Ghosts galore, vaulting ambition and bad brothers by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Enjoy the first story of a simply spooktacular new adventure series, meet a boy whose ambitions reach to the moon and back, learn all about the science behind plants, head off to Paris for daring escapades and immerse yourself in a wonderfully murky, carnivalesque world of magic and mystery in a summer holiday selection of children’s books.

Dead Good Detectives by Jenny McLachlan and Chloe Dominique
Dead Good Detectives by Jenny McLachlan and Chloe Dominique

Age 8 plus:

Dead Good Detectives

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Jenny McLachlan and Chloe Dominique

Brace yourself for magic, danger, pirates, giggles, and ghosts galore, as Jenny McLachlan – author of the critically accalimed Land of Roar series – returns with a simply spooktacular new adventure series.

Epic, exciting, and extraordinarily funny, Dead Good Detectives – brimming with the fabulous black and white illustrations of Chloe Dominique – was inspired by the author’s visit to an alleged ‘pirate graveyard’ in Dorset where headstones had engravings of skulls and crossbones.

It was just ‘the bones’ needed to set McLachlan’s prodigious imagination whirring and the result is a gorgeously ghostly tale that delivers the perfect balance of comedy, capers, thrills, spills and some fascinating nuggets of history.

Twelve-year-old Sid Jones loves hanging out in the graveyard with her best friend Zen – they are desperate to see a real-life ghost! But when Sid accidentally summons a 300-year-old pirate from the dead (AND his shouty parrot!), it opens the door to the Halfway House, a magical inn full of lost souls from across the ages, all trapped there by a sinister landlord. There are more ghosts than Sid could ever have imagined… and they’re all sure Sid is there to save them! (Sid’s equally sure there’s been some kind of mistake.) But someone else is watching, and they are not happy about Sid helping the ghosts. Tick, tock… time is running out!

With magical mysteries to solve, a story full of spooks and spine-tingling fun, a cast of adorable characters you’ll love to meet again, and a gentle reminder that being one of life’s worriers can have unexpected advantages, Dead Good Detectives is more than just a dead good read… it’s a gripping, rip-roaring, unmissable adventure!

(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

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I Want the Moon

Frann Preston-Gannon

‘Working late at his desk in his office one night, the man raised his head as the space filled with light. Moonbeams and memories flooded the room as did his longing of owning the moon…’

Meet a boy whose ambitions reach to the moon and back in a stunning, rhyming picture book from award-winning author and illustrator Frann Preston-Gannon.

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An over-indulged little boy grows into a very wealthy man who has everything he could possibly want on Earth. There is only one thing left that he MUST have… the moon he coveted as a child. Plans are drawn, machines built and factories sent spluttering into the air. Giant towers grow up and up and up. Soon the moon is nearly within the man’s grasp… but someone else wants it too. Their tug-of-war ends in disaster when the moon shatters into a thousand pieces and now it’s up to the children to come to the rescue...

I Want the Moon is a richly-detailed and mesmerising story, written with lyrical beauty, and with an important message about greed, happiness, and where NOT to look for it.

Filled with Preston-Gannon’s trademark textured illustrations, with their eye-catching use of colour and bold, distinctive design, and beautifully capturing the retro atmospherics of the past and the contrasting, diverse nature of the contemporary world, this wise and cautionary tale speaks loudly to readers both young and old.

(Templar Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

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Age 5 plus:

Ada Twist, Scientist: The Why Files: All About Plants!

Andrea Beaty, Dr Theanne Griffith and David Roberts

How do plants grow? It’s a mystery, it’s a riddle, a puzzle, a quest!

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Learn all about the science behind plants with the second book in the fantastic Ada Twist, Scientist: The Why Files series, a welcome full-colour, non-fiction early reader addition to the bestselling Questioneers series and the new Netflix show.

A scientist to her very core, Ada Twist asks why again and again, and her questions always lead youngsters on a fascinating journey of discovery in Andrea Beaty and David Roberts’ brilliant The Questioneers books.

