Stolen dreams, explosive science and scary scarecrows by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Take a train ride into a magical land of disappearing dreams, choose your own path through a world full of mind-blowing science facts, thrill to a marvellously menacing mystery starring spooky scarecrows, and meet the sarcastic penguin and clever cat who star in a new graphic novel series as a super new selection of children’s books hit the shelves.
Dreamstalkers: The Night Train by Sarah DriverDreamstalkers: The Night Train by Sarah Driver
Dreamstalkers: The Night Train by Sarah Driver

Age 9 plus:

Dreamstalkers: The Night Train

Sarah Driver

Imagine if your dreams disappeared and you were left only with nightmares... nightmares that came to life! Master storyteller Sarah Driver – author of The Huntress trilogy – takes youngsters on an unforgettable wild ride in the first book of her epic Dreamstalkers fantasy duology.

Set in a richly imagined world, inspired by Driver’s own train rides in fantastical places like the Atlas Mountains and on the Arctic Circle Train though Sweden, this spectacular opening adventure sweeps youngsters into the life of Bea Grimspuddle, a 12-year-old whose courage and tenacity is tested in a jaw-dropping place of majesty, menace and magic.

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Everything changed the day the dreams disappeared… and the nightmares came. Bea Grimspuddle lives with her mother Ula and Pipi – her long-eared owl who smells like butter and candle smoke – in a cottage in the remote wilds of a rugged moorland settlement called Thunderheart Tor. Since the day the dreams disappeared, and an affliction of nightmares began sweeping across the lands, everyone is leaving and their settlement is being abandoned. But when Ula grows sick with the affliction, she won’t leave – and she’s keeping a secret from Bea. Just as Bea begins to despair, the mysterious Night Train steams across the moors, bringing a stranger who offers her the chance to save her mother. Bea is flung into a faraway adventure in the world of the Dreamstalkers, skilled warriors and performers who must go to work each night inside the dreams of the powerful. But the nightmares are following close behind and Bea worries she won’t ever find the magic that will save her mother.

Raised on a reading diet of fantastical tales like Spellhorn by Berlie Doherty, the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis and the stories of Roald Dahl, Joan Aiken and Frances Hodgson Burnett, Driver knows how to put the wow factor into her own epic fantasy adventures and Dreamstalkers is a truly escapist experience.

It’s a story about finding your place in an alien world, learning to trust, discovering your voice, and finding true friends with whom to share your adventures. Full of danger, breathtaking action and spine-tingling atmospherics, and set against a seductive backdrop of of dreams, strange shadows and nightmares, this is one of 2024’s unmissable adventures!

(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Science FACTopia! Follow the Trail of 400 STEM-tastic Facts!

Rose Davidson and Britannica Group, and Andy Smith

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Put on your lab coat, grab your safety goggles, and choose your own path through a world full of explosive, mind-blowing science facts!

This dazzling collection of 400 fascinating facts – written by American writer, editor and researcher Rose Davidson and the Britannica Group, and brought to life by amazing photographs and award-winning Andy Smith’s witty and wonderful illustrations – is the sixth title in the dynamic and bestselling FACTopia! series created by the inventive boffins at Britannica Books.

And as with the other titles in the series, Science FACTopia! is verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica and doesn’t offer just one trail through a multitude of facts. Each of the 400 facts is connected to the next in a wild and weird web of information where you will leapfrog from topic to topic in surprising and hilarious ways.

So prepare to be amazed as you embark on an enthralling journey through the worlds of space, animals, engineering, numbers, machines and more in hundreds of connected facts. Follow an ingenious trail to learn about space, animals, rocks and crystals, virtual reality, the body, coding, 3D printing, engineering, plants, fungi, maths and lots more, and discover how each fact is connected to the next in entertaining and unexpected ways.

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You’ll meet a parrot called Squawkzilla, find out about the fastest muscles in the body, discover gems that can change colour and learn about black holes that ‘burp.’ Filled with Smith’s lavish artwork, this engaging book brings STEM topics to life with facts that children – and that includes reluctant readers! – will be eager to share with their friends and family.

Science FACTopia! is ideal for children curious about space, the human body, computers, rocks and crystals, and maths, and offers a fun introduction to British Science Week running this year from March 8 to 17.

