Book reviews: Amazing women, battling beetles and a pint-size Tarzan

There is so much to celebrate this month, not least the 100th anniversary of women winning the vote, as a new selection of children's books brings some welcome winter colour.
Anthology of Amazing Women by Sandra Lawrence and Nathan CollinsAnthology of Amazing Women by Sandra Lawrence and Nathan Collins
Anthology of Amazing Women by Sandra Lawrence and Nathan Collins

Learn about the women, past and present, who have helped to make history, enjoy a short story collection by ten of the UK’s talented women storytellers, head off to the Outer Hebrides for a thrilling adventure, and join three friends on the hunt for a baby penguin.

Age 8 plus:

Anthology of Amazing Women by Sandra Lawrence and Nathan Collins

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Throughout history, there have been brave women prepared to stand up to society no matter what the cost… and on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the UK, it’s the ideal time to put these pioneers in the spotlight.

This fascinating new book – written by author and journalist Sandra Lawrence and beautifully illustrated throughout by Nathan Collins – introduces a new generation to the incredible stories of 50 trailblazing women who dared to be different.

In her introduction, Lawrence says, ‘Throughout history, as men have achieved extraordinary feats, women have been there too, often doing the same things, while dressed in long skirts, corsets and high heels. That is of course, if they’ve even been allowed to do it in the first place.’

And these awe-inspiring stories featuring a diverse selection of women from the past and the present prove beyond doubt that against the odds, there are inspirational individuals who have managed to push the boundaries of human excellence and endeavour.

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Standing out for their achievements in sport, science, the arts, politics, literature, business and history, these women have made huge contributions to society as it is today and include the likes of Nora Ephron, Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Wollstonecraft, Emmeline Pankhurst, Mary Anning and Malala Yousafzai.

The Anthology of Amazing Women is a journey of discovery for anyone wanting to learn about the incredible women who have changed our lives.

And as Lawrence points out, these women are ‘only the tip of an incredible iceberg’ with thousands of others more than worthy of being celebrated for their achievements. She hopes that after reading about her chosen selection, girls will be inspired to come up with a list of their own or, even better, become an amazing woman in their own right!

(20 Watt, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus: by Make More Noise!

‘You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else,’ said Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British suffragette movement, in a famous speech in Connecticut in the USA in November of 1913.

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In another exciting book to commemorate 100 years of women’s suffrage, children’s publisher Nosy Crow bring us an inspirational selection of brand new short stories from a stellar list of ten of the UK’s talented women storytellers.

These extraordinary stories, which celebrate strong, determined women and girls from all walks of life, were inspired by Emmeline Pankhurst’s rallying words and are as relevant today as they were a century ago.

Among the authors are Kiran Millwood Hargrave, author of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize-winning The Girl of Ink and Stars, M.G. Leonard, author of the acclaimed Beetle Boy trilogy, Patrice Lawrence, author of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize-winning Orangeboy, Katherine Woodfine, author of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, Sally Nicholls, author of Things a Bright Girl Can Do, and Emma Carroll, author of Letters from the Lighthouse.

There are also stories from Catherine Johnson, Ally Kennen, Ella Risbridger and Jeanne Willis, and £1 from the sale of every book will be donated to Camfed, an international charity which tackles poverty and inequality by supporting women’s education in the developing world.

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From Emma Carroll’s The Otter Path which explores the experiences of a farmer’s daughter during the privations of the Second World War and M.G. Leonard’s The Bug Hunters about Sofia coping not just with a new home but also with the bullies who cannot understand her love of insects, to The Green-Hearted Girl, a haunting and beautifully written modern fairy tale from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, these are warm and compelling stories to inspire and empower both girls and boys.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £7.99)

Age 12 plus:

Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

Prize-winning author Geraldine McCaughrean journeys to the remotest corner of the British Isles for a thrilling, heart-stopping story of bravery, resilience and survival.

