Book reviews: Chills, thrills and spills for young readers

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Banish the January blues with a season of brilliant new books!

Travel to a winter wonderland of frost and ice, meet a boy who can’t stop lying, get the inside story on technology or check in at a madcap boarding school for girls, boys… and goats!

Age 9 plus:

A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson

Imagine finding out that your dad is Jack Frost… it’s enough to make your blood freeze!

Former journalist Amy Wilson lets her imagination take flight to a winter wonderland of snow, ice, menace and mystery in a stunning debut novel that serves up Narnia-style magic with a modern twist.

But it’s not all chills and thrills as we journey with troubled teen Owl McBride to an extraordinary landscape silvered by frost and snow… because this cleverly crafted story about family, friendship, identity and the beauty of the natural world is also guaranteed to melt the hearts of young readers.

Thirteen-year-old Owl McBride’s artist mum may be beautiful but she is also annoyingly dippy, preferring lentils to pizza and deciding that Owl would be a good name for her only child.

Could she have known back then that her daughter would grow up to have white blonde hair that flicks around her face like feathers, a nose on the beaky side, eyes that are so pale brown as to be nearly yellow… and an almost obsessive love of owls?

There has to be a reason why she was named Owl but when she asks who her father was, her mum fobs her off with fairy tales about how they met in one of the magical wintry lands of an old storybook.

But now Owl is growing up and wants some real answers, particularly as strange things are starting to happen to her. Why do her friends complain that her touch is always freezing cold, why does her strange blue-white skin sparkle when she sits beneath the light and why do frost crystals form in her hair?

Owl is tempted to just burrow down under the duvet and forget all about it but could her strange new powers be linked to her mysterious father? Her only confidant is best friend Mallory but she has no answers and Owl is further unnerved by Alberic, the new boy in her school class who seems to know more about her than she understands herself.

When she finally learns that her father was Jack Frost, the icon of winter who spreads frost across the world, Owl is plunged into a world of winter where wolves roam, where nature’s big characters – some kind, some cruel, some wild and some nurturing – are never far away.

This is also a place where Jack Frost, master of ‘a million chiselled surfaces,’ can be just as terrible as the wolves and as just treacherous as the ice…

A Girl Called Owl is a thrilling, breathtaking story full of age-old charm and enchantment, whisking youngsters away to an ethereal world trapped in the mists of time and steeped in the very best traditions of adventure, folklore and mystery.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

All ages:

100 Hugs by Chris Riddell

Share the love! Yes, you’re never too young – or too old – to enjoy a hug.

So everyone will embrace this endearing and imaginative collection of illustrated hugs from Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, an accomplished artist and political cartoonist for The Observer.

100 Hugs is a gorgeous keepsake book, the perfect gift for a loved one, or simply the place to turn to for cheer and to lift the spirits on the darkest of days. These charismatic, cuddly clinches convey affection, humour and love, and every one of them is guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart.

From animals and aliens to families and friends, and from Alice in Wonderland and the White Rabbit to the Three Little Pigs and Pinocchio, and with words of loving wisdom from famous names, poets, writers and philosophers, this cornucopia of cuddles is a real work of art… and heart.

(Macmillan, hardback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

Lyttle Lies: The Pudding Problem by Joe Berger

Honest truth… serial liar Sam Lyttle is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud!

Author and illustrator extraordinaire Joe Berger turns fibbing into an art form in the first book of Lyttle Lies, a brilliant new graphic series simply brimming with fun, anarchy… and plenty of porky-pies.

Sam Lyttle is a habitual liar. Even he admits, albeit reluctantly, that he sometimes tells the odd untruth and has been known to occasionally strrrrrretch the truth a little.

To be totally honest (well, sort of) Sam would rather skirt the truth and avoid trouble. However, he soon finds out that in trying to avoid trouble, not telling the truth gets him in to all sorts of scrapes. His mum (who thinks maths homework is the sole purpose of being a child), dad (who is happiest jazz-guitar noodling), his big sister Suzy (who thinks herself SO superior) and Grandpa (aka The Great Wonderoso) would like him to be more honest.

