Magical gargoyles, funny friendships and double drama by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Enjoy a heart-stopping adventure in the weird world of gargoyles, marvel at some of nature’s fascinating friendships, meet a drama-loving boy torn between school and home, and join two super sleuths for chaos, comedy and calamities with a springtime collection of sparkling children’s books.
Gargoyles: Guardians of the Source by Tamsin MoriGargoyles: Guardians of the Source by Tamsin Mori
Gargoyles: Guardians of the Source by Tamsin Mori

Age 9 plus:

Gargoyles: Guardians of the Source

Tamsin Mori

‘Magic is neither good, nor bad – it simply multiplies the dreams you feed it. Be careful what you wish for...’

Get ready to make your own magic with a boy called Callen and a feisty gargoyle named Zariel as Tamsin Mori – who won the hearts of readers with her mesmerising Weather Weaver debut series – returns with another heart-stopping adventure.

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Guardians of the Source is the first of a simply magical new series which blends realism with fun, fantasy, chills and thrills, and comes from the talented Mori whose writing is inspired by fabulous myths and legends of her mother’s native Shetland Islands.

At the centre of this brilliantly entertaining and original story is eleven-year-old Callen whose Dad has always been secretive about his past. Even so, when the family have to move into Gargoyle’s Rest, his father’s mysterious childhood home, the last thing Callen expects is a boarded-up mansion covered in gargoyles.

Dad says all the house needs is ‘a bit of energy’ to bring it back to life but it’s enormous, the doors are nailed shut and the gardens are overgrown. What’s more, this crumbling mansion isn’t what it first appears to be and soon its long-forgotten magic starts returning. And when a disgruntled gargoyle wakes up in front of him, Callen must befriend Zariel and earn her trust before it’s too late because a dark threat is growing in the shadows and only a Gargoyle Guardian can stop it.

Packed with magical realism, danger and fast-paced action, the first of these wild and wonderfully imagined Gargoyles stories delivers excitement and adventure all the way, but Mori also gently explores universal themes like protecting the planet, and the importance of family, friendship, remaining true to yourself.

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Beautifully written, and wrapped up in the magic of our precious natural world, this is an unmissable new series.

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £8.99)

Age 10 plus:

Moving Up

Christian Foley

Moving up from primary to secondary school can be a daunting experience for many kids. The transition from being the bosses of the benches to the youngest in a massive playground can be a tough rite of passage. Add on the fact that classrooms are bigger and older students look like adults, the piles of homework, stressful exams and complicated friendships, and there could be some misgivings ahead. But whether you’re heading to secondary school later this year, or you've already started and are still adjusting, Moving Up – written by Christian Foley, educator, poet-in-residence, musician and all-round creative – is here to help you on your journey. From choosing your new school and facing your first day, right through to your final exams and your leaving party or prom, this handy guide book will be the perfect companion for transitioning to secondary, and help to make you feel confident, build strong friendships, achieve great things and generally be the greatest that you can be. Topics covered include leaving primary school, going to big school, getting lost, homework, exams, new challenges, older kids, friendships, relationships, bullying and social media. The perfect guide to a new world of learning.

(Scholastic, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Nature’s Fascinating Friendships

Mike Hills and Kerry Hyndman

There’s teamwork at every turn in this doubly delightful visual and verbal exploration of how animals, plants and microscopic organisms develop fascinating friendships to survive and thrive in the natural world.

Nature’s Fascinating Friendships is the stunning creation of writer and journalist Mike Hills and his map-maker and illustrator partner Kerry Hyndman who live on the west coast of Scotland with their daughter, and together enjoy exploring islands, lochs and mountains, and discovering fairy bridges and waterfalls.

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Full of fascinating facts and extraordinary artwork, the book takes readers on a colourful and informative journey to show the natural world in all its glory and demonstrate how plants and animals work together.

Did you know pom pom crabs wear sea anemones as boxing gloves to fight off enemies, that greater honeybirds guide humans to hidden beehives and that bats use pitcher plants as sleeping bags? From ravens and wolves to trees and fungi, youngsters learn how these unlikely alliances are formed and find out all the incredible, funny, weird and disgusting reasons why these partnerships work.