At the heart of this extraordinary novel are the islands of St Kilda in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides where the awe-inspiring cliffs and sea stacs form the most important seabird breeding station.

Uninhabited since the native population was evacuated in 1930, the islands of St Kilda are notorious for their harsh, unforgiving terrain. The islanders who lived there took gannets, fulmars and puffins for food, feathers and oil, some of which they consumed themselves, the rest going to pay the rent. The birds were caught by hand, or with a fowling rod or a snare.

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The islands still abound with tales of fowlers lost or stranded on these remote stacs and in this new thriller based on a true story, McCaughrean, who excels in stories based in bleak locations, has created a timeless, historical adventure in one of the most unforgiving places on Earth.

Every time a lad came fowling on the St Kilda stacs, he went home less of a boy and more of a man. If he went home at all, that is...

During the summer fowling season of 1727, a group of men and nine boys – including Quill and his friends – are put ashore on Hirta, one of St Kilda’s remote sea stacs, to hunt and harvest birds for food. The trip is a rite of passage and each of the boys must prove that he is up to the tough task ahead.

But this year no one returns to collect them and soon fear and superstition make the boys believe that nothing but the end of the world can explain why they have been abandoned to endure storms, starvation and terror.

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Quill, one of the eldest of the group, tells stories to try to convince the boys that there could be other explanations but in the meantime, how can they survive the months that lie ahead, trapped in a prison of stone, cold, starving, clinging to life and in the grip of a murderous ocean?

Unsettling and utterly gripping, Where the World Ends paints a stunning portrait of a desperate battle for survival and the different methods employed to keep the group – and their fears – under some sort of control.

With its wonderful evocation of time and place, beautiful writing and compelling storyline, this is a stunning addition to McCaughrean’s already impressive portfolio of books.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Battle of the Beetles by M.G. Leonard

Young readers will be beetling off to the shops this month when they get scent of the final book in M.G. Leonard’s brilliantly dark and addictive Beetle trilogy.

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Battle of the Beetles follows on from Beetle Boy, which won the Branford Boase Award, and Beetle Queen, and once again sees humanity under siege from the evil beetle queen Lucretia Cutter.

These fast-paced, atmospheric adventures are positively teeming with nasty ninjas, seriously creepy crawlies and vindictive beetles but also provide a fascinating and fun science lesson in coleopterology… beetle studies to the uninitiated!

Proud owner of a pet rainbow stag beetle, Leonard confesses she is still overcoming her fear of all things creepy crawly but after researching this series, she soon realised that these fascinating creatures support the eco-system of our entire planet and deserve to be the heroes – and not the villains – of her story.

Darkus, his friends Virginia and Bertolt, and their superhero beetle companions have already fought off Lucretia and her army of belligerent beetles but now the fiendish arch-villainess takes centre stage again as she bids to take over the world.

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She has a secret Biome hidden deep inside the Amazon rainforest, and Darkus and the gang must find it before it’s too late. In a race against time and with the odds heavily stacked against them, can they stop Lucretia unleashing her hoard of genetically modified and super intelligent giant Frankenstein beetles? If they fail in their mission, the planet will never be the same again…

There is menace and thrilling, fast-paced action aplenty in the final instalment of Leonard’s deliciously dark and dystopian beetle blockbuster but there is also laughter, learning, nasty nestfuls of hard-backed baddies and high-octane adventure.

And for youngsters eager to learn more about beetles, a dictionary of entomological terms in the back of the book will guide them through the wonderful world of insects.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

King Coo by Adam Stower

Forget Tarzan and branch out with the new kid on the treetops… a girl with a spear, a pet wombat, and a beard!

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Author and illustrator extraordinaire Adam Stower swings into action in this fantastic forest farce full of chaotic capers, hilarious adventures, perilous plop pits, sloshy springs and mucky mats.

Orchestrating all the outrageous antics is King Coo, a tree-swinging, wombat-owning, trap-building, fully-bearded girl whose inventive mind creates a wonderful world of fun, laughter and marvellous mishaps.

