Storytelling heroes, the beastly truth and a chess wizard by various authors – children’s book reviews -

Enjoy being the hero of your own fairytale, dig into fascinating facts from the hidden world of minibeasts, thrill to a life-and-death chess game at the Russian court, and climb aboard for an exciting, animal-packed river journey through the Amazon rainforest with a sunshine array of summer children’s books.

Once Upon a Fairytale: A Choose-Your-Own Fairytale Adventure by Natalia O'Hara and Lauren O’Hara
Once Upon a Fairytale: A Choose-Your-Own Fairytale Adventure by Natalia O'Hara and Lauren O’Hara

Age 3 plus:

Once Upon a Fairytale: A Choose-Your-Own Fairytale Adventure

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Natalia O'Hara and Lauren O’Hara

Have you ever wanted to be the hero of your own story? Well here’s your chance… an exciting book that has an adventure around every corner and lets you do, see and be whatever you want!

Once Upon a Fairytale is the fourth brilliant book from stellar sibling team, author Natalia O’Hara and illustrator Lauren O’Hara, and it puts young readers firmly at centre stage as they get to decide on their very own magical adventure.

All is peaceful in fairyland until a villain puts a curse on the realm. Now the wise queen needs a hero to go on an adventure, defeat the villain and break the curse. Simply create your own enchanting story and be the hero of a unique fairytale.

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Choose to live in a tower on a windy hill, in a tree in a playground, or in a creepy, crumbly shack. Maybe you would love to be a clever princess, a curious gingerbread man, or perhaps even a gentle knight. You can eat fresh-buttered sunbeams with fairies, share newt pie and pigtail pudding with ogres, or ride a unicorn across the sunlit sky.

The storytelling possibilities are endless in this ingenious book which empowers youngsters to let their imaginations take flight to fairyland and to enjoy a brand new adventure every time they pick up the book.

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Add on the joy of Lauren O’Hara’s bold, colourful and action-packed illustrations, and you have the key to a captivating, never-ending adventure!

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

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Age 7 plus:

Everything You Know About Minibeasts is Wrong!

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Dr Nick Crumpton and Gavin Scott

If you believe that all minibeasts are teeny-weeny, then you’d better think again! Minibeast fans will quickly become minibeast experts with this informative, inventive, entertaining and BIG-sized book about some of the world’s most fascinating insects.

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Two thirds of all the species of animals that scientists have discovered on Earth are insects… that adds up to more than 200 million insects for every single human being on the planet. And they are everywhere – living in fresh water, in the air, under the ground and in the oceans.

And what about all those supposedly true facts about minibeasts… bees die when they sting you, centipedes have one hundred legs, cockroaches are indestructible, butterflies emerge from cocoons, and crustaceans only live in water.

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Well, forget what you thought was true because zoologist Dr Nick Crumpton is here to reveal that those ‘facts’ are WRONG and to help readers dig out the truth. From uncovering incredible insect architects to debunking the notion that you sometimes eat spiders in your sleep, this in-depth, ingenious book takes a close-up tour of the world of creepy-crawlies and reveals the truth behind the many common myths about minibeasts.

With a fascinating, friendly, easy-to-understand text by Crumpton, and Gavin Scott’s richly detailed and colourful artwork on every page, this hardback gift book, complete with a stunningly tactile cover, will turn young nature lovers into the next generation of entomologists!

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Also available in this series is Everything You Know About Dinosaurs is Wrong!

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £12.99)

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Age 8 plus:

The Clockwork Queen

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Peter Bunzl and Lia Visirin

The supercharged brain of award-winning author Peter Bunzl whirrs into action again for a thrilling and atmospheric historical adventure courtesy of specialist publisher Barrington Stoke.

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Set at the dangerous and turbulent court of Russian Empress Catherine the Great, and inspired by the true story of the ‘Mechanical Turk’ – an 18th century automaton that fascinated audiences by appearing to play chess – this rollercoaster adventure is a thrill ride not to be missed.

Chess prodigy Sophie Peshka inherited her love of the game from her grandmaster father. But now that he has been imprisoned in the dungeons of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg by powerful Empress Catherine the Great, Sophie must use all her strategic skill and cunning to help him escape. Part of Sophie’s plan involves an incredible chess-playing automaton called the Clockwork Queen, but will the Queen be able to outwit the Empress in a game where the stakes are a matter of life and death?

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Bunzl started his career as an animator and film-maker working on everything from commercials to BAFTA‑winning children’s TV programmes, and The Clockwork Queen is full of all the visual drama and rich imagination that have brought him such success in his career as a children’s author.

Harnessing the kind of mechanical wizardry he employed in his wonderful Cogheart series, and opening an intriguing window into the game of chess for young readers, Bunzl’s gripping, suspense-packed tale is brought to life by the stunning illustrations of artist Lia Visirin, and is published in Barrington Stoke’s trademark dyslexia-friendly format.

