Fantastic facts, football legends and horrible history by various authors - book reviews -

Follow a magical trail of unexpectedly related facts, join kick-off with the famous Dick, Kerr ladies’ football team, bask in the poetry of summertime, and peep between the pages of Henry VII’s secret diary with a super collection of new children’s books.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 3:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 3:54 pm
FACTopia! Follow the Trail of 400 Facts

Age 8 plus:

FACTopia! Follow the Trail of 400 Facts

Kate Hale and Andy Smith

One thing leads to another, they say… and that’s never been truer than in the pages of this fascinating book!

FACTopia! – a magical trail of hundreds of unexpectedly related facts – comes from Britannica Books, an exciting reference imprint for young readers published by an inspired partnership between What on Earth Publishing and the famous Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Their mission is to inspire children’s curiosity and passion for learning, offering engaging non-fiction books that you can trust, with experts behind every page, and this coruscating cornucopia of extraordinary facts is truly a fun and fact-filled reading adventure.

Every fact in FACTopia! is connected to the next in an ingenious trail of information. Did you know that a squid has a brain shaped like a doughnut and that Canada has more doughnut shops per person than any country in the world? And did you know that some butterflies drink turtle tears?

Hop from topic to topic in unexpected and delightful ways, and discover what connects a giraffe with the Eiffel tower, or a slice of pizza with Cleopatra, why dinosaurs lead to chicken which in turn leads to breakfast and on to black holes.

On this awe-inspiring journey, youngsters choose their own path to find out extraordinary facts about space, bones, dinosaurs, spiders, sharks, robots, ancient Rome and lots more. And there’s not just one trail through these pages… sometimes the path branches and you can jump to a totally different, but still connected, part of the book.

The hilarious world of four hundred facts, all verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica, have been ferreted out by Kate Hale, a writer, editor and professional fun fact finder and a former executive editor for National Geographic Kids Books, and wittily and wonderfully brought to life by photographs, and Andy Smith’s illustrations.

So what are you waiting for… follow the trail and who knows where your curiosity will take you!

(Britannica Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

Dick, Kerr Girls: The Perfect Shot

Eve Ainsworth

Welcome back into the lives of the team of ordinary working girls from Preston who made footballing history.

The remarkable munitions workers from the Dick, Kerr factory in Strand Road – whose first match was played before an astonishing 10,000 spectators at Deepdale on Christmas Day in 1917 – take centre stage again in the second book of a thrilling Dick, Kerr Girls trilogy from Carnegie-nominated author Eve Ainsworth.

The Perfect Shot – which follows on from Kicking Off! – continues the retelling of events leading up to the formation of the famous Preston football team, which was formed at a time when women weren’t allowed to play professional football, but whose plucky members went on to play in front of crowds the size of today’s men’s Premier League teams.

With the end of the First World War being declared in 1918, Hettie’s brother Freddie should be feeling relieved, but unfortunately his personal war has only just begun. He is still crippled by nightmares and guilt about a mistake that led to a man’s death in the war.

He tries to distract himself by helping Hettie support the Dick, Kerr team, and his love for photography sees him quickly become their unofficial photographer, taking team shots and getting to know the girls.

Can the introduction of a new key player, Jessie Walmsley, a brave heroic woman, help Freddie to face his demons and will a new job opportunity, which gives him the chance to travel the country to report on the Dick, Kerr Girls, finally appease his father?

As the girls embark on their first domestic and international tour against the French Ladies team, Freddie finds he is on a journey of his own, facing up to his mistakes and taking a step to correct them.

Can he learn from the vital lesson that the Dick, Kerr Girls have to offer… that team work, communication and friendship can overcome just about anything.

Meticulously researched and brimming with the excitement and determination of those footballing legends, this powerful and inspirational series reminds us of the obstacles these young women faced, and the release that sport offered them from the grind of their daily lives.

From making new friendships and making history, Ainsworth’s storytelling celebration of a group of unforgettable women is sure to resonate with today’s generation of aspiring female footballers.

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Dick, Kerr Girls: Football’s Forgotten Legends

Gail J. Newsham and Thy Bui

And to tie in with the Dick, Kerr series, get your hands on the fantastic companion guide to Eve Ainsworth’s Dick, Kerr Ladies series.

