Murder most foul, a comedy pick and marvellous magic by various authors – children’s book reviews -

As a new year dawns and a fresh and funny collection of children’s books arrive on the shelves, join a group of misfits on the trail of a classroom killer, enjoy some green and gruesome giggles with a truly revolting schoolboy, fly high to a magic school in the clouds, and meet an alien chicken with an attitude problem.
The Detention Detectives by Lis JardineThe Detention Detectives by Lis Jardine
The Detention Detectives by Lis Jardine

Age 8 plus:

The Detention Detectives

Lis Jardine

When your passions are fantasy, children’s fiction and Golden Age crime, what could be better for a debut author than conjuring up a good, old-fashioned murder mystery set in a high school?

Misfits and murder most foul meet in this clever, comical and clue-packed adventure in a sparkling new series from Lis Jardine who grew up in London and the Black Country and now works as a secondary school librarian near Bristol.

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Using her experience in schools, and with an addictive, up-tempo prose and lively dialogue that children will recognise and love, Jardine’s dazzling debut is brimming with skulduggery, secrets and some super entertaining sleuthing.

Twelve-year-old Jonno Archer never wanted to change schools so he’s very much the reluctant new kid at Hanbridge High and putting in zero effort to make new friends. In fact, he’s determined to get in as much trouble as possible to convince his parents to move back to their old home town. What he never expected was to find the dead body of a PE teacher on his first day and he reckons it will get him into deep, deep trouble. Maybe the answer is to try to solve the mystery of who did it.

Meanwhile, Lydia is a reporter for the school newspaper and she will stop at nothing to get to the truth of a story. So, of course, she can’t resist the chance to investigate the circumstances around the murder of the teacher... if anything is going to make front page news, it’s this!

And Daniel has a lot of responsibilities as a young carer helping to look after his mum, so he finds comfort from his love of sci-fi shows and stories. He wants to help Jonno and Lydia find the real culprit because the first suspect in the case is someone close to his family. They may not be friends but they are about to become... the Detention Detectives.

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This brilliant, laugh-out-loud romp has a special kind of child appeal as Jardine delivers all those important junior murder mystery tropes – a fast-paced plot, oodles of action, giggles galore, quirky characters, and a very relatable school setting.

Youngsters will also love the challenge of following the clues to uncover the villainous villain, and all the while enjoying the unexpected, and blossoming, friendship between out three very different detectives. Sometimes school can be dead good fun...

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Monster Bogey

Anna Brooke and Owen Lindsay

Some books are just the perfect pick for your youngsters... and they certainly won’t be turning up their noses at this wickedly funny debut novel from exciting new talent Anna Brooke.

Starring secret nose-picker Frank and his terrifying tale of all things revolting, Monster Bogey promises to be one of 2023’s best middle grade comedies. From its content warning of bogey, towers, squelchy monsters, slug goo and slimy moats, to the gruesome, gooey finale and handy nose-picker’s guide to bogeys, this brilliant book is guaranteed to leave readers’ pals green with envy.

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So meet Frank, the boy with his finger permanently up his nozzle, who wants to tell you ‘a right slimer of a tale.’ Frank has a secret... he picks his nose. And, worse, he saves his bogeys, rolling them into little balls, storing them in his pocket and emptying them into the wood-panelled cupboard in his bedroom at his spooky, rundown home, Snozzle Castle. We all know that’s gross but gooliemaloolie, he did NOT deserve this! Struck by lightning one stormy night, his tower of greenies comes alive, turning into a terrifying bogey monster that escapes into the night. Now Frank and his best friend – animal-loving Tiffany and her four daredevil pet slugs – must catch the creature before the villagers of Honkerty find out!

Frank, Tiffany and the heroic slugs have their work cut out as they negotiate a neighbour so wicked she’ll give you the willy-willy-woo-woos, Snozzle Castle’s eerie secret chambers, and a cabaret-singing spider.