(Britannica Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 9 plus:

Shiver Point: A Tap At The Window

Gabriel Dylan

Enter (if you dare!) Shiver Point... the home of spooks, screams and small-town horror! A Tap At The Window is the second book of a thrilling, chilling series from Gabriel Dylan, a teacher and children’s author who is a self-confessed horror fan. So for all those who love having their spines tingled and their goosebumps raised, meet the plucky Shiver Squad and join them for a marvellously menacing new mystery. When budding engineer Riley notices a new scarecrow in the field by her house, she doesn’t think much of it... until she hears rumours of break-ins across town and strange figures sighted in the fields when the sun goes down. And then one night she hears a tap at the window! It's time to get the Shiver Squad on the case, but when all roads lead them to the abandoned Darkraven Farm, they are in a race against time to save the town from the scarecrow’s vengeance. Expect extra scary scarecrows and macabre clues... and don’t say you weren’t warned!

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Test Trouble

Serena Patel and Louise Forshaw

A maths test? That sounds like a nightmare for reluctant student Arun whose stomach starts spinning just at the thought of taking a test. Is there any way he can get out of it? Serena Patel – author of the much-loved Anisha Accidental Detective series – tackles a common fear among children in this delightfully funny and reassuring tale. Maths test? Nightmare! When Arun’s teacher tells his class that they’ve got a maths test next week, Arun is horrified. He hates tests! Too much pressure! Arun is determined to get out of sitting the test, but how? Should he pretend to be sick... or organise a school-wide protest against all tests? He’s ready to try anything until he realises that maybe he’s not the only one who feels this way. Can Arun find the courage to face his fears and take the dreaded test? With illustrations by Louise Forshaw putting Arun and his friends and fears firmly in the spotlight, this clever and empathetic story helps young readers to understand that they are not alone in feeling stressed and anxious about tests and exams, and that in the end it’s far better to face both the pressures and your fears.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Peng and Spanners

Steve Webb

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What do you get when you pair an acerbically sarcastic penguin with a cunningly clever cat? The answer is double act Peng and Spanners, the dynamic superheroes of a laughter-packed new graphic novel series from animator Steve Webb. A children’s author as well as a freelance graphic designer, Webb delivers the tastiest adventure in town as Peng, aka super ninja penguin fantastic, teams up with Spanners (the only cat with a tool belt) to investigate the craziest pizza mystery ever. When the pizza parlour at Boredin School disappears and a giant robot suddenly appears, Peng and Spanners know that only they can help the headmaster find his parlour before the school inspectors arrive and shut him down. There’s just one massive pesky robot to defeat, Cinderella the caretaker (who roars about rules) to avoid, and the not insignificant matter of first achieving an incredible jail break! Expect gadgets aplenty, a giant talking robot, and a story so silly that you’ll be laughing all the way to the final pages where there are, incidentally, some nifty drawing lessons to enjoy with Peng, Spanners and yes, the author/illustrator himself too. A pizza piece of reading perfection!

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Hotel for Cats

Marie Pavlenko and Marie Voyelle

If you’re longing for a holiday in beautiful Paris, look no further than the awesome and clawesome Hotel Charamba, a cosy hotel for cats where the staff don’t put a paw out place. This charming new series – written by good friends author Marie Pavlenko and illustrator Marie Voyelle – has been superbly translated from the original French by Anna Brooke and is set to win over an new English-speaking audience. And in the first adventure, we meet kindly Magda, a 75-year-old lady who loves flowery dresses and squashy cushions, who is officially in charge of the Hotel Charamba but the real bosses (as everyone, except Magda, knows) are four cats. There’s bossy Bobine, an old female Persian cat who is a secret knitter, tough-talking moggy Mulot found abandoned in a bin by Magda, a middle-aged Siamese male called Carpette who is a wannabe singing superstar, and Couscousse, a chubby female Chartreux who just happens to be friends with a ghost. And here we find the feline friends on a mission when scared new cat, Wolfgang, arrives. Why is he so afraid, and how can they make him feel at home? Voyelle’s enchanting illustrations bring extra life and laughter to Pavlenko’s gorgeous Gallic gem as the captivating cast of cats wend their witty and wicked way into every young reader’s heart!

