Tales of fantasy, counting kittens and a ghostly getaway by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Discover what happens when the worlds of reality and fantasy collide, marvel at a classic tale of two girls on the run from wolves, enjoy watching colourful kittens learning to count, meet an accidental witch solving a ghostly mystery, and join a bad panda for more misbehaving mischief in a super selection of summer children’s books.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 2nd August 2022, 12:30 pm
The Worlds We Leave Behind by A F Harrold and Levi Pinfold
The Worlds We Leave Behind by A F Harrold and Levi Pinfold

Age 9 plus:

The Worlds We Leave Behind

A.F. Harrold and Levi Pinfold

When English author and poet A.F. Harrold was asked by a schoolchild in 2018 if he and illustrator team-mate Levi Pinfold had any plans to follow up on the outstanding success of their award-winning novel, The Song from Somewhere Else, he said that couldn’t promise anything.

So it is doubly good news for readers that not only has this duo teamed up again for another book, but that their new collaboration has created The Worlds We Leave Behind, a beautiful, haunting tale of friendship, betrayal, retribution and redemption starring the younger brother of a girl called Frank who played the lead role in The Song from Somewhere Else.

And this thrilling new story – once again filled with the extraordinary and stunningly atmospheric illustrations of CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal-winning artist Pinfold – conjures up the same alluring magic of fairy tale darkness and verbal lyricism that has become the hallmark of Harrold’s writing.

Hector, or Hex as he likes to be known, never meant for the girl to follow him and his best friend Tommo into the woods. He never meant for her to fall off the rope swing and break her arm. And when the finger of blame is pointed at him, Hex runs deep into the woods and his fierce sense of injustice leads him to a strange clearing where he has never been before.

There he finds an old lady in a cottage and she offers him a deal… she will rid the world of those who wronged him. All he has to do is accept and they will be forgotten, forever. But what Hex doesn’t know is that someone else has been offered the same deal.

When his friend Tommo wakes up the next day, something feels wrong. Half-whispered memories tug at his brain, making him think that something, or someone, is missing from his life. Can Tommo put the world back the way it was, or can he find a way to make a new world that could be better for them all?

The worlds of reality and fantasy collide with power and thought-provoking poignancy in this unforgettable story which springs surprises and works its wonders as readers explore how we can learn to find the strength to face down monsters… in the darkness, in our friends, and in ourselves.

Full of mystery, soaring imagination, and Pinfold’s lush and lovely black-and-white illustration, this is a book to enjoy and treasure, and pass on down to the next generation.

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

Age 9 plus:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

Joan Aiken

‘Wonderful adventures, thrilling chases, shipwrecks and secret passages, terrified orphans and frightful villains – not to mention delicious banquets and giant boxes of chocolates.’

If that sounds like the dream scenario for a children’s story, then be assured that it is… and can be found in the pages of Joan Aiken’s wild, evocative and timeless fantasy novel which is being republished in a beautiful new paperback to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Featuring a delightful and moving new Afterword by Lizza Aiken, Aiken’s daughter, revealing the inspiration behind the story and how it came to be written, this new edition also includes fascinating material from the author’s own archive.

Written in the style of a fast-paced Dickensian adventure and set in an alternative 19th century England where good King James III is on the throne, we find a country ravaged by wolves which have migrated through the newly-opened Channel Tunnel.

Meanwhile, the wicked wolves and a grim governess threaten Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia when Bonnie’s parents leave Willoughby Chase for a sea voyage. Left in the care of the cruel Miss Slighcarp, the girls can hardly believe what is happening to their once happy home.

The servants are dismissed, the furniture is sold, and Bonnie and Sylvia are sent to a prison-like orphan school. It seems as if the endless hours of drudgery will never cease. With the help of Simon the goose boy and his flock, they escape. But how will they ever get Willoughby Chase free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp?