And if that wasn’t enough to get you giggling, add on Owen Lindsay’s outrageously wacky illustrations, and the bogey glossary that includes a chumpglump (a small cluster, like a bunch of grapes), a tickletoot (light and feathery) and a brittleberry (crisp and fragile), and you have a must-pick for all youngsters with a nose for trouble!

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Marvellers

Dhonielle Clayton

‘This book is my heart made into words.’ Dhonielle Clayton, an American author whose first love is magic, transports youngsters into her specially and lovingly created Marvellerverse, a fantastical world for all youngsters who, like her, have grown up feeling ‘invisible’ but crave magic and adventure.

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So if mesmerising magic is your first love too, immerse yourself in this thrilling, empowering story, Clayton’s middle grade debut novel and the first instalment of a major new series.

Eleven-year-old Ella Durand, a Black girl from New Orleans, is the first Conjuror to attend the elite Arcanum Training Institute, a magic school in the clouds for Marvellers... gifted ones from around the world who can perform magical feats. Ella discovers that being the first isn’t easy but she finds friendship in fellow misfits Brigit, a girl who hates magic, and Jason, a boy with a fondness for magical creatures, as well as support from her Elixirs teacher, Masterji Thakur.

Then the notorious Ace of Anarchy escapes prison, supposedly with a Conjuror’s aid, and Ella finds herself as the prime suspect. Worse, Masterji Thakur mysteriously disappears while away on a research trip. With the help of her friends and her own growing powers, Ella must find a way to clear her family’s name and track down her mentor before it’s too late.

Marvellverse proves to be a wondrous, world-building invention, a place full of rich, exciting and diverse characters where secrets abound, all cultural traditions mix together and Ella must work hard if she is ever to fit in.

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Clayton delivers an enthralling adventure filled with courage, love, wit and warmth whilst exploring themes of family, prejudice, bullying, acceptance, and learning to take responsibility. Prepare to be swept away!

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Bertie and the Alien Chicken

Jenny Pearson and Aleksei Bitskoff

An alien chicken with a bit of an attitude problem? Only the ‘super miraculous’ Jenny Pearson, the children’s author whose debut novel, The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates, was shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book of the Year 2020, could bring youngsters another wildly imaginative and heartfelt story. Bertie is NOT looking forward to spending the summer holidays on stinky Long Bottom Farm. But things take an interesting turn when he encounters Nugget, the alien chicken. Nugget’s mission is to find the Earth’s most important resource and transport it back to Nurgle 7, and he needs Bertie’s help. But what could the Earth’s most valuable resource be, and can they find it in time to stop the Nurgles exterminating the Earth?! Published in Barrington Stoke’s trademark dyslexia-friendly format, and blending Pearson’s fresh and authentic brand of laugh-out-loud fun with heartfelt themes of friendship, family and understanding and the comical illustrations of Aleksei Bitskoff, this wise, witty and wonderful adventure is truly out of this world!

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)

Aged 8 plus:


Lissa Evans

Magic is the word when it comes to Lissa Evans’ dazzling, laugh-out-loud children’s books… addictive stories which always seem to capture the spirit and anarchy of joyful youth. And this heartwarming and rib-tickling story of friendship, following your dreams and celebrating the power of the imagination is everything that a young reader could have wished. Ed and his younger sister Roo are faced with the most boring half-term holiday in history… five days spent in the company of their elderly neighbour Miss Filey and her ancient, smelly cat called Attlee. Ed declares he would rather spend the week in the shed, or even in the middle of a car park, but when they find a box of birthday candles in a cupboard in Miss Filey’s house, their world is changed completely. These are no ordinary candles because every single one of them comes with a wish. There’s only one problem… some of those wishes actually belong to someone else. It’s little wonder that Evans’ novels have been shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award, Carnegie Medal, and Branford Boase Award. Wished is one of her classics… hilariously funny but instinctively kind, entertaining and eminently wise... and stars a grumpy, demanding cat who could well merit his own story!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Bunny vs Monkey: Multiverse Mix-Up

