyful vibrancy to this intriguing mystery tale which celebrates the journey of self-discovery from youth to adulthood, and the unbreakable bond between siblings. Warm, full of compassion and pulled along by an addictive sense of adventure, The Key to Finding Jack is an enchanting, heart-hugging read.

(Zephyr, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Sticky Pines: The Thing At Black Hole Lake

Dashe Roberts

Spooky things are afoot in the sleepy American town of Sticky Pines and it means young readers are going to be glued to the page… again!

The Thing At Black Hole Lake is the second electrifying instalment of Dashe Roberts’ cult mystery series which offers thrills, spills and laughs aplenty, and has caught the imagination of thousands of young sci-fi fans.

Roberts, a Californian who now lives in London, is well known for her mind-bending, laugh-out-loud sci-fi adventures for kids and this sequel to The Bigwoof Conspiracy delivers the same addictive blend of fast-paced action, dazzling heroes, vile villains and freaky fun.

After the earth-shattering events of the Bigwoof Conspiracy, Milo Fisherr and Lucy Sladan are no longer friends, leaving Lucy to continue her search into alien life and the Truth which she knows is out there.

But Holy Flippin Crudballs, Milo has found something lurking in Black Hole Lake… a dark and sinister creature. It’s the kind of monstrous discovery that would make his ex-friend Lucy’s mind explode like confetti… if he was still speaking to her, which he isn’t.

But Lucy won’t be kept in the dark… she’s on to Milo, following her own clues, and closing in on an even greater secret. Unfortunately, these new discoveries are putting them both in terrible danger. Can the two of them survive and, more importantly, will they ever be friends again?

With its creepy, atmospheric backdrop, hilarious wise cracks at every twist and turn, and enough skulduggery to make the whole town of Sticky Pines tremble with fear, The Thing At Black Hole Lake is just the thing to make autumn nights even darker!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

The House of Clouds

Lisa Thompson and Alice McKinley

The bond between a grandparent and child is one of the most powerful, and yet under-valued, relationships that a human being can experience.

In their formative years, children can share unique ties with their grandparents and learn important life lessons through the older generation’s longevity, wisdom, understanding and experience.

And it’s this magical relationship which comes under the spotlight in a moving, honest and sensitive story from award-winning and bestselling children’s novelist Lisa Thompson.

Produced in a super readable format by innovative publisher Barrington Stoke, and especially suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers, The House of Clouds is a tale of friendship, loss and finding the unexpected.

Tabby is fed up. She is fed up with losing her best friend Rebecca who has found a new pal, and fed up that Grandad has come to live with them. Grandad is always telling the same old silly, made-up stories and now Tabby has to walk his smelly dog Buster every day after school.

When one of Tabby’s walks takes her to a lonely hilltop house called the House of Clouds, she spots something strange going on… something so strange that she can’t help but mention it to Grandad who of course turns it all into another fantasy.

But when tragedy strikes, Tabby is left wondering if Grandad’s impossible story could be true?

With the charming and atmospheric black and white illustrations of Alice McKinley to bring the story to life, Thompson’s exquisitely told story is a poignant reminder of the warmth and joy of family connections, a heartfelt exploration of overcoming grief, and a celebration of the power of the imagination.

Emotional, woven through with sadness, and yet ultimately uplifting…

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu and You

Mike Barfield and Jess Bradley

How does the human body work, what goes on in the animal kingdom, and what makes the world go round?

Asking questions is all part of growing up and finding the answers can be fun… particularly when you dig into the fascinating facts inside this brilliant, illustrated, laugh-out-loud guide to life on Earth.

If you’ve ever wanted to dig the dirt on pongy poos, busy beetles and twisting tornadoes, find out what a panda does all day long, discover how your heart manages to shift all that blood around your body, or learn what makes a rainbow shine, this is the perfect book for you.

A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu and You features the answers to all of these questions and many more, and they are all revealed in a super-fun comic book format in three sections… human body, animal kingdom, and Earth and science.

With facts, laughs and amazing illustrations on every page, you can choose a subject and then dive in at your leisure. Meet your grumpy liver that has to do practically everything, your trusty hands that are very, well, handy, the spiky porcupines ready to charge, lonely Mars rovers abandoned on the Red Planet, raging tornadoes ready to rip through the pages of the book, and bubbly volcanoes ready to blow.

From hilarious comics to secret diaries and detailed diagrams, there are so many things to discover and learn, and all the facts are told in the fun, friendly and informative style of the talented writer, poet, performer and award-winning cartoonist Mike Barfield, and brought to life by the colour-explosion of Jess Bradley’s awesome illustrations.

With its innovative concept and format, and its vibrancy and imaginative child-appeal, A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu and You is the ideal gift for any child who likes to mix their learning with a big dollop of laughter!

(Buster Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Butterfly Brain

Laura Dockrill and Gwen Millward

Coping with, and understanding, grief is one of the hardest life lessons for young children... and sometimes a clever book can put into words what a carer or parent can’t.