Here the author and illustrator team join forces with brain scientist Dr Theanne Griffith to guide youngsters through the wonderful world of plants. What do plants eat, why do some plants have flowers and others don’t, and what’s the tallest plant out there? Discover how plants use their roots to soak up water and nutrients, learn about their stems which hold leaves up to the sun, and be amazed at how a plant dust called pollen helps to make more plants.

Filled with fun, facts and fabulous illustrations, Ada Twist, Scientist: The Why Files is the perfect non-fiction resource for all children who love asking question, and enjoy learning along with Ada.

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Designed in a scrapbook format, these books combine art from the show, illustrations and photography to bring simple science concepts to life. And with two experiments to do at home, All About Plants! is the ideal book to entertain, educate and empower the scientists of tomorrow.

(Amulet Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Unexpected Tale of the Bad Brothers

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Clare Povey

Prenez garde! Buckle up for more thrills, spills and truly villainous villains in the second book of Clare Povey’s French-flavoured, literary adventure series starring orphan boy Bastien Bonlivre and his daring escapades in 1920s Paris. Povey, who fell in love with France as a child and was inspired by stories in her local library, won the Waterstones Children’s Book of the month with her brilliant debut, The Unexpected Tale of Bastien Bonlivre, and she returns with another epic mystery for Bastien and his friends. Bastien is in trouble again. His sworn enemy, Olivier Odieux, has escaped jail and is after Bastien once more. Meanwhile, trouble is also brewing in Paris. Fires are burning, and danger lurks at every corner. Who could be behind this? As clues start piling up, Bastien and his friends Theo, Alice and Mathilde must set off on a risky treasure hunt to track down the answers they so desperately need. Because if they don’t find them, it won’t just be Bastien who is in danger… The sights, sounds and smells of Paris spring to vivid life in this suspense-packed, moving and empowering tale of friendship, staying strong, standing up to bullies, and the triumph of good over evil. A summer reading treat from an author with a gift for magical storytelling.

(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

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The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott

Sharon Gosling

Join a daring and ambitious Victorian girl on a voyage of discovery in a thrilling new adventure from Carlisle author Sharon Gosling. Steeped in the spirit of adventure, and exploring environmental themes, and the harsh realities of South America’s colonial history, this story of women doing extraordinary things is both thrilling and inspirational. Katy Willacott lives among the flowers and ferns of Kew Gardens in London, where her Grandpa Ned is one of Kew’s private constables and her mother Mary is a botanical taxonomist, working in the herbarium, preserving and identifying plants sent back from expeditions across the globe. But Katy has always dreamed of more… of the sky and the stars and the sea. Unfortunately for Katy, her father Josiah doesn’t understand. He says young girls should be content to stay at home, not go off gallivanting around the world. So when news reaches London of a meteorite falling in the faraway land of Brazil and an expedition aboard the SS Alerte to find it, Katy knows it’s her chance to follow her dreams and prove her father wrong. And winning a place on the trip, by disguising herself as a boy, is just the start of Katy’s extraordinary voyage, across oceans and through the jungle, on the trail of a fallen star. Danger, derring-do, a compelling blend of history and mystery, a leading young lady full of guts and gusto, and all the fun of an epic adventure make this a must-read for the long days of summer.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)

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Age 8 plus:

Carnival of the Hunted

Kieran Larwood and Sam Usher

Take one of most exciting, contemporary children’s authors and a multi-talented illustrator, and what do you get? A middle-grade series from superstars Kieran Larwood and Sam Usher that is so steeped in the atmospherics of a steampunk Victorian London that you can almost touch the grime and grit, smell the muck, and feel the miasma of choking smog! Carnival of the Hunted – the follow-up to the fantastic Carnival of the Lost – sweeps us back into the wonderfully murky, carnivalesque world of intrigue, friendships, magic and mysteries that has won an army of young fans. Stars of the carnival show are an unusual troupe of performers that includes Sheba the wolf girl, Pyewacket, a witch’s imp, and Sister Moon, a knife thrower. And in this new adventure, something sinister is going on in the stinking slums of London. Sideshow acts are going missing, and men wearing animal masks and eye goggles are hunting them down and killing them for sport. But who are this fiendish Hunters’ Club and what is the reason for their cruel game? Sheba and Pyewacket know all about life in a sideshow but now they are the Carnival, private investigators working to help unusual people like them. Teaming up with new recruits half-cat Inji, her extraordinary brother, the armadillo-like Sil, and Glyph the psychic, it’s a race against time to track down the mask-wearing villains, before anyone else comes to harm! There is so much for youngsters to love and enjoy in this full-on, immersive adventure… humour, originality, page-turning thrills, danger and daring, and all brought to life by Usher’s gorgeously gothic and characterful illustrations. Middle-grade writing and illustrating at its best!