And now Sam is in a pickle… in fact he’s in a whole jar of pickles. It’s four o’clock on a Friday and he has until Monday morning to sort it out… or else! Will he ever learn?

With its bold, comic-style illustrations and wonderfully witty humour, this pitch-perfect series is ideal for reluctant readers who like their books to come with plenty of comedy and pictures. The lively, fun-filled illustrations help to keep the story visually interesting and bring madcap Sam’s adventures and misadventures to life in all their glorious anarchy.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Infographics: Technology by Simon Rogers

Whether it’s supercomputers, medical marvels or travel of the future, here is a book that let’s youngsters see technology in its all its exciting, technicolour brilliance.

Infographics: Technology, the fourth book in fascinating, factual series from the Big Picture Press, offers a mesmerising miscellany of incredible information as visualised by the creative collaborative brilliant Studio Muti.

Pages of stunning Infographics showcase information and data researched by Simon Rogers, prize-winning founder of The Guardian’s Datablog, through Studio Muti’s uber-cool design and striking graphic illustrations.

Complex facts about technology are explained by the use of stylish information graphics which astonish, amuse and inform with each turn of the page. The seven tabbed sections take youngsters through the history of computers from the abacus to the tablet, allow us to see inside a smartphone and check out the robots working all around the world.

Discover how 3D printing works, follow the steps of CGI animation, take a look at the tech of a record-breaking car and imagine what the generation of ships of the future could look like.

Colourful, informative and easy to use, this is the ideal way to browse, learn, marvel… and understand a world of facts in the blink of an eye.

(Big Picture Press, Flexiback, £10.99)

Age 8 plus:

Harry Potter Magical Artefacts Colouring Book by Warner Brothers

Banish the winter blues with a palette of magical Harry Potter colours!

Packed with stunning pieces of artwork from the Warner Brothers archive, this spellbinding colouring book gives fans the chance to colour in the magical artefacts of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

From flying brooms to textbooks that bite and a hat that sings, the world of Harry Potter is full of enchanted objects and magical creations. So dig out your pencils and crayons and add your own special colours to pages of elaborate illustrations and intricate patterns inspired by the thrilling props of the Harry Potter films.

Bring new life to Howlers, Horcruxes and everything in between, or use colourful concept art and film stills from the making of the Harry Potter movies to guide your colouring and to stimulate your hidden creativity.

Packed with stunning pieces of artwork from the Warner Bros archive, the Harry Potter Magical Artefacts Colouring Book – best used with colouring pencils rather than paints – is both unique and interactive.

The perfect gift for budding young artists and an exciting collector’s item for any fan of the blockbuster sagas...

(Studio Press, paperback, £9.99)

Age 12 plus:

Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird

The realities of the terrible war in Syria are brought home to youngsters in a moving and powerful story from multi-award-winning author Elizabeth Laird.

Twelve-year-old Omar and his brothers and sisters were born and raised in the beautiful and bustling city of Bosra, Syria. Omar doesn’t care about politics; all he wants is to grow up to become a successful businessman who will take the world by storm. But when his clever older brother Musa gets mixed up with some young political activists, everything changes.

Before long, bombs are falling, people are dying and Omar and his family have no choice but to flee their home and make the dangerous journey over the border to Jordan taking only what they can carry. Yet no matter how far they run, the shadow of war follows them… until they have no other choice than to attempt the dangerous journey to escape their homeland altogether. But where do you go when you can’t go home?

This beautifully written story about the life of one family in wartime was inspired by Laird’s visit to Jordan in the winter of 2015 to volunteer at two refugee camps where she was moved by the plight and the stories of the people she met. The result is a thought-provoking story about the Syrian refugee crisis with stunning watercolour illustrations by Lucy Eldridge.

Fifty pence from every copy of the hardback edition will be donated by Macmillan Children’s Books to an international aid agency supporting the Syrian refugee crisis.

(Macmillan, hardback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Long Gone Don and the Terra-Cotta Army by The Etherington Brothers

Brace yourself for a knockabout, out-of-this-world adventure courtesy of David Fickling Books’ highly popular The Phoenix Presents series.