With the atmospheric illustrations of Pat Marriott, and filled with brilliantly drawn Dickensian characters, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is an excellent choice for pre-teens who like their stories to be dark, gripping, atmospheric, but with the added sparkle of wit and a lively serving of eccentricity.

Aiken’s storytelling is genuinely addictive and this classic tale of good and evil, cruelty and bravery cannot fail to win the hearts of a new generation of readers.

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

10 Cats

Emily Gravett

Black cats, cats with stripes, cats with patches and cats with blotches! Revel in the colourful and endearing delights of a spectacular new picture book from artistic genius and twice CILIP Kate Greenaway award-winning artist Emily Gravett. With its simple but educational text, and a stunning gallery of cats that will have all the family purring with joy, 10 Cats is a feast of counting, colour and cute kittens. When a family of kittens discover three cans of paint, it’s not long before blotches, splotches, spots and splats are going everywhere! Gravett’s funny and entertaining exploration of colour and numbers invites little ones to count along with the story whilst enjoying the antics of a cast of adorable kittens. Each picture spread in the book attains more and more colour until the final pages explode into an eye-catching rainbow of vivid colour. Ideal for reading aloud, and with beautiful, artistic detail on the end pages of this sumptuously produced hardback book, this is the perfect gift for your own little kittens!

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age one plus:

Who’s Tickling Tilly?

Rob Jones

To what lengths will your toddlers go to discover who’s tickling Tilly the dinosaur? There are over two metres of fold-out fun in author and illustrator Rob Jones’ ingeniously created board book which combines the joy of search-and-find with the slow reveal of a story springing to life through twelve colourful, concertina pages. Who’s Tickling Tilly? is the follow-up to Jones’ gloriously funny Where’s Brian’s Bottom and stars dinosaur Tilly who can’t stop laughing because someone is tickling her! Can you work out who it is? Search through different prehistoric landscapes and ask Tilly’s dinosaur friends some questions to see if you can work out just who is tickling her. There a host of hilarious creatures (both big and small!) to meet along the way, and you can explore the exciting natural landscapes, see what you can spot as you unfold the book, and enjoy different scenes on the back and front of the concertina pages. As well as being entertaining, the book teaches youngsters all about different animals, and helps to develop their dexterity and sense of curiosity. Visually exciting, wonderfully interactive… and destined to tickle your little’s ones funny bone for a very, very, very long time!

(Pavilion Children’s Books, board book, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Vi Spy: The Girl with the Golden Gran

Maz Evans

I spy with my little eye… a daring schoolgirl tasked with saving the world! Welcome back to the fertile imagination of Maz Evans, author of the bestselling and twenty times award-nominated Who Let the Gods Out? books, and the last sky-rocketing, all-action book in her hilarious super-sleuthing adventure series which stars a pint-sized super spy and a supporting cast of characters who have won the hearts of readers young and old. Valentine (Vi) Day’s mum, Easter Day, is an ex-spy and now divorced from her dad, Robert Ford, who has retired as one of the world’s most evil men. The divorce has been tough for Vi but with her parents distracted (and her mum hoping that she will finally get to marry her new love George Sprout), the real super-villains are still having a field day. To save her family – and the planet – from evil domination, Vi has turned spy and has twice tried, and failed, to save the Earth. Now, her world faces a terrible threat again… her Gran is seriously ill. Time is not on their side. And with Umbra, the world’s number one enemy and Vi’s shadowy nemesis, laughing at them from space, she and her family blast off on an adventure that is truly out of this world! Expect giggles and (last!) gasps galore as youngsters take a running jump into this full-on, comedy-laden story which includes memorable moments and gripping twists whilst gently tackling emotive issues like parental divorce, friendship problems and family illness. Pure gold for adventure and fun-lovers!

