Monster hunting, ice cream magic and an evil spider by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Meet a boy using monsters to help him cope with his grief, buckle up for more thrilling, fast-paced action with two teenage mutant boys, tuck into a delicious, magic-sprinkled caper with ice cream at its heart, immerse yourself in the atmospherics of a danger-filled steampunk adventure, and share giggles with a ‘loser’ who proves to be a total winner in a summertime selection of children’s books.
The Boy Who Made Monsters  by Jenny Pearson and Katie KearThe Boy Who Made Monsters  by Jenny Pearson and Katie Kear
The Boy Who Made Monsters by Jenny Pearson and Katie Kear

Age 9 plus:

The Boy Who Made Monsters

Jenny Pearson and Katie Kear

Blending comedy and pathos is always a complex business so full marks – as always! – to primary school teacher and award-winning author Jenny Pearson who has her finger firmly on the pulse of writing inspirational and reassuring stories perfectly pitched for children.

The Boy Who Made Monsters is the fifth fantastic adventure from the Costa Award-shortlisted Pearson whose brilliant books and engaging characters are based on a wonderful mix of all the children she has ever taught.

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And this new tender, and yet laughter-filled, story stars a boy struggling with the grief of losing his parents in a sailing accident, the upheaval of moving to a new home in Scotland, and discovering that a monster in a loch is not the only monster he will have to take on.

Benji McLaughlin is a visionary... he believes in things that other people think are impossible, like that he and his brother Stanley will be happy in their new home in Scotland, and that the Loch Lochy monster exists, and that his parents will come home safely one day, even though they have been missing for months after a terrible sailing accident.

When he finds out that his Uncle Hamish’s Loch Lochy tourist business is struggling, and it looks like Benji and Stanley might lose another home, Benji is not worried. He has a plan. If he can show everyone that the Loch Lochy monster exists, people will flock to come to see it, and the business will flourish again. Together with his new friend, wise-cracking Murdy and Mr Dog, the best dog in the world, Benji sets off to capture evidence of the monster, even if he has to get a little creative. But Benji might end up confronting more monsters than he expects.

This uniquely moving and heartfelt tale of love, loss, laughter and hope – beautifully illustrated throughout by Katie Kear – sees Pearson at her very best as she expertly weaves between tear-jerking emotions and a full-on comedy capers in a manner that is both wise and accessible for youngsters.

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Reminding readers, both young and old, that it’s possible to find joy after terrible despair, and happiness after bereavement, and that there are caring people and coping mechanisms to help us navigate a way through even the darkest times, The Boy Who Made Monsters is a brilliant, bittersweet reading triumph.

(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

21% Monster: Serpent Strike

P.J. Canning

Scientific know-how goes a long way in a thrilling debut trilogy from P.J. Canning whose adventures starring two teenage mutant boys have won over readers with their authenticity, logic... and fast-paced action.

Serpent Strike is the last in the series and delivers the same blend of fun, science fiction and high octane thrills and spills in a stunningly imagined plot that is proving to be irresistible to adventure and action fans.

For once, 21% monster teenage-boy Darren Devlin thinks he has the upper hand over Xastris, the secret organisation that transformed him into a genetically-modified superhuman. Since joining forces with 19% alien boy Marek Masters, 17% sabre-tooth polar-bear Aurora Valero, and now 16% alien girl Genie, Darren has never been in a stronger position... but neither have Xastris because they are busy planning an attack on the world’s greatest superpowers. The fate of millions is now at stake. Can Darren and the team intercept Operation Serpent Strike... or will Xastris land their deadliest bite yet?

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With a stellar cast of superhuman teens, a plot that revolves around a valuable secret, and more twists and turns than a snakes and ladders board, this pulsating, high stakes mission for the daredevil team is the perfect page-turning finale for a fantastic series.

