Blooming wonders, fiery magic and ocean secrets - book review

Bloom by Nicola Skinner
Bloom by Nicola Skinner

Young eco warriors and adventure lovers will be jumping for joy with a fantastic new selection of children’s books imaginatively designed to inform, educate and entertain.

Age 10 plus:

Bloom

Nicola Skinner

Many of the new crop of children’s books like to convey important messages to young children… but few can achieve the sheer originality and entertainment value of Nicola Skinner’s glorious debut novel, Bloom.

Climate change and preserving the green spaces on our precious planet are always high on the list of contemporary concerns and Skinner has these topics well and truly nailed in a fun-filled adventure story that can only be described as blooming wonderful!

Harsh realities and out-of-this world magic, darkness and light, laughter and tears jostle comfortably together in this perfectly imagined tale of a girl who sows the seeds of a better future in the most surprising and unexpected way.

Sorrel Fallowfield lives at Cheery Cottage with her single mum but in all honesty, their home is anything but cheery. In fact, it exudes a gloomy glumness, a grumpy grimness and a grimy greyness that seeps into everything… even mum.

Sorrel can’t fix all the things in the house that are broken so instead, she has decided to be ‘good at being good’ to make her mum smile and to make the broken feeling leave her mum, even if it’s only for a while.

And Sorrel is so good at being good that teachers come to her when they need help remembering the school rules… and there are lots of them at Grittysnit School. Luckily, Sorrel doesn’t have any trouble following them, until the day she discovers a faded packet of Surprising Seeds buried under a tree in her back yard.

Now she’s hearing voices, seeing things, experiencing an almost unstoppable urge to plant the seeds in some very unusual places… and completely failing to win her school’s competition to find The Most Obedient Child of the School. And all that’s before flowers start growing out of her head…

Skinner, who was inspired to write this charming book after a visit to an overgrown country garden, delivers an enchanting, lyrical story starring a lovable young girl with a funny, feisty narrative voice that cannot fail to win hearts and minds.

Sorrel’s amazing story is wacky and wonderfully weird but out of it grow subtle reminders about caring for the environment, guarding our wild places, and standing up to authority, however hard that might seem when you are a child.

Exquisitely written and powerfully imagined, Bloom will add life, meaning and colour to any child’s life…

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

Age 9 plus:

Pog

Pádraig Kenny

Grief is one of the hardest human emotions to handle… and for a child, its effects are often far beyond their understanding.

So here’s a novel that gets to the heart of the complexities of loss, and speaks gently and compassionately to every baffled child who is struggling to cope with the death of a loved one.

Pog is a middle-grade masterpiece and comes from the pen of the very talented Pádraig Kenny, an Irish author whose debut novel Tin was chosen as a Waterstones Book of the Month and published to widespread critical acclaim last year.

Kenny’s thoughtful and heartfelt story explores grief in one of the most imaginative and subtle forms by creating a unique fantasy world peopled by two children trying to come to terms with the death of their mother, a cast of grisly woodland monsters and an unforgettable hero warrior whose armoury consists of both words and action.

David and Penny Cresswell’s strange and tumbledown new home is surrounded by a forest of ancient trees. It’s a scary, isolated place but they have moved there with their heartbroken dad because it is the childhood home of their mother who has recently died.

But David, who is angry and full of hurt, and his older sister Penny soon discover that other creatures live here... magical creatures, like the two-foot high, hairy Pog who is more than just a simple forest dweller and lives in their attic, ready to defend them at every turn.

Pog is one of the First Folk, Keeper of the Necessary, Guardian against the Dark, and his job is to protect the boundary between the worlds. Pog knows that there is danger everywhere and as the children explore, they discover monsters slipping through from the place on the other side of the cellar door.

But David is drawn into the woods by something darker… something which claims that there is a way he can bring his mother back.

Kenny’s imagination moves into overdrive for this moving and yet exciting and uplifting story which stars an original and fantastical world packed full of hidden darkness but beautifully leavened by a cast of vibrant characters and a sprinkling of humour.

Pog is undoubtedly the star player… his words are full of wisdom and comfort, his good deeds are selfless and soul-healing, and his messages resonate far beyond the bounds of this lyrical and lovely tale.

Storytelling at its best…

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Fire Maker

Guy Jones

Who can you trust in what seems to be a cruel world?