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Cartoons That Saved the World

Tom Ellen and Phil Corbett

Reality versus the exciting cartoon world springs to hilarious life again in the second outrageous romp from the top double act of author Tom Ellen and illustrator Phil Corbett who have combined their skills to bring youngsters big-hearted, comic-style adventures full of thrills, spills and laughter. In the fast and furious follow-up to The Cartoons That Came to Life, we step back into the double danger-packed lives of best friends and comic strip creators Finn and Isha. In this new outing, they discover a group of ‘lost toons’ – including crime-fighting Zack Jellicoe, Finn’s favourite cartoon character – stranded in the Real World and they vow to help them get back home. But a mistake sees Finn and Isha zapped into Toon World themselves! With the help of their own characters – Arley, Tapper and Jenny Weatherlegs – Finn and Isha must defeat two of the worst baddies ever created, while navigating the biggest bump in their friendship. Cue some help from a magic pen… but can they make it back to the Real World before it’s all too late? There are lots of giggles to enjoy and a big helping of slapstick fun in this manic, madcap cartoon-style adventure but Ellen also tackles some emotive subjects – like individuality, friendship and true loyalty – with the lightest of touches. With Corbett’s richly detailed and vibrant illustrations adding to the excitement, these books are ideal for reluctant readers and guaranteed to keep any child who loves mayhem and mischief glued to the page.

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Diary of an Accidental Witch: Ghostly Getaway

Honor and Perdita Cargill, and Katie Saunders

Bea-ware of the new witch in town because she’s casting a spell over readers young and old! Magic is in the air from the moment you open the pages of this brilliantly funny and enchanting adventure series which comes straight out of the bewitching minds of daughter and mother partnership, Honor and Perdita Cargill. Illustrated throughout by skilful artist Katie Saunders, these gorgeous books are billed as The Worst Witch meets Tom Gates, and time spent with trainee witch Bea Black certainly delivers a perfect potion of magic, mayhem and mischief. In her second adventure, Bea Black is in her second term at witch school and she can’t wait for the Year Seven residential trip to the haunted Cadabra Castle. The students are excited to fly around the famous GO pitch, explore the ancient turrets and have a magical time, but first they need to stop arguing! Ms Sparks, however, has other plans… this isn’t a holiday, it’s a team-building exercise for a class who desperately need to learn to work together. And with rumours of a ghost terrorising the castle, Bea has a lot more to contend with than scavenger hunts and hikes, not least being paired up with Blair Smith-Smythe, her ultimate frenemy! Will the class learn anything from their time at Cadabra and, more importantly, will Bea and Blair manage to avoid hexing each other for long enough to solve the spooky mystery? The Cargills make a truly wizard writing team as Bea’s exceedingly different (and hilarious!) life at witch school comes with a cauldron full of comedy, a warm-hearted look at friendship issues, and moving moments of marvellous magic. Totally spellbinding!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Bad Panda: The Cake Escape

Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey

Pandas are all cute, aren’t they? Well, maybe not all pandas… Youngsters will be chewing through bamboo leaves to get their hands on the new adventure starring precocious panda Lin who is sick of being labelled cute and tired of being cuddled and hugged. Guaranteed to make readers of every age laugh themselves black, white and red, this hilarious Bad Panda series comes from the outrageous queens of comedy, Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey. And Haddow and her illustrator team-mate Dempsey have certainly conjured up another laugh-out-loud winner in the shape of a panda who so hates being cute that she’s on an unstoppable mission to change that image forever (although it as to be said that by being extra bad Lin has made herself one of the zoo’s best-loved animals!)! And now she is on another mission… to find her best friend, Fu. He seems to have disappeared from the zoo. Has he been stolen by the Horrid Human? Only Lin’s badness can help her find him… Luckily this panda is as fearless as she is fluffy. Just don't call her ‘cute’! If slapstick fun, outrageously bad behaviour and panda poo makes you giggle and guffaw, then Bad Panda is your perfect go-to comedy read. Packed with Haddow’s warmth and wicked, laugh-out-loud wit, and Dempsey’s irresistibly funny black, white and red illustrations, this super-silly series from one of the most inspired partnerships in children’s comedy fiction is simply irresistible!