(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Sundae Delivery Service

Holly Rivers

Ice creams are most definitely on the menu in Holly Rivers’ delicious sequel to The Boy in the Post, an enchanting, magic-sprinkled adventure which won the hearts of thousands of young readers. And this new outing to the delightful village of Little Penhallow delivers the same enchanting retro feel and cast of quirky characters as we are immersed into a fabulous fantasy world full of warmhearted fun and ice-cold skulduggery. A few months have passed since Orinthia Shalloo’s transatlantic adventure with her two younger brothers and the mailbox menagerie is thriving as they train animals to deliver the post. But then a family of ice cream makers arrive in the village – including daughter Dotty Ambrose – and announce they are entering their ice cream into the prestigious Golden Udder ice cream awards in Norway. And when Dotty discovers that the post in her village is delivered by animals trained by local children, it means her family could have their entry delivered by cows! But training cows is the easy part... on the sea voyage to Norway, Dotty discovers that rival sundae-makers will do almost anything to sabotage their efforts and take the prize. The Sundae Delivery Service can be easily read as a standalone story as the friends set sail for Bergen and an epic adventure across land, sea and sky starring a menagerie of furry and feathered posties! A high-flying mission you won’t want to miss...

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Usborne Adventure Gamebooks: League of Thieves

Sarah Crofton, W.J. Tattersdill and Tom Knight

Choices, choices… do you dare to enter a strange and magical world and choose your own danger-packed adventure?

This classic adventure gamebook from Usborne is packed with exciting challenges, choices and decisions which will delight a new generation of thrill-seeking youngsters who want to put their own skills and imagination into play.

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Written by Sarah Crofton and W.J. Tattersdill, and spectacularly illustrated throughout by Tom Knight, League of Thieves is the latest atmospheric and enthralling adventure in a series which grips readers from beginning to end and brings together picture puzzles, exciting dice-based combat and a story in which the hero is YOU.

As a member of the League of Thieves, you’re used to plenty of danger and mystery, but your most perilous mission yet is about to begin. Among the shadowy alleys and moonlit rooftops of Morrowstone, a mysterious enemy has kidnapped your friend... and the only person who can rescue him is YOU. Can you succeed where all others have failed and break into the infamous Castle Flaggstone to rescue your friend, steal a priceless treasure and uncover an ancient secret? From this point onwards, you are in control of an epic adventure. Every choice is yours, and your survival depends on the decisions you make. Who to fight? Who to trust? In a book where nothing is as it seems, even the pictures hold secrets that must be unlocked.

Full of choices to make, each one leading to different adventures and endings, this dark and sweeping story, with its fiendish picture puzzles, is perfect for all fans of gaming and fantasy role-playing games.

(Usborne, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Carnival of the Spider

Kieran Larwood and Sam Usher

Take one of most exciting, contemporary children’s authors and a multi-talented illustrator, and what do you get? This brilliant middle-grade series from superstars Kieran Larwood and Sam Usher is so steeped in the atmospherics of Victorian city steampunk that you can almost touch the grime and grit, smell the muck, and feel the miasma of choking smog! Carnival of the Spider – the follow-up to the fantastic Carnival of the Lost and Carnival of the Hunted – sweeps us back into the wonderfully murky, carnivalesque world of intrigue, friendships, magic and mysteries, and into an audacious rescue mission from London to Paris! 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, we discover that were three men and two women... one had half a face, one had iron legs and the others all had one or both arms missing. There were pincers and claws and guns instead. When Sheba learns that her old friend Sister Moon is being held prisoner by the Spider and its gang of mechanical villains, the Carnival immediately launch a rescue mission to Paris. Along with Pyewacket, and catlike Inji, Sheba joins forces with Moon’s son Remy, a boy who can bend shadows to his will. Deep underground in the catacombs of Paris there is a map which they must find to trade for Moon’s freedom. With the city under siege from Prussian invaders and the Spider’s henchmen on their trail, the Carnival will need to use all their powers to save their friend. 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!

