The bad, bad Baddies, a world of wonders and human kindness by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Meet three hilarious villains as the top picture book team return, take a trip to all corners of the planet, discover how it pays to be kind, escape into a wonderful animal adventure, and take flight with some tiny, magical people in a super September selection of children’s books.

The Baddies by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
The Baddies by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Age 2 plus:

The Baddies

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Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Oh no, the Baddies are coming and they can’t wait to give you a scare!

As the creators of phenomenal bestsellers like The Gruffalo, Stick Man and The Highway Rat, author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler have become two of the most famous names in the world of children’s picture books.

But far from resting on their laurels, this superstar team have been busy conjuring up their most wickedly funny book yet… an anarchic adventure starring The Baddies, three hilarious villains – a ghost, a witch and a troll – each determined to prove that they are the meanest and nastiest baddies in the land.

Of course, it all goes wrong in the riotous, slapstick style that has become the much-loved hallmark of this dynamic duo… a style that keeps little ones grinning and guffawing from the first colour-soaked page to the last hilarious line of this fresh, funny and exuberant rhyming story.

The Baddies just adore being bad, and frequently fight over who is the worst. And when a little girl moves into a nearby cottage, the Baddies can’t wait to scare her out of her wits. But the little girl quickly shows them that you don’t have to be big to be brave, and that baddies, however hard they try, don’t always win.

With Donaldson’s heartwarming, inspirational messages about being brave and standing up to bullies, a wise and enchanting story in a rhyme perfect created for reading aloud, and Scheffler’s stunning and richly detailed illustrations providing lots to spot on every page, this is a creative partnership made in children’s reading heaven!

(Alison Green Books, hardback, £12.99)

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Age 7 plus:

The Earth Book

Jonathan Litton and Thomas Hegbrook

Enjoy a world of wonders just waiting to be discovered!

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Author Jonathan Litton, whose writing is rooted in scientific research, and illustrator Thomas Hegbrook have journeyed to all corners of the planet to create this fantastic, informative book about the Earth and all its many and majestic glories.

The Earth Book comes from 360 Degrees, a vibrant non-fiction imprint of the Little Tiger Group which produces inspirational books covering everything from natural history and human invention to art and architecture, and languages and lunar landings.

This superbly created book spans both physical and human geography, and combines a vast variety of information in easy-to-process, bite-sized paragraphs with stunning illustrations, making it an accessible and enjoyable read for even the younger age groups.

Explore the intertwining of human and animal lives over the ages, and the consequences this has for us now in terms of our land and sea ecosystems. Delve into the fleeting beauty of our lonely planet, from a carnival of natural wonders to influential earthlings and super cities.

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There is also the chance to marvel at the physical planet, to travel back in time to primordial Earth, explore all branches of the tree of life, discover habitats from oceans to deserts, learn how the weather works and take a tour of the human inhabitation from the Maasai Steppe to Manhattan.

Illustrated throughout by Hegbrook’s superbly textured graphics, and with each spread spanning an informative and intriguing topic, this panoramic book is both a visual spectacle and an inspirational learning tool, ideal for schools and parents.

The perfect way to explore the world at the turn of the page…

(360 Degrees, paperback, £14.99)

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Age 8 plus:

Human Kindness: True Stories of Compassion and Generosity that Changed the World

John Francis and Josy Bloggs

They say it pays to be kind… and that’s the message that speaks out loudly and clearly in this warm-hearted and inspirational book from environmentalist, public speaker and educator John Francis, aka the Planetwalker, who spent 17 years in silence as he walked around the planet.

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As the founder of the environmental awareness organisation Planetwalk, he spreads the message that we must treat both our earth and our fellow humans with kindness. After his years spent travelling, Francis has many interesting stories from around the world and now youngsters are invited to join him on a fascinating exploration of kindness, great and small, and learn how they too can make kindness a part of their everyday life.

From the kindness Francis has experienced in his own life to the history of how kindness has helped to shape our laws, morals and communities, we discover many inspirational stories about kindness and generosity from places as far apart as Kenya and the Crimea, and New Zealand and China.