(Chicken House Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Missing Bunny

Holly Webb and Antonia Woodward

Enjoy having your heartstrings well and truly tugged in a heartwarming, tender and moving story from bestselling author Holly Webb who has written over 130 books for children. Starring a little girl desperately searching for her missing bunny, and featuring the evocative colour illustrations of Antonia Woodward, The Missing Bunny is the latest book in the super-readable Little Gems series which brings together leading authors and illustrators, and a host of clever design and finishing techniques, like dyslexia-friendly fonts, to create easy-to-read, first chapter books in a format ideal for little hands, and with some extra activity fun inside the cover. Annie is really excited about her new pet rabbits, Toffee and Humbug, and can’t wait to welcome them into the amazing new home her dad has built for them. But when Annie is in a rush to get to school the next morning, she doesn’t check that the door to the hutch is shut properly and Humbug escapes to go on an adventure. Can Annie find Humbug in time to save her from the neighbourhood fox? Packed with gentle storytelling, beautiful artwork and fun activities, this is the perfect early chapter book for youngsters taking the first steps on the path to reading independence.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Who Rules the Rockpool?

Matty Long

Join a colourful collection of curious crustaceans as they fish around to find who rules in the rockpool! Matty Long, the super-talented author and illustrator of the bestselling Super Happy Magic Forest picture book series, is back with another nature-inspired story full of laughs, crabs, prawns and fascinating facts. Crab is a big crab in a small rockpool and he rules the rockpool... or so he thinks. When a big wave sweeps him and Prawn away from the pint-sized pool and into an even larger pool, they know the first rule of survival is to find out who’s in charge. Crab is convinced he’s the strongest, but Prawn is worried that being tough may not be enough. And soon Crab has to re-evaluate his place in the hierarchy. But if Crab doesn’t rule the rockpool, who does? Long brings his trademark talents of deadpan comedy and hilarious, cartoon-style illustration to this wonderful walk on the wild side which explores the essential food chain, some amazing sea creatures, and the ecosystems that are found in the natural world around us. With a spot the sea creature activity to enjoy at the end of the book, Long’s witty commentary, and eye-catching artwork to win every child’s heart, young readers will need little encouragement to feast on this diet of facts and fun.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Meet the Dinosaurs

Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin

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Ever fancied a dinosaur safari? Well climb aboard and buckle up for a thrilling journey into the distant past! Meet the Dinosaurs is the fourth book in an exciting and acclaimed series from children’s writer Caryl Hart and award-winning illustrator Bethan Woollvin which has included Meet the Planets, Meet the Oceans and Meet the Weather. Zoom! We’re off to meet the amazing dinosaurs that once roamed the Earth. Join in with the jaunty rhymes and get ready to spot all the friendly (and not so friendly!) dinosaurs, from the huge Brontosaurus and amazing Diplodocus to the speedy Velociraptor and scary T-Rex. Little ones will have an all-action and fact-packed thrill ride (and be back in time for bed!) in this fun and vibrantly colourful picture book. Woollvin’s bold and eye-catching artwork is perfectly paired with Hart’s rhyming story which blends STEM learning and palaeontology with a clever rhyming twist. So what are you waiting for... hold on tight and get ready to meet and greet all your favourite dinos!

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

Age 3 plus:

There’s a Gorilla at the Door!

Clare Helen Welsh and Sam Caldwell

What do you do when a gorilla arrives for your family party? Blended families are now a familiar trait of contemporary life but it can be an anxious time of change for young children. So invite them to share the fun of this riotous animal romp, written with love and understanding by Clare Helen Welsh, and brought to life by the talented Sam Caldwell in this enchanting picture book. Daphne’s mum and stepdad, Anthony, are throwing a family party as the little girl had to leave behind her friends when they moved to a new home. But Daphne is convinced it’s going to be boring! It’s only when a gorilla knocks on the door, a rhino rolls in and a kangaroo pops up that Daphne realises that this party is going to get... wild! In Daphne’s big animal family, everyone is different but they all love to dance to the same beat. Children will love the charismatic cast of animal characters as they hop and bop through every page of this colourful, high-energy story which cleverly and joyfully explores and celebrates the sense of belonging and interconnected nature of animal families that we all, as humans, share. Fun to read aloud, and delightful to look at, There’s a Gorilla at the Door! is destined to be a family favourite.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Magic of Me

Ben Cort

What do you want to be today? Brave, caring, quiet, creative, adventurous? Inspire your little ones to be anything they want, and to celebrate all those things that make you YOU, with this dazzling picture book from award-winning illustrator Ben Cort. Let your dreams run free and embark on an adventure with one very special boy who lets his imagination run wild and discovers all the amazing things he can be in just one day. Follow him as he explores a fantastical world filled with dragons, giants, robots, lions, tigers and even aliens! The magic of being YOU comes to spectacular life as Cort – bestselling illustrator of the Aliens Love Underpants series – lets his own imagination and talents take flight. Bold, bright and beautiful artwork combines with an uplifting, rhyming text that will transport young minds into amazing worlds and places they never thought they could visit. Picture book perfection!