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

Age 8 plus:

The Big Amazing Poetry Book

Gaby Morgan and Chris Riddell

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Big really is beautiful – and amazing! – in a gorgeous anthology, filled with wondrous words, inspirational ideas and illuminating illustrations, from the top team of editor Gaby Morgan and award-winning illustrator Chris Riddell.

The Big Amazing Poetry Book is a warm, funny and imaginative celebration of verse, and the ideal introduction to a mix of diverse poets, from famous names of the past like Lewis Carroll and Charles Causley, to well-loved poets of today including Nikita Gill and the new Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho.

With Riddell’s superbly detailed and luminous black and white illustrations throughout, plus an insightful foreword from Liverpool poet Roger McGough, this perfect gift book is a rich and dazzling collection of poets and poetry.

Morgan, who has compiled many bestselling poetry anthologies over nearly thirty years, has chosen the ideal pick’n’mix of poems that will intrigue and delight young readers, but also sometimes challenge and puzzle them.

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And The Big Amazing Poetry Book is certainly one to treasure. With its words of wisdom and emotional intelligence, the anthology features seven poems (one for each day of the week) by fifty-two poets (one for each week of the year) and a biography to showcase each poet. Readers cans simply dip in and out of the book as the time or the mood takes them.

Packed with different styles of poetry – including ballads, riddles, tongue-twisters, shape poems, haiku (a short form of poetry originally from Japan), sonnets and raps – and featuring poems about seasons, festivals, animals, birds, love, war, food, fish and football and much more, every page is filled with Riddell’s stunning line artwork.

From John Agard, Clare Bevan, Valerie Bloom, Steven Camden, Pie Corbett, Shauna Darling Robertson, Jan Dean, Peter Dixon, Julia Donaldson, Eleanor Farjeon and John Foster to Sue Hardy-Dawson, A.F. Harrold, Michaela Morgan, Brian Moses, Kate Wakeling and Zaro Weil, this is an unmissable feast of visual and verbal delights!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Myths, Mummies and Magic in Ancient Egypt

Stephen Davies and Núria Tamarit

Discover the thrilling myths and magic of Ancient Egypt in a thrilling comic-strip style retelling by children’s author Stephen Davies and illustrator and comic artist Núria Tamarit who is based in Spain.

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The ancient Egyptian myths are some of the oldest and most famous stories ever told and this vivid and contemporary comic book collection is the perfect introduction to them.

Myths, Mummies and Magic in Ancient Egypt features six striking tales full of mythical creatures, gods, pharaohs and adventure, and explores traditional themes like love, loss, greed, envy and bravery.

Set sail with Prince Naneferkaptah on his quest to find the magical book of Thoth, join Seth and Horus as they battle for the throne of Egypt, and meet a pharaoh called Khufu who wanted to have the most magnificent tomb ever.

Bursting with detail and humour, and Tamarit’s funny and fascinating comic-strip illustrations, this fully accessible and entertaining retelling of ancient myths is a delight for readers both young and old.

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £14.99)

Age 7 plus:

Barry Loser: Double Trouble!

Jim Smith

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If zany humour tickles your funny bone, then you have nothing to lose when you open the pages of a brilliant graphic series that has been making kids snigger and snicker for ten long years of laughter! Winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, the Scholastic Lollies award, and shortlisted for the Waterstones prize, Jim Smith’s hilarious Barry Loser is a total winner and bounding back with this series of brand new adventures published for the first time in full colour. Anarchic fun, a super-child-friendly format full of graphic, cartoon-style illustrations, a ‘how to draw’ section to help youngsters make their own comic books, and crazy catchwords that have become part and parcel of the Barry Loser experience, are the hallmarks of Smith’s exhilarating books. So sit tight and join the laugh-out-loud fun with Barry, Bunky, Nancy and the gang as they take starring roles in three amazekeel stories, including one where Barry’s dad turns into a vending machine, and all Barry has to do is ‘press his buttons’ to get exactly what he wants, and another where hearing the most boring story in the world has a disastrous effect on Barry’s mind and body. Smith has his finger firmly on the pulse of what makes kids (and grown-ups!) laugh… the pages of his books positively buzz with energy, madcap antics, and a joyful sense of outlandish chaos that is as addictive as it is entertaining. Wild, witty and ‘completerly’ wonderful!