Over the whole history of humankind, kindness, says Francis, has been key to the survival of our species and to making the world a better place. Learn about Harriet Tubman, who risked her life to help others escape from slavery, the Nomads Clinic, which sends doctors trekking into the Himalayas to tend to patients, the Linda Lindas, a group of young musicians who use their talent to speak up for the rights of others, and Joshua Coombes, a hairdresser who gives free haircuts to the homeless.

During his vow of silence, Francis found it particularly comfortable communicating with children non-verbally, and writing for children was something he has always wanted to do. And the joyous and awe-inspiring stories in this book will certainly encourage young readers to be kind to others.

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From inventors and musicians to scientists and healthcare workers, readers will meet a diverse range of people and, through their example, discover that being kind, even in small ways, is also good for your health.

With the superbly detailed illustrations of Josy Bloggs bringing the planet and its people to colourful life, this glorious book is the perfect inspiration to practise kindness every day and find happiness in sharing our planet together.

(What on Earth Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 8 plus:

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Cress Watercress

Gregory Maguire and David Litchfield

Every now and then, along comes a story with all the hallmarks of a children’s classic… a magical world of animals with an irresistible nostalgic flavour, and fabulous illustrations which leap off the page. Cue US author Gregory Maguire – whose novel Wicked inspired the hit musical – and talented British artist David Litchfield who have teamed up for Cress Watercress, a lavishly illustrated animal adventure about growing up, moving on, and finding community. Young rabbit Cress lives in a warren on the riverbank with Mama and Papa and baby Kip. Meals are at dawn and dusk, and there’s honey-ginger tea to help the baby with his breathing. When Papa doesn’t return from a nocturnal honey-gathering expedition, Cress holds out hope, but her mother assumes the worst. It’s a dangerous world for rabbits, after all. Mama moves what’s left of the Watercress family to the basement unit of the Broken Arms, a run-down apartment oak with a menacing owl landlord, a nosy mouse superintendent, a rowdy family of squirrels and a pair of songbirds who broadcast everyone’s business. Can a dead tree full of annoying neighbours, and no Papa, ever be home? Maguire lets his imagination run wild in this action-packed woodland adventure which showcases his storytelling mastery, and trademark wit, whimsy and wisdom. With the feel of a timeless classic but still retaining a contemporary vibe, this unforgettable and tender meditation on coming-of-age is brought to vivid life by the colour, vibrancy and dynamism of Litchfield’s extraordinary illustrations. A read-aloud or read-alone gem for animal lovers of all ages.

(Walker Books, hardback, £10.99)

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Age 9 plus:

Safe

Vanessa Harbour

Two youngsters lost in the chaos of war, and surrounded by the enemy, must rescue not just themselves but a band of other children displaced by the conflict… and a team of forty abandoned horses. After the success of Flight, her thrilling debut novel starring Jakob, a boy with no family, orphan Roma girl Kizzy, and a stableful of magnificent horses – Vanessa Harbour is back in the saddle for a gripping new adventure for this daring wartime duo. In the chaotic last days of the Second World War, Jacob and Kizzy are tricked into a life or death journey that goes very wrong. Their guardians at the rural Lipizzaner stables – where they hide the precious Lipizzanner stallions they know Hitler wants to steal – think they are helping to fetch some race horses but a con artist wants them to get over the border. Far from home, they are attacked and only just escape. They hide in a seemingly deserted mansion, but they keep hearing strange noises and someone fires at them. When they investigate, they find the mansion shelters not only forty abandoned horses but a small band of equally lost children. With the Nazis and Russians heading towards them and danger on every side, can Kizzy and Jakob keep them safe and get them all home? Harbour, a disabled writer and academic, impresses again as the horse-loving children set off at a gallop on a perilous mission full of bravery, daring escapades and unforgettable adventures. With its perfect blend of wartime drama, magical storytelling, spine-tingling tension, fast-paced action, and a wonderful cast of human and horse characters, this big-hearted adventure is a thrill ride from start to finish.