(Hodder Children's Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

There’s a Tiger on the Train

Mariesa Dulak and Rebecca Cobb

Take a train ride to the sea with the most extraordinary fellow passengers in this dazzling new picture book from the top team of award-winning, debut children’s author Mariesa Dulak and star illustrator Rebecca Cobb. There’s a Tiger on the Train is a spectacular blend of word perfect rhyming with outstandingly expressive artwork and delivers a gentle, cautionary tale about putting your phone away and instead enjoying the world around you. ‘You’ll never guess what happened On our trip down to the sea... A tiger in a top hat Came and sat right next to me!’ Off to the seaside go a little boy and his Dad on a rather strange train journey. But will Dad ever look up from his phone? As they board the train, Dad is stuck into his phone and misses the fact that a tiger boards the train too. And then a family of hippos arrive, along with a band of crocs, a mum with her piglets, and two pugs in fine hats and dresses. They’re all on the way to the seaside and there’s pandemonium! But then the tiger roars... has he finally had enough? What will Dad say... and will he even notice? This tale of a glorious menagerie of animals, all aboard the train, is filled with fun, colour, rhyme and rich, imaginative detail, but also subtle messages about the over-use of phones in contemporary life. A visual and verbal treat!

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

How to Cuddle a Crocodile

Sam Wilde and Sarah Horne

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How do you look after a pet that has VERY sharp teeth and doesn’t like cuddles? Little ones can enjoy lots of giggles, fascinating animal facts, and some jaw-droppingly helpful reminders of the responsibilities of having a pet (and particularly a surprising pet!) in this adorable picture book from author Sam Wilde and illustrator Sarah Horne. How to Cuddle a Crocodile – second book in their delightful Peculiar Pets series – explores what it might entail to take care of an extremely large, fast and strong crocodile! It's very important to look after your pet properly but when that pet is a crocodile that can gallop at 20mph, has the strongest jaws on Earth and up to sixty teeth, and can hide camouflaged in water for over an hour, looking after them and showing them you care can be... well, complicated. The idea of having a pet, and just what is entailed in that, is pushed to hilarious extremes as creative illustrator Horne lets loose her imagination on Wilde’s warm-hearted and fun-filled story. And if meeting a very wild and peculiar pet wasn’t enough, you can learn more fascinating facts about crocodiles in a section at the back of the book!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age from birth:

Ten Little Ducklings

Lucy Rowland and Aki

There’s no ducking out of a BIG adventure when ten little ducklings set off to play. Get ready to play with ten little ducklings – all with their own special name – as they set off on an exciting day out. Ten Little Ducklings is written by Lucy Rowland, a star of the picture book world noted for her charming, energetic and irresistible rhyming stories, and illustrated by award-winning French artist Aki. The sun is up, it’s a brand new day. Ten little ducklings want to play! There’s lots to see and lots to do – let’s play a game of PEEK-A-BOO! There’s a busy new scene to explore with each turn of the page, from a day at the farm and a hot-air-balloon outing to a snowball fight and a birthday party. And can you spot which little duckling is hiding on each page? Packed with rich and colourful details for little ones to spot, this irresistible search-and-find book is ideal for reading and sharing.

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

Age from birth:

Look Out! Hungry Lion and Look Out! Hungry Snake

Paul Delaney

Little ones will be hungry for more when they get their paws on a super new Look Out! Hungry Animals hide-and-seek, lift-the-flap board book series from Paul Delaney. Look Out! Hungry Lion and Look Out! Hungry Snake are the first colourful titles to hit the shelves and are the perfect, playful introduction to the concept of the food chain. It’s dinnertime and Hungry Lion is in the mood for something to eat… but his prey see him coming! Will Lion end up with anything to munch? And Hungry Snake is in the mood for something to eat too… but with her prey running away or refusing to be eaten, will she end up with anything on her plate? These subtly educational board books zing with vibrancy, colour and cheeky fun, and children will love discovering who’s hiding on each page. With six spreads to explore and five sturdy flaps to lift, these inventive, interactive books will help to give your youngsters a lifelong appetite for reading!

(Kumusha Books, board books, £6.99 each)