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(Faber& Faber, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Bodies, Brains and Bogies

Paul Ian Cross and Steve Brown

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Beware… this book may contain a bathtub of saliva, a farting rhinoceros, an eardrum-bursting volcano and a pile of bacteria even bigger than you! Enjoy learning all you need to know about the gross but glorious human body in a brilliant and fascinating, revolting and remarkable book from Paul Ian Cross, a microbiologist who loves introducing children to the wonders of science. Bodies, Brains and Bogies takes readers on a whirlwind tour of everything that is disgusting, unusual and amazing about the human body. Find out everything about poo, pus and bogies, discover how many creepy creatures live on your skin, and why you make seven litres of mucus every week, while learning a whole lot about how our bodies work hard in hundreds of ways to keep us alive. With tons of Steve Brown’s hilarious and informative illustrations which bring medical science to life, the book features Cross’s trademark laugh-out-loud humour, in-depth knowledge and infectious optimism. The perfect funny and accessible way to discover everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the human body, but were too afraid to ask!

(Welbeck, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Cursed Tales: The Pharaoh of Asco Express

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Jake R. Wilson and Sian James

History, mystery, chills and thrills! Archaeologist Jake R. Wilson – who is currently leading excavations across the south-east of England – harnesses his own considerable knowledge for a rip-roaring adventure set in Ancient Egypt for the first book in Cursed Tales, an exciting new illustrated series which brings to life scary stories from the ancient world. Whatever happens, no matter what, do not step into Asco Express because you might just end up leaving with more than you bargained for! When eleven-year-old Wesley stops by at a mysterious local shop to buy a drink, he doesn’t realise the trouble he is getting himself into. Cursed by the fiendish Pharaoh Akahten IX, Wesley and his friends, Marishana and Aiden, must solve the evil spell quickly or be trapped for all eternity! Expect zany zombies, fiendish pharaohs and monstrous mummies as Wilson and his partner-in-past-crimes, aka illustrator Sian James, work their ancient magic on this funny, and yet fascinatingly informative, Cursed Tale. With fun, facts and foul deeds on every page, young readers will love having their spines tingled and their detection skills tested as they head for the pyramids and dig up the past!

(New Frontier Publishing, paperback, £8.99)

Age 3 plus:

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Too Heavy, Elephant! and Hop on Top, Mouse!

Tony Neal

Getting the hang of the weighty subject of maths isn’t always easy for pre-schoolers. So let them enjoy the highs and lows of learning the mathematical concepts of weight and height with two fabulously fun and cunningly clever books from author and illustrator Tony Neal. In Too Heavy, Elephant!, Elephant is too heavy to play with Mouse on the seesaw. Their friends can help, but will it be enough to get Elephant’s feet off the ground? A great deal (of Elephant) hangs in the balance in this hilarious introduction to weight. And in Hop on Top, Mouse!, Mouse is hungry, but that tasty cake is just too high! Is it a stretch too far, or will Mouse find his way to the top? It’s a big problem for a small mouse in this laugh-out-loud caper which gives an introduction to height. Employing his multi-coloured and engaging artwork, Neal brings us a cast of comical animal characters and all-action, swings-and-roundabouts capers which deliver maths lessons so subtle that little ones won’t realise they are learning as they laugh along with the animal friends. Who said maths had to be boring?