Every page and spread is beautifully illustrated by Hyndman, who says she loves making pictures that spark a sense of wonder in the natural world, while Hills packs in lots of intriguing and fun facts that are guaranteed to both surprise and inspire young readers. Nature at its most magnificent!

(Faber Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 8 plus:

Bigg School: Double Drama

Lisa Williamson and Jess Bradley

Moving from primary to secondary school is a big leap for youngsters and brings with it many fears and anxieties, and highs and lows. It’s a topic that award-winning author Lisa Williamson tackles with warmth, enthusiasm, humour and empathy in the second book of her Bigg School series which follows a group of children starting life at the Henry Bigg Academy. Life isn’t easy for Dan Littleton since starting at the academy even though it appears that nothing much bothers him. He has made friends with a big group of lads, enjoys playing on his Xbox and likes teasing his desk neighbour Lola. But at home, his mum is chronically ill, his dad works all the hours he can and his little twin sisters Nia and Nelly drive him up the wall. Dan is constantly torn between his school life and being needed at home and worst of all, his mates are starting to notice. So when he wins the coveted part in the school’s production of The Wizard of Oz, he is thrilled. Finally, he has found a subject he really loves and seems to be really good at but it isn't long before his home and school life clash again and he must make some hard decisions if he’s to follow his heart. With Jess Bradley’s emotive illustrations expressing the conflicted inner world and worries of mixed-up Dan, this funny, relatable, tender and sometimes painfully honest story is a moving reflection of an ordinary youngster navigating friendships, home life and the ups and downs of growing up. Entertainment and reassurance in one perfectly created book.

(Guppy Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Podkin and the Singing Spear

Kieran Larwood

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Kinship comes first in the seventh stunning adventure in master storyteller Kieran Larwood’s The World of Podkin One-Ear, a spectacular rabbit world fantasy series which has readers longing for each new book as it appears. And it’s pleasing to report that Podkin and the Singing Spear once more delivers all those ingredients that children love... adventure, magic, danger, thrills and friendship. It’s two years since the Battle of Sparrowfast and Podkin, son of a rabbitkind warrior chieftain, is now Keeper of the Gifts... a tremendously important job but just a tiny bit boring. It doesn’t help that there are still three gifts missing and Podkin can’t stop himself from thinking about that. So when the Godseye Mirror begins to shimmer and shift revealing a motley crew of travellers is approaching, Podkin sees it as a sign that his world is about to be upended all over again. And it’s not long before Podkin and Uki finally meet... united in their hatred for the world of Scramashank, they have much in common. But what will these young warriors make of each other, and can they work together to unite the forces of good against terrible evil? In a restless world still under threat, we encounter the terrifying Crowskins who have hold of the Singing Spear, find out whether two rival clans will lay down their differences, and how kinship matters more than ever. Written with Larwood’s unique storytelling magic, and encompassing a breathtakingly imagined world full of memorable rabbit characters, this is middle grade fiction at its very best.

(Faber Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Animal All-Stars: Incredible Facts, Stats and Stories from the Animal Kingdom

Clare Balding and The Boy Fitz Hammond

On your marks, get set, go! Join the animal kingdom as some of their most amazing creatures go head-to-head in an all-stars competition. Children’s author, TV presenter and commentator Clare Balding teams up with illustrator The Boy Fitz Hammond to bring youngsters this hilarious guide through some incredible animal facts and figures. Who would win in a race... the Australian tiger beetle or the peregrine falcon? Who is the strongest... the extraordinary ant or the grumpy gorilla? Who has the best superpower... the headless cockroach or the jet-powered squid? From speed, agility and strength to hidden skills, such as problem-solving, endurance and super-sensory prowess, witness these Animal All-Stars compete to become champions in their field. Animal All-Stars is full of facts, stats and world records, all brought to life by rib-tickling illustrations and is the perfect gift for sport and animal lovers. So what are you waiting for... let the Games begin!