Written by Preston author and historian Gail Newsham, a world authority on the courageous pioneers of women’s football, this bright and lively illustrated book reveals the true story of the women and their remarkable rise to footballing stars.

From the founding of the team in the First World War to the eventual ban on the women’s game by the FA, youngsters will love joining the team, who swapped their corsets for shorts and laced-up boots, on their journey to the top of the league.

Featuring Thy Bui’s colourful illustrations, photographs, match reports, original artefacts, and a history of the game, this beautifully produced guide is a must for any football fan.

So what are you waiting for… lace up your boots and get ready for kick-off!

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9-90:

A Poem for Every Summer Day

Edited by Allie Esiri

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.’

Let the words of the great Bard, William Shakespeare, inspire the sights and scents of summertime as you revel in this beautiful poetic celebration of the season of sunshine.

Expertly curated by award-winning and bestselling poetry anthologist Allie Esiri, A Poem for Every Summer Day will transport you to vivid summertime scenes, whether that’s the glorious heat of flaming June, the riot of blossoming flowers in July, or discovering the first blackberries in August.

These inspirational poems have been selected from Esiri’s bestselling poetry anthology, A Poem for Every Day of the Year and A Poem for Every Night of the Year, and are perfect for reading aloud and sharing with all the family.

With a dazzling array of familiar favourites and new discoveries, these seasonal poems – together with introductory paragraphs – are full of the lightness, brightness, adventurous and languorous qualities of summer and have a link to the date on which they appear.

With its striking cover and immaculate presentation, this beautiful book includes poems by Lord Byron, Sylvia Plath, Rudyard Kipling, W.B. Yeats and Langston Hughes who sit alongside the likes of Brian Bilston, Spike Milligan, John Agard and Kate Tempest.

Esiri is an insightful and sensitive anthologist and her introductions to each of the two poems for the morning and evening of each day of spring – from June 1 right through to August 31 – give readers a window into each poem and its relevance to a diverse selection of topics, emotions, historical moments and events.

Soul-enhancing and life-affirming, the verse in this enchanting collection will keep you company, entertained, and uplifted, on every day during the months of summer.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £14.99)

Age 8 plus:

Horrible Histories: The Secret Diary of Henry VIII

Terry Deary and Martin Brown

They say you should never look back but that doesn’t apply to history lessons with the incomparable ‘history boys’ Terry Deary and Martin Brown!

For 28 years, the endlessly entertaining and much-loved Horrible Histories series has been enthralling youngsters and now brilliantly inventive author Deary and his equally talented illustrator team-mate Brown are blowing our minds with their brand new Horrible Histories’ Secret Diaries of the most extraordinary (and Horrible) characters of all time.

These intriguing explorations are the perfect introduction to important figures from history. Fully illustrated throughout and told from the character’s (sometimes delusional) point of view, each diary reveals the (quite likely) inner workings of their minds during the events that shaped their lives.

And who better to kick off this time-travelling, fun-filled odyssey than Henry VIII, one of history’s largest and most tyrannical kings, as we peep between the pages of his secret diary.

Covering key moments in Henry’s life, and the history of the Tudor period, the diary reveals his reaction to the death of his father, Henry VII, his experiences at the famous field of the cloth of gold, his relations with the Church, hopes for a son, and thoughts on his enemies and allies… right up to the end of his life in 1547.

Delve into Henry’s secret thoughts on the plague, his wives, executions, feasts and hunting in this amazing book full of madcap moments and foul facts from deadly days gone by.

Filled with Brown’s eye-catching and quirky illustrations, and Deary’s laugh-out-loud wit and superb historical detail, each diary is a great introduction to a pivotal era in British history, and sure to capture young imaginations.

History has never been so horrible, and so hilariously entertaining!

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

A Girl Called Joy

Jenny Valentine

Everyone needs a little joy in their life so meet ten-year-old Joy Applebloom, a girl with a knack for finding the silver lining in even the darkest of rain clouds!

Lift your spirits and join in the fun with the first book of a sparkling debut middle grade series about family, friends and finding some much-need joy in life from award-winning young adult author Jenny Valentine whose first novel, Finding Violet Park, won the Guardian prize in 2007.