Launched five years ago by David Fickling Books in partnership with The Phoenix comic, this exciting series features high quality, full-colour story strips packed with funny, action-packed stories full of fun and comedy.

And in this new crazy caper, youngsters can expect to meet misfits and monsters galore, all created by the ever-inventive Etherington Brothers, Roberto and Lorenzo, who have been producing original comic material since 2003 and whose live show is loved by schoolchildren up and down the country.

Here we meet Don Skelton, an ordinary kid who lives in the extraordinary world of Broilerdoom where the fantastical is always just around the corner. He didn’t think his day could get any worse after drowning in oxtail soup but he was DEAD wrong.

When a giant’s heart disappears, Don uncovers a dangerous enemy, one who has begun to seize control, threatens the sanity of his best friends and the whole existence of Broilerdoom. To save his pals, Don might have to make the ultimate sacrifice!

Young imaginations will be pushed into overdrive as the Etherington Brothers take adventure to the limits of Broilerdoom and back… not to be missed!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £8.99)

Age 7 plus:

St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Goats and Random Boys by Karen McCombie

She may have written over 80 super books for children but Karen McCombie is never short of new ideas, entertaining characters and quirky humour.

And St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Goats and Random Boys, the first book in a knockabout fun new series featuring fantastic illustrations by Manchester-based rising star Becka Moor, is guaranteed to hit the funny bones of both children and their parents.

The outrageous antics of a madcap cast of characters, dollops of wacky humour and a delightfully mischievous, head-butting goat are the winning formula for a boarding school farce that is set to run for many terms to come.

When Dani Dexter’s mum gets the chance to study penguins in the Antarctic, she decides the best place for 11-year-old Dani is a strict girls’ boarding school where students wear smart uniforms that includes, of all things, skirts!

Having failed to change Mum’s mind, Dani finds herself having to say goodbye to Granny Viv, her dog Downboy and best friend Arch. But when they arrive at St Grizelda’s it seems that there’s been some drastic changes… gone are the uniforms and the rules, and in are chaos, anarchy and, er, goats.

Surely Mum’s not going to leave her at the mercy of a crazy head-butting goat, a bunch of eight-year-olds masquerading as mutant goblins and a headteacher wearing a crown of picnic cutlery? But as a homesick Dani waits for Mum to make alternative arrangements, the madness of St Grizzle’s begins to warm her heart…

Wickedly funny, endearingly daft, and with more than a nod to the anarchy of St Trinian’s, this is a wonderful comic caper that will have youngsters lining up for a place at St Grizzle’s!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat by Simon Philip and Ella Bailey

Choosing a name for your cat is easy… isn’t it?

Maybe not for one little girl who finds a hungry stray on her doorstep but just can’t decide which name would suit her (or is it a him?) best.

Creative author Simon Philip and talented young illustrator Ella Bailey work their special magic in a fabulous, fun-filled, feline picture book story that will have your little ones purring with delight.

Every cat needs a name. One name, one word, just a sound... it should be easy to choose one, right? Wrong! This little girl just doesn’t know what to call her cat and choosing the perfect name for a new pet is very important. All names are considered but it turns out this cat is a tricky little customer and there can only ever be one name that would really be suitable…

Philip’s simple but appealing story – brought to life by Bailey’s charming and quirky illustrations – is perfect for sharing and will give children no ‘paws’ for thought as they race through the pages to discover the elusive cat’s name!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Lumberjack’s Beard by Duncan Beedie

Author and illustrator Duncan Beedie plants the seeds of a greener world in a fresh, funny and thought-provoking picture book.

Jim Hickory, the big, bristly, bearded lumberjack, chops down trees every day with his trusty axe but soon he finds he has made a lot of woodland creatures homeless in the process. Fortunately, Jim has a brilliant idea. He will give all the animals and birds a home in his beard… until one day his beard is so overcrowded that he has to turn out all his ‘tenants.’

The time has come for Jim to dig deep and come up with a better solution which will change the way they share the forest forever… he’ll start planting tree, after tree, after tree…

With its big-hearted lumberjack, endearing humour and an important green message about conservation and protecting our wildlife from over-development, this clever, subtle and enchanting picture book looks destined to become a favourite with children everywhere.

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)