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(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

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Knight Sir Louis and the Sorcerer of Slime!

The Brothers McLeod

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If it’s crazy fun you’re looking for this spring, mount your steed and join the charge with the third book in a hilarious, illustrated series from BAFTA award-winning sibling duo, The Brothers McLeod.

The Knight Sir Louis adventures have been dubbed Monty Python and the Holy Grail for middle grade readers… and it’s easy to see why! Brimming with inventive storytelling, laugh-out-loud jokes, choose-your-own adventures, and madcap comic strip illustrations, this is a masterclass in crackpot comedy.

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Knight Sir Louis is the bravest knight at King Burt the Not Bad’s Castle Sideways. He has defeated evil goblins, horrible wizards, a dastardly damsel and a double-headed dragon (but please nobody mention wasps, Knight Sir Louis is absolutely NOT afraid of them).

In this new, rollicking adventure, King Burt is in a huff with Knight Sir Louis so when a stranger with piercing green eyes and a devastating smile arrives at Castle Sideways, King Burt is thrilled and demotes Louis to chief cleaner. But Louis is suspicious about the stranger, Squire Lyme, with his charming compliments and endless supply of green gummies. With the help of his friends Reader Catalogue (a super-smart boar with a degree in Weird Botany), Pearlin (a self-taught wizard), his haiku-loving, flying robot horse, Clunkalot, as well as a few ogres and gnomes, our hero determines to get to the slimy bottom of things. Can Louis’ calm courage overcome the terrifying Sorcerer of Slime and save the day… again?

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The Brothers McLeod (otherwise known as author Myles and illustrator Greg) dish up another raucous romp full of super-silly sword play, bone-crunching action, and hilarious heroes as Louis and his friends save the day again.

Sublimely funny and seriously entertaining, this is the ideal way to get your youngsters hooked on reading… and medieval mischief!

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(Guppy Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

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Escape to the River Sea

Emma Carroll and Katie Hickey

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Combine all the vibes of a classic masterpiece with a thrilling, animal-packed adventure that speaks loudly and movingly about the threats to our precious rainforests, and what do you have? The fabulous Escape to the River Sea, a rich and imaginative evocation of Eva Ibbotson’s award-winning book, Journey to the River Sea, which was written over twenty years ago and brought to life the author’s memorable vision of the extraordinary beauty of journeying through the Amazon. And what a mesmerising, thrilling sequel this is from bestselling historical fiction author Emma Carroll who uses Ibbotson’s story as her inspiration and endows it with a timely eco warning, and a fresh and invigorating post-war twist. In 1946, Rosa Sweetman, a young Kindertransport girl, is longing for her family to claim her. The war in Europe is over and she is the only child left at Westwood, a rambling country estate in the north of England where she took refuge seven years earlier. The arrival of a friend of the family, Yara Fielding, starts an adventure that will take Rosa deep into the lush beauty of the Amazon rainforest in search of jaguars, ancient giant sloths and somewhere to belong. What she finds is Yara’s lively, welcoming family on the banks of the river and, together, they face a danger greater than she could ever have imagined. Fans of Ibbotson’s book will love discovering what happened to the children of the original stars, orphan girl Maia, and Finn, the mysterious boy who lived alone on the wild river shores of the Amazon. With the stunning artwork of Katie Hickey on the book cover, a richly imagined and magical story that children will return to again and again, and its important messages about saving the rainforests, this is both a super gift book and a wonderful teaching aid.

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

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Age 7 plus:

Action Dude

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Andy Riley

If you think Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Die Hard-era Bruce Willis are the coolest action heroes in town… you obviously haven’t met Charlie Munderdrew. Sorry, that should read Action Dude because he’s changed his name! Emmy-winning screenwriter and million-copy-selling author and artist Andy Riley is on his best imaginative form with a fantastic, laugh-out-loud graphic novel that is packed full of explosions and friendship and fun… and yet more explosions! Star of this comic caper fest is the eponymous Action Man. First Name… Action. Second Name… Dude. He lives for danger, he lives for excitement, he also lives with his mum because he’s only nine years old. Action Dude is always jumping out of helicopters, crashing ships, running along the tops of cranes and walking out of buildings just before they explode. He’s the bravest action hero there ever was… except that he’s terrified of spiders. (But don’t ever tell anyone that!) When the robots in a new theme park go haywire, the city needs a hero. It’s up to Action Dude to come to the rescue. After all, no one else is crazy enough to just walk in there and save everyone! Action Dude – the first of three books by the author and artist of the hilarious King Flashypants series – is a riot of slapstick comedy, anarchic action and crazy characters. Ideal reading for your own all-action mischief-makers!