Guy Jones, author of the critically acclaimed The Ice Garden, a beautiful tale of chills and shadows, returns with another cracking adventure story, this time steeped in light, friendship and fiery flames.

The Fire Maker features a moving and magical friendship between a budding young magician and an eccentric, elderly man who takes the youngster on a thrilling journey into the realms of genies, jinns and magical creatures.

Eleven-year-old Alex loves magic tricks… and he is good at them, too. They keep him busy and distract him from other problems, like being bullied at school and coping with his parents splitting up.

But when he stumbles into eccentric Mr Olmos’s back garden, he sees a kind of magic he can't explain… three tiny orange flames floating and bobbing in the air, moving round and round in the air as if in some strange ballet.

Soon, Alex and Mr Olmos, whose opal-black eyes burn with a deep fire, are swept up in a great adventure of secrets, genies and an ancient, bitter rivalry…

Jones uses his prodigious imaginative power in this captivating and beautifully observed story which blends magical realism and all-action adventure whilst exploring themes of trickery, trust and ambition.

The warm and endearing friendship between the wise and adorable Mr Olmos and the young and enthusiastic Alex lies at the heart of the book and will enchant readers young and older.

Full of gritty realism and yet overflowing with charm and magic, this is a middle-grade story to warm hearts and fuel the spirit of adventure.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Ocean: Secrets of the Deep

Sabrina Weiss and Giulia de Amicis

Dive in to the world’s oceans and discover just some of the millions of animals and plants that live beneath the waves.

More than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered by seawater and the oceans are home to a range of creatures from microscopic organisms to the largest animal ever to have lived… the blue whale.

Young readers are taken on an amazing journey from the water’s surface to the deepest, darkest depths of the oceans in a fantastic new, all-colour, illustrated book which reveals some of the fascinating secrets of the seas.

Ocean: Secrets of the Deep comes from What on Earth, publisher of non-fiction books that engage children’s natural curiosity and passion for learning and offer readers diverse perspectives on the world, helping them connect the dots to build a lifetime of general knowledge.

Stopping off at coral reefs and kelp forests, this stunning book enables youngsters to ‘swim’ through information-packed spreads which offer answers to intriguing questions such as how do turtles keep clean, do whales talk to each other and what can humans do to save the ocean?

Discover menacing sharks, playful dolphins, clownfish, penguins, turtles, whales, shimmering jellyfish, and gargantuan giant squid, find out about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and learn about legends of the seas like mermaids, manatees and the drowned city of Atlantis.

From clown fish to killer whales and sunlit coral reefs to smoking deep sea vents, Ocean: Secrets of the Deep is jam-packed with hundreds of stylish illustrations, infographics, maps and surprising facts about the world’s marine life and a fantastic introduction to our wonderful blue planet.

The perfect gift for any child who want to help to save the world’s oceans…

(What on Earth Publishing, hardback, £14.99)

Age 7 plus:

Into the Bin

Anne Fine and Vicki Gausden

Mess, mess and more mess!

More often than not, and perhaps not as often as it should, our everyday rubbish goes into the bin… but what we don’t want may be actually be useful to someone else.

In a world in which children are becoming the voice of the future when it comes to climate change awareness, award-winning author and former Children’s Laureate Anne Fine delivers a fun and thought-provoking story for young eco warriors.

Into the Bin, a playful, heartwarming story in which a school class discover that old, unwanted objects can find a new home, is the perfect book for encouraging a new generation to reuse and recycle, and comes from innovative publisher Barrington Stoke.

Produced in a super readable format, especially suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers, and packed with the charming black-and-white illustrations of Vicki Gausden, Into the Bin introduces us to the children in Mr Frost’s classroom.

They are all in trouble from the head teacher, Mrs Carter, because their cloakroom is always in a mess, and now the youngsters are on a mission to send all the things they don’t need to a charity shop, including the rubbish bin that falls over at the slightest touch!

From books to old toys, they bring in all sorts of items to send away in the bin, but little do they know that what one person doesn’t want might be just the thing someone else has been looking for.

In an increasingly eco-conscious society, this quirky tale is a delight to read and a clever celebration of the wonders of recycling.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons

Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

One question always leads to another when you are sharing adventures with the irrepressibly curious Ada Twist!

A scientist to her very core, Ada asks why again and again, and her questions always lead youngsters on a fascinating journey of discovery in Andrea Beaty and David Roberts’ brilliant The Questioneers books.