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

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Age 3 plus:

Solo

Adam Beer

When you’re a dog called Solo and used to having the place to yourself, can you ever be part of a pack? Adam Beer – illustrator of picture book Mammoth, written by Anna Kemp – goes solo himself in his warm, wise and beautifully illustrated author/illustrator debut featuring a dog learning that sharing is much more fun than going it alone. So meet Solo the dog and his island… he will happily tell you how busy he is scratching, sniffing and snoozing, and show you his things and his humans. So when a group of other dogs turns up with their island tourist humans, Solo doesn’t like it, not one bit, and he tells them so quite firmly. He doesn’t want to share his things and he thinks they are running out of control (although he has to admit that it does look quite fun). So much so that, once the others have gone, Solo finds that he misses his new friends and races to get them back. Will Solo come to see that no dog is an island, and that some things are just better with friends? The joys of sharing and making new friends are celebrated in style with a wise and playful story, and a fabulous gallery of charismatic canine stars. Perfectly created for little ones and dog lovers of any age, this irresistible picture book is fun to read and a delight to behold!

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(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Elephant Detectives

Ged Adamson

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Liverpool-born Ged Adamson has lots of over-sized fun with a lost elephant in a charming and heartwarming picture book that will have tiny tots doing their own detection work! This talented and inventive author and illustrator certainly lets his imagination take flight as we meet Alan who is having the perfect kind of day… until his elephant goes missing! Luckily for Alan, Edie is an Elephant Detective and she knows exactly where to look. Together they examine doughnut shops, investigate dinosaur bones, visit the cinema and even search the skies from a cable car, but they can’t find him anywhere! Will Alan EVER find his elephant? And might he find a new friend along the way? Adamson puts heart, humour and a few fascinating elephant facts into his deliciously funny story brought to life by a gallery of gorgeous illustrations. With a ton-weight of appeal for both girls and boys, a free ‘Stories Aloud’ audio recording when you scan the QR code, and the fun of joining Edie and Alan as they search on every spread for their missing elephant (who is always closer than they think!), this is destined to be a family favourite!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Queen of the Classroom

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Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Starting pre-school is a big milestone… but one excited little girl is ready to become queen of the classroom! The exuberance of early childhood shines through in this life-affirming, warm and wonderful picture book which is the work of talented American author and illustrator duo Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and the companion book to King of the Classroom. Here we meet a confident little girl called MJ who can’t wait for her first day at kindergarten. With her hair freshly braided and her mum’s special sparkly tiara on her head, she knows she’s going to love the day ahead. But the tiara isn’t just for show… it also reminds her of all the good things she can bring to the class, like her kindness, friendliness, sharing, her ability to brighten up a room and, last but not least, her impressive soccer skills! Newbery Honour-winning author Barnes’ empowering and inspirational story is full of lyrical beauty and resonance, and will give children new to nursery or pre-school a reassuring confidence boost and a gentle lesson in how being kind to others and joining in all the activities makes everyone feel good. Brantley-Newton’s endearing, multi-coloured illustrations bring the story to vivid life and perfectly portray all the natural enthusiasm and optimism of youth and new beginnings. The perfect book for any child getting ready to start school and set out on the journey of life!

(Scallywag Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

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Wooolf!

Stephanie Blake

A twist on the classic cry wolf story has naughty schoolboy rabbit Simon running for cover in a tale full of knockabout fun from Stephanie Blake. Wooolf! is the hilarious new escapade starring Simon the cheeky rabbit… the cuddly creature who won everyone’s heart in Poo Bum, first book in Blake’s best-selling picture book series which has proved a big hit all over the world. US-born author Blake, who now lives in France, is the author and illustrator of dozens of highly successfully children’s books. In Blake’s new rabbit adventure, translated by Linda Burgess, cheeky little rabbit Simon only does what he wants. When his mother asked him to tidy his room, he cried ‘Wooolf! The wolf is coming!’ and, when she ran away because she is frightened of wolves, he did whatever he wanted. One day he does a wee where he wants, and the wolf comes to get him. ‘Wooolf!’ he cries, but his mother doesn’t fall for that and the wolf gets him! Fortunately, it’s just Simon’s dad in a wolf mask and Simon promises never to cry wolf again. But when his mother opens the cupboard in the morning, a (suspiciously small!) wolf cries ‘Awwoooo!’ Blake’s instantly recognisable bold and expressive illustrations will delight young readers and the funny, charming story, with its gentle warnings about crying wolf, is guaranteed to strike a chord (and raise a smile or two!) with both children and parents alike.

(Gecko Press, paperback, £7.99)