(Farshore, paperback, £8.99)

Age 6 plus:

Yomi and the Fury of Ninki Nanka

Davina Tijani and Adam Douglas-Bagley

A funny thing happened on a trip to The Gambia...

Join in the fun and fabulous fantasy adventure in the first book of author Davina Tijani and illustrator Adam Douglas-Bagley’s new Nkara Chronicles series which is being billed as Beast Quest meets Pokémon... across Africa!

A fun, fresh and fast-paced series based on African mythology, Tijani’s stories are brimming with heart and humour, and come perfectly packaged with a cleverly imagined and fully accessible mythology and fantasy theme.

Yomi and her younger brother Kayode are supposed to be on the trip of a lifetime visiting The Gambia with their Uncle Olu. Instead, their uncle’s work has made this the most boring holiday ever! But when Yomi witnesses the Dragon King, Ninki Nanka, being kidnapped from the sky, things get a lot more exciting. Determined to save him, Yomi and Kayode uncover secrets and meet many magnificent beasts... but will it be enough to save Ninki Nanka?

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With dragons, mystery, danger and secret societies to enjoy, this African adventure series is set to be a big hit with young readers.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Dave Pigeon (Kittens!)

Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey

Youngsters (and their grown-ups!) will be all of a-flutter when author Swapna Haddow and illustrator Sheena Dempsey’s new Dave Pigeon comedy adventure wings its way into their eager hands. With a laugh guaranteed on every page, this much-loved, award-winning chapter book series shows off the outstanding queens of comedy at their very best and has received rave reviews since first publishing in 2016. In their fifth adventure, we find Dave Pigeon and his trusty sidekick, Skipper, minding their own business in the garden shed when they see their nemesis, Mean Cat, behaving very strangely. And why is she multiplying? The arrival of some very cute kittens is disastrous news! More cats? Ugh. But then the kittens come under threat... are Dave and Skipper cold-hearted enough to leave them defenceless? Especially when one looks a teeny, tiny little bit like Dave? Packed with Haddow’s warmth and wicked, laugh-out-loud wit, and Dempsey’s irresistibly funny black and white illustrations, this fantastically funny and addictive series from one of the most inspired partnerships in children’s comedy fiction is simply irresistible!

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

Age 4 plus:

How to Make a Book

Becky Davies and Patricia Hu

Children love to write and draw their own stories... but how many are aware of the creative journey that is involved before a book is published? How to Make a Book – a picture book that is the result of its own imaginative journey – comes from the pen of children’s book editor Becky Davies and the colour palette of talented illustrator Patricia Hu. Acting as an inspirational and informative illustrated guide to publishing, the book introduces youngsters (and adults too!) to all the people involved in creating a book, from the author and editor to the illustrator and the designer. Do you think it would be cool to have a job where you make books? Have you ever wondered how a book is made? Follow the stages from acquisition and artwork to publicity and printing, and enjoy taking an accurate look at the entire process of what it took to make a book like this one! With Davies’s clear and concise text, and Hu’s gallery of characterful and colourful illustrations, How to Make a Book is perfect for children, publishing and bookselling professionals, artists and authors... and anyone who wants to see how a book is made!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £8.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Ocean Gardener

Clara Anganuzzi

The colour, vibrancy and beauty of the underwater world springs to glorious life in a dazzling and inspirational picture book from author and illustrator Clara Anganuzzi who was raised in the Seychelles.

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Ayla and her marine biologist mum live on a beautiful tropical island surrounded by a coral reef which they visit every day. One morning, Ayla notices that many of the fish have disappeared, and the once vibrant corals have turned pale. Is it too late to save the reef? Fortunately Ayla’s mum has a plan and they set to work together to give the coral reef a fresh new start.