So here is a very special illustrated story from two rising stars – performance poet and novelist Laura Dockrill and creative illustrator Gwen Millward – which delivers a beautiful and moving exploration of grief, and the joy that makes us human.

Everyone is always shouting at Gus to stop leaning back in his chair… but does he care? No way! Then sure enough, the chair falls, he cracks his head and has to spend all summer recovering in bed.

Out of the crack in his head escape his memories, dreams and imagination... and a beautiful little butterfly guide. Gus must follow the butterfly to recapture all he has lost, including that locked box he doesn’t seem to want to touch.

Together they remember fish fingers, snapping bubble wrap, cracked pink soap and the leaky tap. They go wild, stomping around in the joy of imagination and happy dreams… but they can’t go any further if Gus won’t gather all of his memories. His butterfly will die unless Gus is ready to hear about his mum who also died...

Dockrill, whose inventive and vibrant approach to life is reflected in the vividly imagined worlds she creates, digs deep into a troubled child’s hidden and confused emotions in this lyrical ode to grief and joy as she explores the conflicting feelings that humans battle with throughout their lives.

Brimming with powerful imagery, gentle messages, and Millward’s emotive illustrations which bring an added later of depth and meaning, this is a story that speaks loudly to both children and adults about the importance of accepting loss and storing memories as a way of keeping our loved ones alive.

Poetry in motion…

(Piccadilly Press, hardback, £9.99)

Age 3 plus:

Winnie and Wilbur: Around the World

Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

The adventures of Winnie the Witch and her black cat have provided spellbinding, bite-size stories for over 30 years and the two madcap stars take centre stage again in this multi-coloured, animal-hunting picture book.

Written by the ever-inventive Valerie Thomas and brilliantly illustrated in Korky Paul’s distinctive, busy and charismatic style, Winnie and Wilbur’s escapades are always mad, bad and dangerously hilarious, and their new adventure comes in a colourful and wild adventure story written especially for the family’s youngest members.

Winnie and Wilbur are visiting the wild animals from their library book in real life. It’s exciting to journey by magic all around the world, but there is trouble for our travellers when they encounter a series of hilarious mishaps. Enjoy all the fun as they join a camel train in the desert, go bouncing with kangaroos and have a narrow escape from a hungry crocodile!

With giggles, anarchy and slapstick fun, this whistle-stop global safari has all the hallmarks of a classic Winnie and Wilbur outing, but scatterbrained Winnie is not as simple as she seems and always conjures up some fascinating discoveries amidst all the frantic fun and chaotic capers.

With Paul’s highly detailed and playful illustrations, and Thomas’ madcap story, this wickedly funny Winnie adventure is guaranteed to cast a spell!

(OUP, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

What's In My Lunchbox?

Peter Carnavas and Kat Chadwick

An apple in a lunchbox… is better than a dinosaur!

Open the pages of this delightful picture book by author Peter Carnavas and illustrator Kat Chadwick and share the laughter with a little boy who turns up his nose at healthy eating only to find that the alternatives are the wildest, wackiest offerings you could ever imagine.

Picky eaters will gobble up important messages about the rewards of eating well as our little hero discovers a series of weird and wonderful things hiding in his lunchbox… an apple, a fish and an egg are quickly rejected until a bear and a dinosaur make an unwelcome appearance. As each opening reveals more absurd lunches, the boy finds the original offering of an apple far more appealing.

Carnavas’s simple yet persuasive story, brought to life by Chadwick’s whimsical illustrations, is a tasty dish to serve up to your own fussy eaters!

(New Frontier Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Big Words for Little People: Kindness

Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese

What does being kind really mean?

Understanding emotions and words is all part of early development for young children and this clever, conceptual book from the boffins at Oxford University Press helps young children to explore their feelings by giving them the everyday words they need to fill our world with kindness.

Big Words for Little People: Kindness is the first picture book in an exciting new series exploring big topics with young children in a way that feels warm and right. It has been created to help young children develop and understand how they can use their words to help them navigate emotions and first experiences.

Using carefully chosen words and phrases, such as ‘giving,’ ‘caring,’ ‘helping,’ ‘being thankful’ and ‘taking turns,’ and with fun illustrations throughout, Kindness creates a special moment for grown-ups and young children to focus on what it means to be kind in everyday life.

Children can discover and understand the new words to help them to talk about the ups and downs of first experiences and new emotions with confidence, and adults can use the book to talk about feelings and explain them to the youngest children in an engaging and accessible way.

The simple appealing art style and fun characters make the books accessible and perfect to share, and each includes reassuring tips on how to encourage conversation and build language confidence. There are also ten ideas at the back which help parents and teachers to get the most out of the book.

With its child-friendly focus on feelings, and its clever use of words and ideas to aid understanding, this is just the kind of educational goodness that helps children to develop and grow.

Perfect for reading and sharing together…

(OUP, hardback, £5.99)