Jamie Smart

Get ready for more side-splitting laughs as Bunny and Monkey bounce back in an exhilarating remastered comic-book series that delivers all the comedy and chaos of the daffy duo’s helter-skelter world! This outrageously funny series from comic genius Jamie Smart collects together Bunny vs Monkey’s adventures and misadventures in a never before published book form with an easy-to-read, chunky format featuring over 240 pages of fast and furry-ous exuberant fun. The books are part of the Phoenix Presents series, published by David Fickling Books in partnership with The Phoenix comic. The partnership goes from strength to strength and much of that success is due to Smart’s extraordinarily talents. In this latest adventure, featuring everyone’s favourite pint-sized pair, portals to parallel dimensions open up and the gang meet different versions of themselves... a whole universe of Bunnies! Evil Pig! Baby Bunny vs Baby Monkey! The gang end up travelling to the very ends of existence, but will they make it back home to the Woods? One thing's for sure… giggles are guaranteed! Outrageously funny and fabulously illustrated, these manic, high-energy stories were just made for reluctant readers who like their books to come with plenty of comic-strip pictures and loads of laughs. Madcap antics for your action kids!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus:

Space Blasters: Suzie and the Moon Bugs

Katie and Kevin Tsang and Amy Nguyen

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Strap yourself in for a thrill ride because Suzie Wen is back to save the universe! Suzie – an extraordinary girl who loves gadgets and inventing things (even if her inventions don’t always turn out how she expects!) – is the star of a super space-themed adventure series from bestselling husband and wife team Katie and Kevin Tsang. With the fabulous illustrations of Amy Nguyen bringing all the action to life, this awesome and laughter-packed series is fun, accessible and has STEM themes woven throughout, including real mind-bending space facts and pages from Suzie’s inventors’ notebook. After a massive invention mishap, Suzie can’t believe her luck because she is now the newest crew member living on board the space ship from her favourite TV show Space Blasters. It means she gets to explore the galaxy on the spaceship and meet lots of aliens. But when Suzie and her friends crash land on a mystery jungle planet, they face an infestation of moon bugs! It’s up to Suzie and the crew to fix their spaceship, defeat an evil Queen AND save the universe! With its highly illustrated story, plenty of fascinating facts to enjoy, and all the madcap antics of Suzie and her quirky crew, this brilliant series is guaranteed to leave youngsters over the moon!

(Farshore, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Puppy Club: Coco Settles In

Catherine Jacob and Rachael Saunders

Animal magic comes adorably alive in the second book of a fresh and fun early reader series from author Catherine Jacob and illustrator Rachael Saunders. Packed with puppy love, gorgeous illustrations and a cast of characters that youngsters will take to their hearts, these are the ideal books to bridge the leap from picture books to chapter books. Jaya and her friends Willow, Daniel, Elsa, Arlo and Harper are all navigating the ups and downs of life with a brand-new puppy. Elsa loves her gorgeous puppy Coco but her family’s two cats aren’t so welcoming. They chase the terrified pup all over the house! And to make things worse, Coco is chewing everything and Mum is stressed out. Luckily, the friends have created their own Puppy Club and are on hand to help. And soon Operation Friendship is underway, with plans to keep Coco out of trouble and help her bond with the cats. But with each day seeming to bring a new disaster, Elsa can’t help worrying … what if Mum has second thoughts about keeping the puppy? Full of heartwarming friendships, fascinating facts and helpful training hints, this is puppy heaven for all young animal lovers!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Two Sides