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(Welbeck Flame, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

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Freddy The Superstar

Neill Cameron

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Being different to everybody else at your school isn’t always easy when you are the most super-amazing, superhero robot with super-awesome powers! There can’t be too many ‘superlatives’ when it comes to much-loved comics creator Neill Cameron’s fully illustrated Awesome Robot Chronicles. This is a series which positively fizzes with fun, firepower and frantic antics, but also cleverly celebrates unity, uniqueness and diversity. Freddy the Superstar is the third laugh-out-loud adventure with rocket-boosting Freddy and finds him and his pals, not least long-suffering Riyad, getting involved in the school science fair. Naturally, his robot abilities means Freddy is suddenly the centre of attention… and Freddy one hundred per cent loves that! But will Freddy let this brush with fame go to his head? Of course he will… but that might not go down so well with his friends! Cameron once again turns on his own creative boosters as he cleverly balances moments of pure comedy with insightful lessons on negotiating friendships, stepping out of the spotlight to let others shine, and tackling the tricky emotions of growing up. With its quirky, comic-strip style narrative and format, illustrations that zing with humour and energy, and a cast of lovable and empathetic heroes, this entertaining and inspirational series is ideal for both avid and reluctant readers.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

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Age 7 plus:

Panda in the Spotlight

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Sarah Horne

The best of friendships can be formed in the most unexpected ways! Take Callum Campbell… life is good for Callum’s family and Pudding, their real-life panda, who escaped from the zoo and arrived as the live-in nanny, but is now their very best friend and a BIG part of the family. Share laughter, love and lashings of knockabout fun with the second book of author and illustrator Sarah Horne’s adorable and heart-warming adventure series starring a panda whose great talent is talking… and acting! In their new outing in the spotlight, Pudding and Dad’s hit stage show, Panda-mime, has been wowing audiences… but then ambitious journalist, Penni P, twigs that Pudding is a real-life talking panda. If she exposes the truth, her story will be everywhere and the family will be in big trouble. Penni woos the family with false promises of fame and fortune in Hollywood in order to find her proof. Soon, everyone is starry-eyed except Callum. Can he expose Penni and stop her from breaking the story that could tear his family apart? Panda in the Spotlight is a delight for both children and grown-ups… a big, furry, panda-sized bear hug with pawfuls of comedy, fabulous illustrations and some important messages about childhood, anxiety, belonging, truth and the reassuring warmth of family love.

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(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

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The Upside-Down Detective Agency

Ellie Hattie and Brendan Kearney

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Can two super-sleuthing sloths (slowly but surely) save the day when a thief puts the brakes on a fast-moving racing car driver? Budding detectives will love putting their skills to the test in this fast and furious, slow and steady interactive crime caper from top author and illustrator team Ellie Hattie and Brendan Kearney. Stop thief! Someone has stolen the diamond warp drive from Lady Velocity Speed’s car. Lady V is on the fast track to success but without the diamond warp, she’ll never win The Big Race. Can sleuthing sloths Stan and Stella crack the case? Maybe with a helping hand… and hey, reader, that’s you! Little ones will love helping this pair of topsy-turvy, crime-busting buddies crack their latest case. Packed with prompts, cues, hidden clues – and giggles – this intriguing, immersive adventure helps develop problem-solving techniques, encouraging little readers to take their time and try new perspectives. Hattie’s engaging and interactive narrative, and Kearney’s lively and intricately detailed illustrations are the perfect match for an adventure that will have little mystery fans raring to go!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

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Age 3 plus:

The Mystery of the Golden Pyramid

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Adela Norean and Aaron Cushley

A talking dog, a jewelled casket and a quest for stolen treasure! Mystery, excitement and adventure are never far away in this fabulous picture book – brimming with flaps to lift and holes to peep through – from the vivid imaginations of author Adela Norean and illustrator Aaron Cushley. When Sophie walks into the bedroom of her new home, she discovers an extraordinary dog called Ari waiting to take her on a magical Egyptian adventure full of puzzles, pharaohs, pyramids and precious amulets. Lift the flaps and peep through the intriguing holes to help her save King Nebra and solve the mystery of the golden pyramid. Norean’s spectacular, all-action mystery story is brought to glorious and colourful life by Cushley’s extraordinarily rich and detailed illustrations. Add on the eye-catching gold-foiled cover and you have the perfect, interactive book for your own little Ancient Egyptian adventurers!