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(Firefly Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Utterly Dark and the Heart of the Wild

Philip Reeve

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The dark and delicious fantasy, starring a girl called Utterly Dark with a mysterious connection to the sea, is launched on to the middle grade reading map this week with a stunning new adventure. Utterly Dark and the Heart of the Wild – the highly anticipated sequel to Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep – comes from Philip Reeve, one of the most exciting authors working in children’s fiction. His outstanding debut, Mortal Engines, won the Nestle Smarties Book Prize and Blue Peter Book Award, and was made into a blockbuster film, and Here Lies Arthur, his take on the Arthurian legends, won the Carnegie Medal. And now this master storyteller is chilling and thrilling again with these magical tales in an extraordinary and atmospheric ‘other world’ called Wildsea. When Utterly Dark was a baby, she was washed up on the shores of the Autumn Isles and taken in by the Watcher of Wildsea. But everything changed when the Watcher drowned and someone new was needed to make sure Wildsea stays safe from the strange forces teeming in the ocean. Utterly knows that she has a special link with the sea but this autumn, it will be tested more than ever before on the island of Summertide. Accompanying her uncle as he explores mysterious Summertide, Utterly is witness to strange happenings in the woods. Deep, old magic abounds and threatens to steal those she loves most. Utterly must face truths about what lies beneath the land, and in her own past, if she is to save anyone. And she must make a sacrifice to the sea… This enchanting story of nature, fantasy and friendship has all the vibes of a Dickens novel but with an electrifying thread of magical realism running through its core. Brave, caring and determined, the utterly wonderful Utterly is at the centre of all the action and danger, and Reeve – with his enviable gift for characterisation – surrounds her with a brilliantly imagined cast of supporting characters. Add on a heady mix of warmth and humour, and you have the perfect reading package.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Peanut Jones and the Twelve Portals

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Rob Biddulph

Best known for his fantastic #DrawWithRob sessions which kept youngsters entertained throughout Covid lockdowns, writer and artist Rob Biddulph dazzles again with the second book in his debut middle grade adventure series. Peanut Jones and the Twelve Portals delivers another thrill ride into a magical world, delivering a highly illustrated, epic tale threaded through with danger, magic, friendship, art, and a celebration of the power of the imagination. Some legends are born, some are drawn… drawing feels like magic to Peanut Jones and it has led her into a strange and magical world called Chroma. But now famous works of art are disappearing from all over the world. One moment they are there, the next, they have crumbled to dust. Peanut and her friends suspect it might have something to do with Chroma and wicked Mr White’s plot to wipe out colour, art and creativity. It's time to head back to the Illustrated City and help the resistance fight back. Positively buzzing throughout with energy, creativity, fabulous two-tone illustrations, and Biddulph’s trademark warmth and humour, this a rip-roaring romp full of laughter, devilish twists and turns, fast-paced action, and a cliffhanger ending that will leave spellbound youngsters yearning for next year’s final chapter. Another all-round storytelling triumph!

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

Age 8 plus:

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Edie and the Flits in Paris

Kate Wilkinson and Joe Berger

Young imaginations are destined to take flight again when they tuck into the second magical adventure starring flits, the tiny, thumb-sized winged people created from the mind of former BBC Radio children’s writer Kate Wilkinson. Packed with all the vibes and effervescence of Mary Norton’s classic 1952 fantasy, The Borrowers, these exciting stories centre on family and friendship, and are brought to life by the brilliantly atmospheric illustrations of animator, cartoonist and artist Joe Berger. And in this new adventure in Paris, we meet up again with eleven-year-old Edie Winter and her friend Naz who were so looking forward to an exciting trip to the French capital… until Naz’s annoying little sister Sami tagged along. And as if that wasn’t enough, Sami smuggled some precious flits with her! Their tiny friends can only be seen by children and keeping them safe back home in London was hard enough, but in Paris? C’est terrible! Then they encounter Monsieur Rottier, a collector creating theatrical scenes featuring miniature people in glass domes. Miniature people who look incredibly lifelike… Can Edie and her friends help the French flits before it’s too late? With its fun, fresh sense of youthful energy and joy, Wilkinson’s action-packed and heartwarming story reminds us all to notice the little things in life and to treasure each other, however big or small we might be.