(‎Wren & Rook, paperback, £10.99)

Age 7 plus:

Agents of S.U.I.T: From Badger to Worse

John Patrick Green, Christopher Hastings and Pat Lewis

Sound the horn and clear the way because the Agents of S.U.I.T. are back for another side-splitting, super-sleuthing adventure! From Badger to Worse is the second book in a hilarious, full-colour graphic novel series from John Patrick Green – creator of the much-loved InvestiGators adventures – along with co-writer Christopher Hastings and illustrator Pat Lewis. Packed with fast-paced action, giggles on every page and a simply adorable bunch of animal characters, these stories are ideal for your young mischief-makers and reluctant readers. Here we join Bongo and Marsha, the super-spy Badgers (better known as the B-Team), who are on the case... and way over-budget! When S.U.I.T. (Special Undercover Investigation Teams) realises just how much money the Badgers waste with their gadgets, spy vehicles and custom toys, they are sent to Bora Bora to investigate a case the old-fashioned way. The bees – that’s ‘bee-ee-ee’ like the insect – who run the resort are hiding something under the tropical sands, and Marsha and Bongo are just the bumbling agents to crack this pineapple-flavoured case wide open. It’s time for the B-Team to show why they are so un-Blievably B-loved! If corny one-liners, chaos, comedy and calamities are your child’s idea of reading heaven, then this high-energy daffy detective series is the perfect gift book!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £8.99)

Age 7 plus:

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Make Art with Nature: Find Inspiration and Materials From Nature

Pippa Pixley

Calling all young artists and nature explorers... author and artist Pippa Pixley wants to put you in the picture! Pixley, whose work is inspired by nature, works her creative magic on this beautiful, hands-on book which shows children how to make amazing art with materials found in nature. Art through nature encourages children to explore outside and find natural materials to make art. Youngsters learn how to make incredible pieces of art using rocks, wood, berries, flowers, and leaves in this imaginative nature craft book. Find out how the earth beneath your feet can be used to make paints and pastels, and how flowers can be repurposed to create inks. Learn how to pour paint on to a canvas, how to put pencil to paper and draw, how bits of old paper can make a beautiful collage, and how different mediums can come together to create incredible prints through nature. A clear layout is divided into different art forms including drawing, collaging, painting and printing, so children can easily find the section they are looking for. Pixley also takes youngsters into the outdoors and shows them a wide range of artistic techniques from understanding basic colour theory to creating texture, movement and fluidity in their own work. Children will love learning how to master different art forms but also how to make their own art supplies whilst getting outside and exploring nature. And with easy-to-follow instructions and plenty of tips and techniques on how to draw, paint, print and collage, this is art with an outdoor flavour!

(DK Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 7 plus:

Looshkin: Honk if You See It!

Jamie Smart

Youngsters will be grinning and guffawing from first page to last with the wildest, craziest cat ever in the third turbo-charged book in comic genius Jamie Smart’s laugh-out-loud Looshkin comic-strip adventure series. Smart, one of the shining stars of a partnership between David Fickling Books and The Phoenix comic, is the extraordinarily talented illustrator behind the vibrant comic-strip Bunny vs Monkey books and now loopy Looshkin, the wonderfully accident-prone cat, is causing a fresh wave of laughter. You may think that your cat is mad, but it has got nothing on Looshkin! Here we meet up again with the maddest cat in the world as he defeats vampires with chicken nuggets, accidentally turns into a duck, becomes a high-flying entrepreneur and gets caught in a time warp... sometimes all at the same time! The result is an explosion of pure comic comedy joy. Guaranteed to make readers snort with laughter and packed with Smart’s ingenious illustrations, these manic, high-energy stories deliver a cat basket of furry sniggers and are ideal for fidgety readers who like their books to come with plenty of bold and busy pictures. Cat-astrophic cat antics at a stroke for your action kids!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

Ivy Newt and the Swamp Dragons

Derek Keilty and Madga Brol

Enter the magical world of Miracula... and discover a truly bewitching adventure! Master storyteller Derek Keilty from Belfast weaves his world-building wonders in the third all-action adventure of his enchanting Ivy Newt chapter book series which stars an unstoppable and lovable young witch, and her shape-shifting familiar, a skinny grey wolf called Tom. Highly illustrated throughout by Polish-born Madga Brol, this exciting and entertaining adventure series is perfect for sharing or as a first reading book. Ivy Newt’s parents are the King and Queen of the Sand Witches and in this new adventure, Gran’s magic bubble bath accidentally creates pesky Ivy and Tom lookalikes who are intent on some serious mischief! All too soon, they have made dangerous doubles of the swamp dragons who launch a fiery attack on Miracula. Can the real Ivy and Tom stop them before everything goes up in smoke? Get ready for lots of laughs, pages of fast-paced action, a cast of superbly imagined characters, and themes of justice, helping each other, standing up to bullies and environmental awareness. Add on the extra zing and zest of Brol’s comical illustrations to enhance the atmosphere of wizardry, peril and fun, and you have the perfect book to launch youngsters into a lifetime of reading enjoyment.