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Mega Robo Bros: Meltdown

Neill Cameron

Alex Rider meets Ready Player One in these high-octane adventures with heart and humour. These comics were previously published in Mega Robo Revenge, and also contain character profiles, how-to-draw pages and more! A sensational new addition to the adored Mega Robo Bros series.

Brace yourself for another rocket-powered graphic novel adventure courtesy of David Fickling Books’ highly popular The Phoenix Presents series… and comic books creator Neill Cameron. Part of an amazing all-colour story strip series, Meltdown is a republished version of Mega Robo Bros, but now fully remastered and adapted into a new chunkier and more dynamic format with lots of extra bonus content like character profiles and how-to-draw pages. Packed with action, fun and comedy, these supercharged tales of two robot brothers facing Machiavellian rogue robots will delight young readers and help to encourage a love of books and good storytelling. London in the future… Alex and Freddy are just like any other brothers. They squabble and drive their parents mad. But they are also the most powerful robots on Earth! And now the Mega Robo Bros face their most dangerous threat yet… the evil robot Wolfram is trying to bring about the end of the world by melting all the ice in the Arctic. Only Alex and Freddy can stop him, but they will have to use all their powers and, crucially, work together to stop Wolfram’s apocalyptic plans. High stakes and high emotion are in store! With huge explosions, family dramas, epic action, electrifying stakes, and two madcap brothers saving the day, these superhero thrillers are ideal for your own young techno wizards.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Story Shop: Anchors Away!

Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal

Young adventurers eager for some thrills, chills – and easy reading – need look no further than the Story Shop! This fresh and funny series from Shifty McGifty author Tracey Corderoy and children’s illustrator Tony Neal is bursting with adventures and comedy, and just the job for new and emerging readers. Looking for adventure and want to be a hero? Step inside the Story Shop! It is packed full of plots, costumes and characters galore, and shopkeepers Wilbur and Fred are ready and waiting to find every customer their perfect adventure! When famous explorer Pearl stumbles into the shop, she’s certain she’s done everything and been everywhere… until Wilbur and Fred suggest a swashbuckling pirate adventure! Join Captain Pearl as she embarks on a sneaky mission to steal the priceless Black Pearl, stirs up trouble in a treasure race, and has a ‘wail’ of a time on the hunt for a mysterious pirate ghost. With an action-packed story to enjoy, and Neal’s vibrant illustrations bringing all the fun to life, the Story Shop is guaranteed to be on every youngster’s shopping list!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Pick a Story: A Pirate Alien Jungle 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 new 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 this first empowering and laugh-out-loud interactive story, youngsters discover not one, but three fun-filled worlds where pirates, aliens and jungle animals live. But first we meet Vincent whose dog, Trouble, has disappeared and he needs your help. Has Trouble been stolen by aliens or pilfered by pirates? Is she exploring the jungle? It’s up to you to decide! With a different story guaranteed every time the book is read, and twists and turns, hilarious 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 Dinosaur Unicorn Robot Adventure which is coming soon.

(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

I’m the Train Driver and I’m the Bin Lorry Driver

Illustrated by David Semple

Let’s imagine! Encourage children to engage in creative play with two super books in an empowering series from Oxford University Press which puts your little ones firmly in the driving seat. Designed to build self-confidence and gently teach the concept of following instructions, problem solving, and teamwork, I’m the Train Driver and I’m the Bin Lorry Driver offer a child’s eye insight into driving vehicles. The stories – beautifully and colourfully illustrated by David Semple – are also ideal teaching tools as they are embedded with early learning skills such as recognition of colours, shapes, and numbers. Whether it’s the train driver climbing into his cab, twisting the green button to start the engine and moving up the line to his first station stop, or the bin lorry driver putting on his safety gear, switching on the lorry’s headlights and other controls, and driving carefully through the town, these books are perfect stories to share with children as a fun way to practise key skills while spotting their favourite vehicles and making the sound effects. Jump in the seat and go, go, go!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99 each)