Polly Ho-Yen and Binny Taleb

When picture books are too babyish and middle grade books too hard, here’s the perfect in-between book for newly independent young readers. This beautifully illustrated full-colour story is not just pleasing to the eye but carries subtle messages about friendship and kindness that are guaranteed to win the hearts of little ones. Written by Polly Ho-Yen and illustrated by Binny Taleb, Two Sides introduced us to Lula and Lenka who are best friends and total opposites… Lula is a dog person and Lenka is a cat person, Lula is super messy and Lenka is neat and tidy, Lula likes talking to people and Lenka likes watching people. But despite their differences, together they make the perfect pair. Until the day that everything goes wrong and suddenly the girls are no longer friends. What started as a day like any other ends with Lula and Lenka ignoring each other and sitting on opposite sides of the classroom. As the days go by, Lula makes a new friend who talks almost as much as she does, while Lenka just plays on her own. In spite of feeling lonely, neither one is prepared to listen or forgive… or to say sorry. Will it be this way forever? Ho-Yen’s gentle and thoughtful story, perfectly pitched at the five to eight age group, explores themes of friendship and the importance of listening and keeping an open mind, while Taleb’s contemporary, colourful and characterful illustrations bring all the action to vivid life. A beautiful, beguiling story to read, love and treasure!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Mr Men Little Miss: Feeling Sad and Find Calm

Roger Hargreaves

Just because you’re little doesn’t mean you don’t have BIG emotions! Inspire, uplift and empower your pre-schoolers with an entertaining, educational and collectible illustrated Mr Men and Little Miss ‘Discover You’ series which helps little ones unpack big feelings.

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Roger Hargreaves’ eternally popular Mr Men and Little Miss are the ideal characters to help children understand their own – sometimes puzzling – emotions and how to manage them. With engaging questions to encourage conversations and some tips from favourite characters to help children develop their emotional intelligence, these small, carefully created books gently explore big feelings with sensitivity and thought, allowing room for discussion, engagement and fun.

In Mr Men Little Miss: Feeling Sad, a thoughtful and engaging Mr Men Little Miss story about recognising and coping with sadness, we meet Little Miss Curious who approaches life with many questions and some confusion, while Mr Jelly is scared to engage with much of what life has to offer. They both feel sad sometimes but, with help from their friends, they start to understand more about their different emotions.

In Mr Men Little Miss: Find Calm, an uplifting and engaging story about finding calm by living in the moment, Little Miss Busy is always very busy, dashing here and there with many things to do, while Mr Calm takes a calmer, more mindful approach to life. Can he help Little Miss Busy to do the same? The Mr Men and Little Miss are the perfect characters to help children understand a bit more about their own emotions and how to manage them.

With colourful characters on every page, and gentle, reassuring messages about feelings and emotions, these clever little books are perfect additions to any home, nursery or school.

(Farshore, paperback, £4.99 each)

Age 3 plus:

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet

James Carter and Alisa Kosareva

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‘Beneath our feet way deep and down are beasts asleep in the cold, dark ground.’ Meet a croc-like beast with pointy teeth, the biggest bug that ever buzzed on Earth, and a giant dragonfly that once soared across the sky in a big, colourful and mightily magnificent book from award-winning poet James Carter and illustrator Alisa Kosareva. The Beasts Beneath Our Feet is a feast of fun and facts as young readers dig down through the layers of the Earth and travel back in time. And in that murky world with little light, there are all sorts of beasts to discover – trilobites that scuttled and crawled, a herd of roaming woolly mammoths, and munching, crunching dinosaurs like giant T. Rex and diplodocus with its whip-like tail. Children will love unearthing nature’s secrets as they take a tour of the fossils and skeletons found beneath the ground. Carter’s rhyming prehistoric adventure is guaranteed to enthral and inspire while Kosareva’s breathtaking and stylish illustrations bring to life the prehistoric world buried beneath our feet. The perfect, poetic introduction to natural history.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Pick a Story: A Dinosaur Unicorn Robot Adventure