(Scallywag Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 4 plus:

Tell Me About: Space and Tell Me About: Planet Earth

Emily Dodd and Chorkung

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You’re never too young to start learning about science! Little readers with curious minds will love getting to grips with some big science concepts in these clever and entertaining books from the book boffins at Templar Publishing. So add extra fuel to their knowledge with a fun exploration of space. Did you know that planet Earth spins like a spinning top, or that our Moon isn’t the only moon in the sky? And did you know that stars glow because they are burning really hot? And while we’re out in space, let’s also explore planet Earth! Did you know that water on planet Earth can turn into an invisible gas, that our Moon makes the ocean move, and that Earth is made from moving puzzle pieces? Space, and our own planet Earth, are pretty amazing so sit back and let expert scientist and CBeebies writer Emily Dodd tell you all about them. With bite-sized text, facts to make you say wow, and easy-to-understand explanations, big science topics are delivered in just the right size for readers aged four and over in these two fascinating books. Brilliantly illustrated by Chorkung, the books are ideal for readers who are starting to discover just how amazing the world is!

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £9.99 each)

Age 3 plus:

Detective CATZ and the Missing Nut

Marjoke Henrichs

Catz has all the gear he needs to be an ace detective... but will that be enough to find his friend’s most prized possession? Artist and theatre designer Marjoke Henrichs, whose sparkling debut picture book, No! Said Rabbit, was shortlisted for the Booktrust Storytime Prize, is back to steal our hearts with another beautifully created tale full of youthful joy, inspirational messages and exquisite illustrations. Catz is determined to prove himself as a detective and to find his friend Flossy the squirrel’s prize possession... her biggest and best nut. But when Catz fails to find it, he also fails to notice all the good he has done along the way. And luckily our hero does not give up. Cheered on by his friends, a combination of new evidence and new determination enable him to focus and finally fulfil his dream! With its confidence-boosting storyline, and reminders of the rewards of patience and the power of kindness, little ones learn that being mindful of, and caring for, other people is just as important as personal success. And in her now trademark style, Henrichs brings humour to both her words and a gallery of lively, expressive and gorgeously colourful illustrations, creating an uplifting and exquisitely told story.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

When I Feel Brave

Britta Teckentrup

‘I am scared. I’m feeling numb. I am full of fear. What’s to come?’ After her exploration of anger and rage in enchanting picture book, When I See Red, prolific children’s books author and illustrator Britta Teckentrup sets her perfectly honed sights on bravery and its constant companion, fear. Employing her trademark brand of wisdom, creativity and sensitivity, Teckentrup looks at what it means to be brave. Filled with evocative collage illustrations and dynamically positioned type, this new book features a young girl wandering through a forest and being startled by a bear. At first the bear is terrifying... it is huge and unknown but, as the girl moves through the forest, she becomes the bear’s companion and, by the time they reach the end of the forest, she is its friend. With a beautifully imagined narrative, and a gallery of stunning, atmospheric illustrations adding extra piquancy and power to the story, this gorgeous book offers important insights into the nature of fear, helps young readers understand why things are scary, and cleverly reveals the satisfaction to be gained from making friends with the very things that make them feel afraid. Picture book perfection.

(Prestel, hardback, 12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Library Mouse

Frances Tosdevin and Sophia O'Connor

Dream team Frances Tosdevin and Sophia O'Connor – whose wonderfully descriptive and atmospheric The Bear and her Book series won hearts and minds – return with an adorable new picture book to inspire a new generation of readers. Star of the show is a little mouse called Quill who is a dreamer. He longs to write stories and share them with children in his beloved library but getting his words noticed seems impossible for such a small creature. Can he and his spider friend, Leggsy, find a way to make his voice stand out from the crowd... or will Quill’s stories remain forever unheard? Author Tosdevin’s beautifully emotive and lyrical rhyming story celebrates the power of words and books, and inspires everyone to write their own special story in their own words. Add on O’Connor’s gallery of stunning, hand-drawn illustrations, colourfully painted in loose, tonal brush strokes, and this is a journey of perfectly written discovery guaranteed to delight all budding young authors!