After years of travelling the world with her parents and thirteen-year-old older sister Claude (Claude rhymes with bored, which is just about right), Joy and her family move to suburbia. Going to school and living with her grumpy, rule-obsessed, and recently widowed grandad is ‘normality’ and Joy isn’t used to a ‘normal’ life.

The family have been moving and ‘mucking about’ in all corners of the world since she was a baby and coming back home to live with grandad is making Joy feel ‘extremely squidged in.’ And that’s not good for a sunny, adventurous girl like Joy who is always on the lookout for some ‘everyday, actual real-life magic.’

And soon she finds that her usual irrepressible positivity and zest for life is waning… but when the powers-that-be threaten to pull down a mighty oak tree in the grounds of her school, Joy decides to fight back and realises that not all magic requires wands and spells.

Perhaps the most important sort of magic is the power, resilience and courage that was there all along.

Prepare for bags of laughs and some important life lessons as we join joyful Joy on her journey from carefree globetrotter to struggling schoolgirl. With a superbly portrayed cast of characters, acute insights into the complex dynamics of family life, and an addictive sense of humour and optimism which are perfect for our times, Joy’s adventures look set to be a beacon of hope and happiness.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Rita’s Rabbit

Laura Mucha and Hannah Peck

Finding a best friend proves to be a scaly, scary, scratchy journey of self-discovery in a witty and wonderful debut picture book from award-winning author and poet, Laura Mucha.

Rita’s Rabbit is a beautifully created, cautionary tale from ex-lawyer Mucha who teams up with rising star illustrator Hannah Peck to deliver some important life messages.

Rita really really wanted a rabbit. But her grandad’s birthday gift is NOT the fluffy pet rabbit she longed for. Instead she is given Spike who is a scaly, scary, scratchy, scrabbly, scrawny, speckled and spiky bearded dragon. But when a fussy, grouchy, messy rabbit comes to stay, she discovers rabbits aren’t necessarily as adorable as they seem. And when Spike saves the day, Rita is very glad to be rid of the rabbit and now very in love with her speckled, scrawny, spiky pet!

Youngsters will love Mucha’s resonant message about being careful what you wish for as the lovable Spike – brought to glorious life by Peck’s original and quirky artwork – wins the heart of Rita, and readers young and old.

A classic tale that has the (spiky) legs to run and run!

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Is There Life on Your Nose?: Meet the Microbes

Christian Borstlap

Get ready to sniff out answers to some big questions!

Let’s start with… are there living things on your nose? The answer, of course, is yes, there are countless creatures invisible to the naked eye… they’re called microbes and they do an amazing job.

From cheese to poo, recycling to evolution, Dutch illustrator, designer and art director Christian Borstlap’s playful and informative new picture book helps children to get acquainted with the microbes that make up every part of our daily life.

Germs, microbes, bacteria… these words have unfortunately become fraught with fear and uncertainty but, through words and pictures, Borstlap shows us that they’re not all bad. In fact, most of them make life and nature possible.

The bold and beautifully coloured illustrations and cheerful text in Is There Life on Your Nose? –produced by leading independent publisher Prestel – helps youngsters understand that microbes are everywhere… in our noses and tummies, in the food we eat and in the air we breathe.

From the world’s largest organism – a honey fungus stretching over 3.8 square miles across Oregon’s Blue Mountains – to the bacteria that started life on earth, and from microbes that help recycle plastic to yeast that makes bread taste good, this book shows the incredible diversity of these tiny beings and how they affect every aspect of our lives.

Using both science and humour to demystify a potentially scary subject, Borstlap ends his microbe journey with double-page spreads that are packed with more facts and information about this ‘invisible’ world to satisfy the most curious readers.

Marvellous microbes as you’ve never before seen them!

(Prestel Publishing, hardback, £12.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Plesiosaur’s Neck

Dr Adam S. Smith, Jonathan Emmett and Adam Larkum

What swims deep in the ocean and has an AMAZING seventy-six bones in its seven-metre neck? A plesiosaur, of course!

Join in the fun of a centuries-old puzzle as three brilliant minds explore some entertaining theories on how the 73 million-year-old Cretaceous period dinosaur, the plesiosaur, came to have such an extraordinarily long neck.