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £7.99)

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Age 5 plus:

Sidney Makes a Wish

Lisa Thompson and Jess Rose

Some friendships appear where they are least expected! Lisa Thompson, bestselling author of a host of prize-winning children’s books, turns her talents, for the very first time, to a warm and enchanting story for younger readers. Sidney Makes a Wish 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 to create easy-to-read, first chapter books in a small format ideal for little hands, and with some extra reading, jokes and activity fun inside the covers. In this gentle but educational adventure, we meet Sidney who spots a wishing well in the long grass on his way to school and thinks he might have found the answer to the problems he’s having with his friend Billy. If he can just wish for exactly the right thing, then surely Billy will want to be friends with him again? But as Sidney makes his wishes, he doesn’t realise that the friend he’s longing for has been there all along. Thompson brings her powerful storytelling skills to this superbly crafted tale about navigating friendships and coping with the normal ups and downs of playground dynamics. Add on Jess Rose’s evocative and playful colour illustrations, and you have the perfect package for young readers.

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(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Circles in the Sky

Karl James Mountford

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Grief is one of the hardest emotions that humans must face in their lifetime. And for a young child –forced to face the unimaginable reality of losing a close family member or friend – it is a time of confusion, fear, hurt and loneliness. Using his imaginative skills, artist, and now debut author, Karl James Mountford spreads his special brand of understanding, care and kindness over this beautiful and sensitive exploration of grief, loss and hope. One day, Fox is drawn to something in the forest – it’s something small, something silent, perhaps forgotten. It’s a bird, as still as can be. Fox is confused, upset and angry – is the bird broken? But then a little moth comes along. Kind and wise and comforting, Moth shares a gentle philosophy… the story of the circles in the sky that watch over those who pass away. Written with gentleness and sensitivity, and stylishly illustrated in a stunning palette of muted colours, this exploration of grief – told in the manner of a contemporary folk tale – is ideal as a helping hand for youngsters coping with bereavement.

(Walker Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Granny Pip

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Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves

Little ones will be pulling on their wellies and heading for the fruit bushes when they get their hands on the final book in an enlightening and entertaining picture book series which helps children to understand where their food comes from… and just how precious it is. Granny Pip is the fourth and final Follow My Food non-fiction book from ever-inventive Scallywag Press which aims to encourage children to appreciate the different sources of food and to become environmentally aware of its origins. Written by experienced children’s author Deborah Chancellor and colourfully brought to life by the illustrations of Julia Groves, the book follows a little girl and her granny as they work in the garden all year round to grow fantastic fruit. Being able to buy fruit is something we take for granted, but what if we had to grow our own? The little girl helps Granny Pip as she plants fruit bushes, feeds them with fertiliser, waters the crops, prunes and then harvests. Growing fruit is hard work, but eating it is delicious! A simple quiz and fun facts at the end explain more about growing and tending fruit including pruning, watering and using compost. Groves’ bright and stylish artwork helps to underline the message that sustainability, producing food, and reducing waste is important work, and that we must respect the humans (and animals) who help produce it. The perfect book to help explain the concept of food production to your budding eco-warriors.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

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Poo in the Zoo: The Island of Dinosaur Poo

Steve Smallman and Ada Grey

Bottoms up as Steve Smallman and Ada Grey, the king and queen of splat, patter and plop, return with the third, hold-your-nose instalment of their much-loved Poo in the Zoo series! Few children can resist getting to the bottom of a poopy kind of mystery, and author Smallman and illustrator Grey’s gloriously funny new rhyming picture book, featuring everyone’s favourite little zookeeper Bob McGrew, has it – literally – in bucketfuls. At the helm of the dinosaur-themed adventure is Hector Gloop who wants one more poop for his collection… but it’s proving harder to get hold of than usual! Can Bob and his crew from the zoo help Hector in his quest to find the elusive dinosaur poo? When they travel the ocean on his poo ship, Number 2, they wash up on a mysterious island and can’t believe their luck… that is, until some hungry looking dinosaurs turn up. Can they find their poo-shaped prize, or will they end up as dinosaur dinner? Smallman’s brilliantly fun-filled and anarchic story really is the bottom line when it comes to putting poo in the picture. Packed with animal poos of every type, and given added comedy power by Grey’s pages of rib-tickling, action-packed illustrations, this is a riotous adventure not to be sniffed at. Laughter guaranteed from first poo to last!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

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Age 3 plus:

Agent Llama: Alpaca Attack!