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Girl and the Mermaid

Hollie Hughes and Sarah Massini

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Marvel at the exquisite combination of pictures, words and imagination in this beautiful picture book from the bestselling creators of The Girl and the Dinosaur. Author Hollie Hughes and illustrator Sarah Massini work their special magic on The Girl and the Mermaid, an instant classic featuring an inspirational underwater adventure and a moving homage to the beauty and power of memory. Alina and her granny live in a lighthouse by the sea... a home filled with the warmth of Granny’s magical stories. But Alina is worried. Granny’s memories and stories are starting to fade away, and she doesn’t know how to bring them back. Then one day, Alina meets a mermaid on the rocks near the lighthouse and she’s swept into a magical deep-sea adventure that will change everything. With Hughes’ rhyming narrative and Massini’s spectacular artwork, this is a gift book for all the family to enjoy.

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

A Little World of Ants: A Lift-the-Flap Adventure

Cara Rooney

Little ones will be flipping and flapping with delight when they turn the pages of this busy and beautiful picture book from prize-winning debut talent Cara Rooney. An author and illustrator whose work portrays her own fascination for the natural world and childlike curiosity, Rooney explores the life of ants in the most colourful, vibrant and hands-on way. So get ready to meet some adorable ants in this entertaining lift-the-flap adventure which uses simple language and charming illustrations full of comical detail to tell the story. Ideal for encouraging exploration and a deeper understanding of these intriguing insects, A Little World of Ants is full of imaginative storytelling and pictures, and intriguing flaps, and is sure to be an instant hit with young children. The ideal gift for any nature-obsessed youngster who loves the amazing world of minibeasts.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Night Flight

Katie Cottle

Light up your child’s story time with this breathtakingly beautiful and inspirational picture book which puts the wonderful world of wildlife at centre stage. Night Flight is the creation of Katie Cottle, a freelance illustrator and author who enjoys telling stories through drawing and finds her inspiration in nature. When Ellie moves from her quiet village to a bustling city, she finds that the many different birds she loves to watch are missing. She stares out of her window and searches the skies on walks but they are nowhere to be found. Then one night, she is visited by a giant starling which asks for her help. The birds are lost because of the shimmering glow from the city’s bright lights. Can Ellie help the birds find their way home? Using a palette of exquisite and earthy colours, Cottle reminds us of the harm to inflicted on birds by light pollution, and encourages youngsters to use their voice to help and preserve local wildlife. An empowering tale for all young eco-warriors.

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Science Words for Little People: Our Bodies and Coding

Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese

You can rely on Oxford University Press to engage and entertain youngsters with brilliant books like this Science Words for Little People series which makes learning both friendly and inspirational. The books aim to build children’s confidence with vocabulary and ideas around various topics, and provide a foundation for learning in a way that feels good. Written by Helen Mortimer and illustrated by Cristina Trapanese, the same winning team that brought us Big Words for Little People, the books are special not just because they focus on science subjects in a child-friendly way, but because the Oxford book boffins pack them with educational goodness that helps children develop and grow. In Our Bodies, little ones will love exploring a day at the swimming pool and learning all about the human body from their head right down to their toes! From bones to brain, and from muscles to senses, there are all the words here that young children need to be able to explore the science of the body confidently. And in Coding, youngsters will love learning all about coding through familiar games and activities. From sequencing to puzzles, and from chain reactions to debugging and talking in code, little ones will learn all the words they need to be able to explore the science of coding. Filled with colour, fun and creativity, these super-clever books are specially designed to introduce children to the world of science and science-related vocabulary, giving them key words to talk about the different topics. Published in sturdy hardback, packed with fun characters, engaging questions and activities, and Trapanese’s playful artwork, the books are the perfect size and shape for reading together whilst exploring and enjoying the different concepts of science.

(Oxford University Press, hardback, £5.99 each)

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