World-renowned plesiosaur expert Dr Adam S. Smith, award-winning author Jonathan Emmett and illustrator Adam Larkum work their prehistoric magic on this fun and fact-filled rhyming picture book which blends laughter with fascinating science.

‘There’s one thing about her that’s hard to ignore, THAT RIDICULOUS NECK! What on Earth was it for?’ Poppy the plesiosaur had a preposterously long neck, but what was it for? Did she use it to pluck pesky parasites off her backside, to zap predators with electricity, to delve into tunnels for crunchy-shelled snacks, to ambush unlucky fish, or to help her stay lazing while her head went off grazing?

Officially called an Albertonectes, after the Canadian province of Alberta where fossils of plesiosaurs have been found, the ancient marine reptile’s seven-metre neck made up almost two-thirds of its entire body length and why it was so extraordinarily long has been a puzzle to palaeontologists for many years.

With its mixture of a playful, rhyming text explaining each hypothesis, plenty of prehistoric puns, fact-filled information boxes exploring the science behind the suggestions, and a wry, running commentary from two chirpy, cheeky cephalopods – Alfie Ammonite and Bella Belemnite – this is the perfect way to make learning fun.

Add on Larkum’s lively, beautiful and scientifically accurate illustrations and you have a dream read for fact-guzzling young dinosaur fans.

The winner by a neck!

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 4 plus:

Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn

Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Calling all kitten and unicorn lovers… here’s a magical picture book you really wouldn’t want to miss!

Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn is the stunning creation of award-winning and bestselling superstar duo Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham – the team behind the brilliant graphic novels Real Friends and Best Friends –and it’s the perfect celebration of enjoying being yourself.

Kitty thinks she might be a unicorn. She feels so perfectly unicorn-y! ‘Neigh!’ says Kitty. But when Unicorn clop clop clops over, sweeping his magnificent tail and neighing a mighty neigh, Kitty feels no bigger than a ball of lint. Can this unlikely pair embrace who they are, and truly see one another?

This is the first picture book together from the talented author and illustrator whose own close friendship is the inspiration for a story brimming with heart-melting poignancy and a tail-twitching, fuzzy-feeling of joyous self-empowerment.

Hale’s charming, funny and whimsical story – with its smiles and struggles superbly portrayed – is perfectly paired with Pham’s brightly coloured and endearing illustrations, making the book the most irresistible and perfectly unicorn-y story imaginable.

(Abrams Books for Young Readers, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Three Happy Lions

Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin

One plus one makes three in the third enchanting book from one of the 20th century’s classic picture book teams.

The Three Happy Lions, a warm-hearted and timeless story about the complex dynamics of family and work life, was created by Swiss husband and wife team, Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin, and was first published over 50 years ago.

Duvoisin was born in Geneva in 1900 and studied art in Paris. He married artist Louise Fatio and in 1927 they moved to New York City. Duvoisin wrote and illustrated forty books, and illustrated over one hundred more by other authors.

This stylish new edition is the follow-up to the couple’s much-loved The Happy Lion, which won the inaugural German Children’s Book Prize in 1956, and The Happy Lion Roars… with all of them retaining the seductive retro feel that has delighted generations of readers and inspired many other illustrators.

These charming and exquisitely produced books come from the stable of London-based Scallywag Press, a children’s book company which aims to publish work by talented newcomers as well as classic titles and the work of favourite authors and illustrators with established reputations.

In this third adventure, we recall that there was once ONE Happy Lion who lived in the zoo of a little French town. Then there were TWO Happy Lions, and that is much better than one because two is company. And now there are THREE Happy Lions!

The proud parents are delighted with their new cub François but what profession could he have? How can they help launch him into the world? After trying out a couple of jobs, the grown cub finally chooses his own career… and thankfully becomes another happy lion!

These adorable Happy Lion stories have has lost none of their Gallic charm and this elegantly written and beautifully expressive illustrated story celebrates the warmth, joy and loving bonds of family, and the importance of finding your own path in life.

With its gentle sense of fun and mischief, beguiling French backdrop, and clever use of occasional French words to introduce children to the culture of another country, these powerfully emotive and entertaining books have certainly stood the test of time and are the ideal gift for a new generation of readers.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)