Problem-solving and the fun of scientific experimentation are at the heart of these engaging chapter book stories which serve up adventure, humour and a cast of lovable characters.

When Rosie Revere’s Uncle Ned gets a little carried away wearing his famous helium pants, it’s up to Ada and friends to chase him down.

As Uncle Ned floats farther and farther away, Ada starts asking lots of questions: How high can a balloon float? Is it possible for Uncle Ned to float into outer space? And what’s the best plan for getting him down?

Ada must rely on her curious mind, her brave spirit, and her best pals Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck to solve a mystery in her own backyard…

David Roberts supplies the fabulously rich and detailed artwork for a story that entertains, informs and empowers children.

(Amulet Books, hardback, £8.99)

Age 5 plus:

101 Poems for Children: A Laureate’s Choice

Chosen by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Poems,’ declares Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, ‘in so few words, create whole worlds, imaginary or real’ so what better time to start enjoying the rhythm and rhyme of poetry than in early childhood?

Duffy has chosen her favourite poems for children in this very readable and entertaining collection of classic and modern verse exquisitely illustrated by award-winning illustrator Emily Gravett. As she says in her introduction, each poem seems to ‘offer a different place from which to stand and look and listen.’

From traditional poems like The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, Marriott Edgar’s The Lion and Albert, and Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, to Edwin Morgan’s The Loch Ness Monster’s Song and Balloons by Sylvia Plath, and poems by some of the greatest children’s poets, Charles Causley and Ted Hughes included, there are verses here to inspire, amuse and amaze children from early years to beyond childhood.

With its gorgeous cloth-bound cover, this beautiful hardback edition is published to celebrate the end of Duffy’s Laureateship and is the perfect gift for any young poetry lover, and a pleasure to read aloud.

Funny, sad, mysterious or familiar, these are the sort of classic and memorable poems that remain with you far beyond childhood.

(Macmillan, hardback, £9.99)

Age 3 plus:

The One-Stop Story Shop

Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal

Fearless knights always slay dragons… don’t they?

Top author and illustrator team Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal turn traditional tales of derring-do on their heads in this glorious picture book about a knight trying to track down a dragon to fight, only to discover he has gone on holiday!

The One-Stop Story Shop is a delightful celebration of the fun of reading as the knight and his new partner, a feisty ferret, try out some daring new adventures courtesy of a purveyor of stories who has a shop stuffed to the rafters with brilliant ideas.

Hey you, fearless Knight, can’t you find a dragon to fight? Then why hang about in a story that’s stuck… come to The One-Stop Story Shop!

When a fearless knight finds that his traditional foe, the dragon, has taken an unexpected holiday, the One-Stop Story Shop could be just what he’s looking for. But can the feistiness in his story be really fulfilled by a furry ferret instead?

As he tries out new adventures in starry space, the Wild West, the jungle and the deep, dark ocean, will the knight find his fight, or might his story have a different ending?

Corderoy’s riotous romp of an adventure, illustrated with colour and energy by Neal, is testament to the power of the imagination as our fearless knight leaps from horseback to seahorse back, with lassos, lasers and a smattering of parrot poo, in a quirky, comical story that is a joy to read aloud.

Along the way, children learn that the best adventures are sometimes the ones we least expect, and that friendships can flourish amongst even the most unconventional pairings when we start to realise that anything is possible.

Corderoy and Neal are proving to be a dynamic double act and The One-Stop Story Shop, with its equal share of humour and heart, is destined to be a favourite story with both children and adults.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Stefano the Squid: Hero of the Deep

Wendy Meddour and Duncan Beedie

Something fishy is going on down in the deep, dark sea!

And there is one thing everybody should know about life in the ocean… it isn’t easy being a squid.

Author Wendy Meddour and acclaimed illustrator Duncan Beedie certainly make a splash with this wonderfully quirky and funny picture book starring the memorable Stefano the Squid whose identity crisis causes plenty of underwater waves.

Stefano the squid feels very ordinary in a sea filled with impressive creatures like dolphins, pufferfish, sharks, colourful parrotfish and even the scary anglerfish.

But when an emergency arises as the Deep Sea TV team are filming, Stefano discovers that heroes don’t have to be the flashiest, the cleverest, the biggest, or the most physically gifted. Heroes can be found inside all of us when we have the courage to believe in ourselves, and it turns out one ordinary squid really can save the day!