Angela Woolfe and Duncan Beedie

Palmer’s back… or, to be more precise, Charlie Palmer is back, the awesome spy and fluffy llama whose adventures always seem to end with giggles galore and loads of laughs! Her top-secret mission is to stop Harley Hacker, a rogue alpaca, from destroying the world… with spaghetti! Charlie – the inspired creation of author Angela Woolfe and illustrator Duncan Beedie – is a hotshot secret agent and the nearest thing in the animal world to James Bond. Alpaca Attack! is the second super sleuthing, rhyming adventure from this top team and is guaranteed to get your little ones guffawing all the way to the final, explosive (and very messy!) showdown. In her new mission impossible, Charlie faces a formidable enemy. From Dublin to Delaware, Harley Hacker’s devious drones are firing pasta everywhere. And worse still, everyone suspects that Charlie is behind the pasta drama! Can everyone’s favourite llama clear her name and save the world, or will she be too late to thwart Harley Hacker’s pasta plan? The gadgets are ready, her sunglasses are on. Watch out, baddies, no villain is a match for this legendary llama! Woolfe’s streetwise, savvy llama spy is the perfect sleuthing hero as she fights crime and villainous crooks with laugh-out-loud antics, super-suave know-how and some ingenious gadgetry. Beedie’s dynamic, cinematic illustrations bring the laughs, action and rhymes to life, ensuring their mission to entertain is accomplished in true Bond style.

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(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Tree: Activity Book

Beth Hamilton and Britta Teckentrup

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The timeless beauty of the changing seasons comes alive in an enchanting sticker book bursting with activities, colour and trees! Based on illustrator Britta Teckentrup’s award-winning picture book, Tree: Seasons Come, Seasons Go, this bright and beautiful book offers youngsters over 200 stickers as well as forests and woods full of mazes, wordsearches, mosaics, counting, colouring and dot-to-dot puzzles, and a gentle introduction to how nature changes throughout the year. Children will love to challenge their brains whilst exploring the fascinating life-cycle of a tree in spring, summer, autumn and winter as the leaves grow, change their hues and fall in a carpet of red, gold and green. Help a little squirrel to find his acorns, guide an owl through the night sky, and lend a helping hand herding Mummy Fox’s babies into their hibernation home. Written by Beth Hamilton and with fascinating facts, separate sections on each season, and suggested outdoor exercises like keeping woodland record books and counting the rings in tree stumps to assess their age, this fun and informative sticker book will have your little eco-warriors glued to the page!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £9.99)

Age 2 plus:

I Believe in Me

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Emma Dodd

Having faith in yourself is what’s important! Learning that self-belief is a wonderful thing and can open up a whole new and exciting world is the message that speaks loudly and resonantly in the enchanting tale of a baby crocodile from award-winning author and illustrator Emma Dodd. ‘I believe in me. There’s nothing I can’t do. That’s what you have taught me, and I believe in you!’ With its parent as its mentor, the baby crocodile makes its way through night and day, rain and shine, and above and below water, and discovers all the things it’s capable of when it has someone cheering it on. With its inspirational words and Dodd’s gallery of beautiful, emotive illustrations, I Believe in Me is a pitch perfect rhyming story celebrating doing your best, whatever the obstacles that might lie in your way, and encouraging little ones to feel good about themselves. Written with a large helping of heart, warmth and wisdom, this gorgeous hardback book comes with stunning gold-foil on the cover and some of the inside pages, and makes the perfect gift for any time of year. Carefully crafted and brimming with love.

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £7.99)