Sarah Coyle and Adam Walker-Parker

Decisions, decisions, decisions! Being given a choice can be scary and for some youngsters, it can be terrifying. But making choices and decisions are an inevitable part of life so make it fun – and not too easy! – with this sparkling interactive children’s illustrated picture book series where YOU choose the story. Author Sarah Coyle and illustrator Adam Walker-Parker have fun and challenge little ones to start making decisions and enjoy the bigger picture with these super ‘pick your own’ whirlwind adventures. And in the second empowering, mouth-watering and laugh-out-loud interactive story, youngsters discover not one, but three fun-filled worlds where you can discover dinosaurs, robots and unicorns. So meet Gwen... it’s her birthday but, oh no, the birthday cake that Dad has been busy making has disappeared. That’s weird and Gwen needs your help to find it! Has the cake been stolen by dinosaurs, snatched by robots or secretly carried off by unicorns? It’s up to you to decide! With a different story guaranteed every time the book is read, some tasty twists and turns, a cast of delicious characters and decisions to make on every page, this is the ideal book to inspire a lifelong love of reading. So what are you waiting for? Come on in and join the fun, and look out for Pick a Story: A Pirate Alien Jungle Adventure.

(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Maths Words for Little People: Shapes and Sums

Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese

You can count on Oxford University Press to make learning fun with this brilliant series of books which makes maths both friendly and inspirational. Maths Words for Little People is a new series of little books which aim to build children’s confidence with mathematical vocabulary and ideas, 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 as Big Words for Little People, the books are special not just because they focus on maths in a child-friendly way, but because the Oxford book boffins pack them with educational goodness that helps children develop and grow. In Shapes, we meet shape words that you can use every day in activities like making cookies. Shapes are everywhere when we bake and paint... big, small, circles, squares, and stripes and patterns. And in Sums, youngsters are asked if they like to work things out and find the answer and are encouraged to discover first shapes words in the garden. Playing in the garden, they learn, is the perfect way to find out about more, less, adding, counting and signs. 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 sharing and reading together whilst exploring and enjoying the different concepts of maths.

(Oxford University Press, hardback, £5.99 each)

Age 2 plus:

The Worry Jar

Lou John and Jenny Bloomfield

‘Everybody has worries. And worrying about them makes them worse.’ The words of a little girl’s granny ring loud and true in a beautiful, reassuring picture book from author Lou John and illustrator Jenny Bloomfield. Managing worries is hard for everyone but it can seem like a mountain to climb for little ones so help build their confidence and teach them a simple but effective coping method with this heartwarming and uplifting story. Frida worries all the time. Big worries, small worries, and all-the-time worries. Her worries feel heavy, just like the pebbles she collects every day. Some days, Frida’s worries become the only thing she can think about but then, one day, her granny teaches her an ingenious way to keep her worries in check with a jar full of worry pebbles. And Frida finally feels the weight of her fears slip away. With John’s cleverly created and gentle story, and Bloomfield's beautifully observed illustrations bringing Frida’s feelings and experiences vividly to life, this is a must-have book for school, nursery and home.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age from birth:

Don’t Mix Up My Dinosaur

Rosamund Lloyd and Spencer Wilson

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Do you have a favourite dinosaur... and would you like to make your own dinosaur friends? Little ones will roar with delight when they get their paws on this colourful and creative board book from Little Tiger Press. With its chunky pages full of Spencer Wilson’s big, bold illustrations, this gorgeous mix-and-match book lets babies and toddlers spin the wheel and find a tail for each of the dinosaurs. The built-in wheel contains different touch-and-feel panels for little hands to explore and is perfect for developing hand-eye coordination. With five options to choose from, and the fun of spinning the wheel, this dino delight is guaranteed to be a hands-down winner!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

Age from birth:

We Are Love

Patricia Hegarty and Thomas Elliott

They say love makes the world go round and it certainly delivers a powerful message in this beautifully created board book which blends words, wisdom, warmth and animal wonders in a glorious bedtime wind-down. Love steals the show as a menagerie of parent animals and their babies show just what can be achieved from the strength to be found in love and caring. From scurrying squirrels to playful penguins and diving dolphins, love can be found everywhere we look! With Patricia Hegarty’s heartwarming, rhyming verse, clever, shaped pages that help to tell the story, and Thomas Elliott’s adorable illustrations, this is a book just made for sharing!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

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