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(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

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Lionel and Me

Corinne Fenton and Tracie Grimwood

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Young and not-so-young, little and not-so-little, well-behaved and not-so-well-behaved… the best friendships can be formed from the strangest pairings! Australian author Corinne Fenton and fellow Aussie, illustrator Tracie Grimwood, team up for an enchanting and heartwarming picture book which celebrates the eternal joy of friendship and the rewards that come from being patient. When dachshund puppy Lionel arrives in his house, Maverick is unimpressed. Lionel seems to be getting all the family’s attention, eating tastier-looking food, and generally making everybody smile. Will there ever be enough love to go round for the two dogs? Fenton’s gentle, cautionary tale explores feelings of jealousy and compassion with humour and wisdom, while Grimwood’s charming, soulful illustrations bring all the action and emotions to life.

(New Frontier Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

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Age 3 plus:

Meadow and Marley’s Magical Mix

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Katie Mantwa George and Natalie Creed

Everyone needs a sense of belonging and that is the powerful message that shines out from this beautiful and thoughtful picture. Written by diversity and inclusivity expert Katie Mantwa George, who has a British and South African heritage, and dedicated to her young niece and nephew, Meadow and Marley’s Magical Mix opens the door to empowering conversations with youngsters about their own mixed-heritage backgrounds. Meadow and Marley are on a mission to understand their heritage. When the lively duo head out on a trip to the market with their auntie, they discover there is so much to learn from delicious food and curious passers-by. In fact, the most important lesson of the children’s day out is discovering that their backgrounds are a magical mix. Brimming with the adorable and vibrant illustrations of South African artist Natalie Creed, this inspirational, action-packed adventure enables little ones, and their parents, to cultivate pride in a unique mixed-heritage background.

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(Little Steps Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

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You Can Be A Supercat

Rosamund Lloyd and Chris Dickason

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Youngsters can practise their super-cuddle powers with this enchanting board book celebrating the power of kindness and friendship. Do you have a problem? Do you need a friend? Have no fear: Supercat is here! She’s the kindest puss on the planet. Our lovable, huggable superhero is here with one simple mission… to cheer up everyone with her super-sunny smile. This colourful board book – brimming with Rosamund Lloyd’s bouncy, rhyming text and Chris Dickason’s perfectly punchy illustrations – has a detachable, fun felt mask to pull out and wear. Packed full of sunny smiles, warm friendships and shared laughter, pre-schoolers will LOVE learning how to practise their own super-kind powers and to be budding superheroes!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

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Age one plus:

Touch and Learn Space

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Becky Davies and Mei Stoyva

Let little fingers do the learning with this fun and educational board book which is simply out of this world. Touch and Learn Space is part of an early-learning series for toddlers. Each book contains soft felt finger trails with educational value, so little learners can trace and discover. Here, youngsters are invited to touch, trace and learn about space. Simply follow the felt finger trails to launch a rocket into space, orbit the sun like a planet and even bounce on the moon. This bright, interactive book is the perfect blend of learning and fun, with keywords to spot on every spread and stepped felt pages for toddlers to grasp and turn. There’s so much to spot in space! Also available: Touch and Learn Farm and Touch and Learn Things That Go.

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(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

Age one plus:

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When Mummy Works From Home

Paul Schofield and Anna Terreros-Martin

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Since the Covid-19 pandemic, working from home is increasingly becoming the norm. But for parents of pre-schoolers, this can pose challenges for both grown-ups and children. So here are two delightful, rhyming board books from debut author Paul Schofield which capture all the mayhem and magic of home working, and help little ones to understand the concept of sharing their parents’ time (and energy!). Toddlers love to burst in on a video call and Mummy and Daddy would love to play, but they have to finish their work first. On the upside, there can be a kiss between calls and a sticky cuddle at lunchtime! With familiar domestic situations brought to vibrant life by Anna Terreros-Martin’s emotive illustrations, When Mummy Works From Home, and partner book When Daddy Works From Home, explore and celebrate some of these sometimes chaotic moments in a heartwarming and humorous way that will appeal to young readers. Ideal books for anyone returning to work after parental leave, or adjusting to home-working.

(Templar Publishing, board books, £6.99 each)

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Age from birth:

Vehicles

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OKIDOKID and Liuna Virardi

Opposites are part of everyday life and it’s a concept that children are never too young to learn. So here’s an inventive board book series that teaches little ones first opposites in the most delightful and entertaining way. Second in the series – which was created by OKIDOKID, an agency founded by Justine de Lagausie who now works hand-in-hand with children’s author Raphaël Martin – is Vehicles which lets little ones discover a world of opposites with things that go. From the highest hot air balloon to the lowest submarine, little hands will love lifting the flaps of this bright and chunky board book. Featuring the bright, stylish and quirky illustrations of Liuna Virardi and simple, accessible pairings ideal for language development, the book’s fold-out flaps transform the pictured scenes to make the opposite come to life. Simply lift, learn and explore, and look out for more books coming soon in this inventive opposite series.

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(Little Tiger Press, board book, £6.99)