Join Stefano in this delightful new story for an aquatic adventure with a big, beating heart.

Maddour’s sweet and funny story about an anxious cephalopod and his sea cucumber friend will entertain youngsters as dive into this action-packed, aquatic adventure that works both as an exciting story and a clever way to inspire self-belief.

With Beedie on board, providing his trademark blend of full, rich colour on every page and comical – and yet emotionally resonant – characters throughout, this is the perfect story to raise conversations about what we value, and the amazing creatures to be found in the oceans.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Meet the Penguins

Mike Brownlow

Playtime is fun when you have friends to share in the games… so what do you do if no one wants to play?

Mike Brownlow, best-selling author of Ten Little Superheroes, plays his own clever game in this enchanting picture book starring two gorgeous little penguins on the hunt for fun and friendship.

Meet the penguins! They have trekked through snow and ice, and are eager to make some new friends. But does anyone want to play? It seems the other animals do not want to play with them… the elephant has got big things to do, the giraffe is too tall to see them and the tortoise says the penguins are too slow. If only they would all give the penguins a chance, they might discover how wonderful they really are!

Brownlow’s bold, colourful and charismatic artwork is the perfect foil for a clever, entertaining story that is both funny and poignant as the penguins encounter some comical games and claims in their hunt for new friends.

Along the way, little ones learn important lessons about sharing and caring, and will love joining in and calling out the story’s recurring refrain, ‘Please, can we play?’

This is a playful, funny and yet educational story that reminds little one that playtime is much more fun when you are kind and welcoming to both new faces and your fellow playmates.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Matisse’s Magical Trail

Tim Hopgood and Sam Boughton

When a snail is called Matisse, you know the story is going to paint a clever picture!

Tim Hopgood, author and illustrator of a string of colourful and inspirational books, and talented illustrator Sam Boughton are on their very best form in this bright and beautiful picture book about an artistic snail on the trail to success.

Matisse is a young snail who loves to create beautiful drawings with his trail. The trouble is that most of the time people are far too busy to even notice them. It’s only when a child notices Matisse's beautiful trails on a pebble in the grass that his art is finally celebrated… and his amazing work inspires a whole class of children to get creative too!

Matisse’s Magical Trail is a riot of colour, creativity and ideas, and is the perfect book to encourage youngsters to notice the small things, think big, and express themselves through painting and drawing.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Oink

David Elliot

Every picture tells a story in this fun-filled book from one of New Zealand’s leading illustrators.

Oink, an offbeat, comical picture book that will strike a chord with every parent of a young child who ever longed to enjoy a bath in perfect peace, is the work of award-winning David Elliot and comes from Gecko Press, an independent publisher of ‘curiously good’ children’s books based in Wellington, New Zealand.

Told only through pictures and very few but meaningful words, the story introduces us to Pig who is relaxing happily in his bath when in come Sheep, Cow and Horse and climb in with him.

Not only is the bath now uncomfortably full but the animals are very, very noisy. What can Pig do to make them go away? He must think of something exceedingly clever… but it might cause a stink!

With its simple but effective watercolour illustrations and words that will have little ones making up their own story and sound effects, Oink is guaranteed to be a favourite story at both bath time and bedtime.

(Gecko Press, hardback, £8.99)

Age one plus:

Jump!

Tatsuhide Matsuoka

Also from Gecko Press is an entertaining board book with a high-energy, vibrant story that will have little ones jumping for joy.

Jump! is the work of Tatsuhide Matsuoka, one of Japan’s foremost illustrators who specialises in the natural sciences, and having sold over 500,000 copies in Japan, the book is now destined to delight a new nation of young readers with its simple story and comical animals in a variety of athletic poses.

A frog jumps. Boing! A kitten jumps. Boi-ing! A dog jumps. Boiyyyyyyoiingg! A grasshopper jumps, a rabbit jumps, then a snail… uhm, well maybe not! Mother and chick jump together, a fish jumps out of the water, and last comes a little girl to join in the fun. And she jumps too, BOING!

Each animal’s movements are accurately anatomically rendered by Matsuoka and illustrated with warmth, detail, and a natural joie de vivre. Youngsters will love joining in the fun as they share the sounds and action that fill every page.

The joy of reading… and jumping!

(Gecko Press, board book, £7.99)