The Ocean Gardener – a story of hope and determination – is a stunning blend of verbal and visual beauty, capturing the colour and magic of the coral reef, and the important role it plays in the ocean’s eco-system.

From the impact global warming has on reefs to the amazing things marine biologists are doing to protect it, readers will love learning about this fascinating topic and how we can protect our reefs. Anganuzzi's gentle story and breathtaking artwork looks at the complex topic of global warming in an eye-opening but positive way, showing that there is time to reverse the damage which has been caused.

Ideal for use as a gentle introduction to how climate change affects coral reefs and how we can protect them, and with information about reef restoration projects and the marine biologist who inspired the story, The Ocean Gardener is a wonderful addition to every child’s book shelf.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3:

Ray

Alex Latimer

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The funny, heartwarming tale of little mouse with a BIG imagination sheds light on children’s fears of the dark in a dazzling picture book from talented author and illustrator Alex Latimer who is based in Cape Town, South Africa. Ray stars a terrified mouse (and a menagerie of other creatures!) whose walk home through the dark woods is lit up by a friendly firefly. When night falls and the shadows get longer and darker, Mouse is scared. How will he find his way home? Luckily he meets a firefly who reassures him, ‘I’m Ray and I’ll light your way.'’ On their starlit walk, however, it can seem that behind every shadow is lurking danger. And the meerkat, chickens, frogs and squirrels who join them agree... until Ray flies close with his light and shows what the shadows really are. But sometimes, just sometimes, the shadows might be just what they look like... With a gallery of rich, atmospheric and luminous illustrations, a witty story featuring a cast of colourful creatures, and a twist in the tail that will make everyone giggle, this is the picture perfect way to illuminate those all-too-familiar night-time fears!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Sunny and the Birds

Wendy Meddour and Nabila Adani

Creative writing lecturer and award-winning children’s author Wendy Meddour gently introduces the theme of immigration to young children in her moving and thoughtful new picture book. Starring a little boy who hatches a plan to help his father find joy in his new home, and beautifully illustrated by Nabila Adani, who lives in Indonesia, Sunny and the Birds celebrates family, kindness and the power of belonging. Sunny and his family have recently moved to a new country and his dad is struggling to see their new house as home. Sunny can tell that he is yearning for his old life where collared doves cooed in the soft morning light and swallows swooped in the sunset. So, with the help of his grandmother, Sunny buys his dad a bird table and a seed feeder to attract birds into their garden and soon the birds have a feast and dad’s sadness takes flight. With its sensitive exploration of moving to a new country and the meaning of home, this evocative, illustrated story is perfectly pitched for the youngest readers.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Digits: The Perfect Number and Odds Vs Evens

Tony Bradman and Miguel Sánchez

Welcome back to the wonderful world of the Digits... friends you can count on to prove that maths is fun! The Perfect Number and Odds Vs Evens are the third and fourth books in Oxford University Press’s funny, entertaining and educational picture book series that makes learning about numbers a laugh-out-loud adventure. Each clever, playful story – imaginatively written by award-winning author Tony Bradman – stars the Digits, a group of number friends and in The Perfect Number, exploring addition and subtraction, we meet Eight who wants the Digits’ day trip to the Number Land theme park to be perfect. But when it’s time to go on Eight’s dream ride, will there be the right number of Digits? With a simple maths concept subtly woven into the playful storyline, this is the perfect book for practising adding up and subtracting skills! And in Odds Vs Evens, we find the Digits squabbling over whether odd or even numbers are best until Ten challenges everyone to a football match down at the park to settle the argument. This is the ideal, action-packed adventure for understanding the maths concept of odd and even numbers. With each story stylishly illustrated by Miguel Sánchez, and a guide for adults about reading, sharing, and exploring further topics and activities, these books are an invaluable asset for teaching, learning... and fun.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £7.99 each)