Packed throughout with Stower’s bold, busy and eye-catching black-and-white illustrations, this raucous romp will have youngsters giggling out loud as they encounter low-down baddies and high jinks on every page.

Meet the very ordinary Pole family, and young Ben Pole, a rather small and skinny boy who has been cruelly nicknamed Bean-Pole by Monty Grabbe, the short, fat school bully.

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Ben might be small but he’s smart and spends his days slinking through the shadows ‘like a ninja assassin’ to keep out of sight of Monty and his unpleasant goons, Bertie and Gertie Plank, the remarkably huge and lumpy twins who are about as brainy as a baked potato.

But on the last day of term, Monty spots Ben in the playground and chases after him with the terrible twins at his side. Ben only just manages to escape by falling down one of the mysterious sinkholes that have been appearing all over the town.

And to his amazement he discovers a forest with treetop swings, waterslides, catapults, Wombatifier 2000s and best of all, the bearded King Coo.

But Ben and his new friend Coo have got a fight on their hands! They will need cow-pat-a-pults and slug pulps aplenty as there’s a sinister pest controller on the prowl, Monty and his gang have a dastardly plan and a particularly wild creature is roaming the forest…

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This is a gloriously anarchic story for all youngsters who love their adventures to come with plenty of smelly, squelchy frolics and funny one-liners, but there are also important messages about having confidence in who you are and standing up to the bullies.

Hair-raising adventures for girls and boys!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Lost Penguin by Claire Freedman and Kate Hindley

Much-loved author Claire Freedman and talented illustrator Kate Hindley have teamed up again for a new adventure starring their enchanting picture book double act…cute little Oliver and his adorable canine pal Patch.

Freedman, creator of the bestselling Aliens Love Underpants series which has sold three million copies round the world, and the award-winning Hindley won everybody’s hearts in 2015 when they introduced us to Oliver and Patch who were finding their way in a big city and making new friends.

And now our two little heroes are back with their friend Ruby… and a lost baby penguin!

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Oliver, Patch and Ruby do everything together, playing explorers, feeding the birds and visiting their favourite ice-cream parlour. They also love to visit the zoo together where they growl at the tigers, smile at the meerkats and laugh at the funny penguins. But when Peep, a little rescue penguin who is new to the zoo, goes missing, the friends must set off together to bring him home. The problem is that it isn’t always easy to agree on a plan… the friends will have to overcome some disagreements if everything is going to work out for the best!

Freedman’s clever, endearing story about the joys of friendship and the power of teamwork has a special warmth that will appeal to both children and their parents while Hindley brings the action to life with her magical illustrations which are filled with colour, fine detail and a gorgeous cast of animal characters.

A beautifully produced and appealing book that is destined to become a favourite with all the family!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Rufus by Simon Bartram

Meet Rufus… he’s got big sharp teeth, a super-stinky bottom and he’s a truly splendid monster!

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Author and illustrator Simon Bartram, perhaps best known for his Blue Peter Award-winning The Man on the Moon: A Day in the Life of Bob starring the laugh-out-loud character Bob and his amazing extra-terrestrial dog Barry, returns with a hilarious monster story with a heartwarming twist.

Rufus is a truly splendid monster. But he doesn’t feel like a Tip-Top monster. Every monster book he has read says that monsters are supposed to scare Peoply People and there aren’t any of those in his desert. He has nobody to frighten so Rufus decides that there is only one thing for it. He's going to have to find a Peoply Person to scare. But all he can find is a van full of vampires, a witch on a motorbike, a ghost family on a day out with their ghost dog and lots of other weird characters. So where in the world are all the Peoply People hiding?

The outrageous Rufus is going to knock mischievous young readers for six with his armpit pong, eggy bottom stink and cheesy toes! And there won’t be a dry eye in the house when he finally encounters Daisy, a beautiful little Peoply Person… and gives her a monster hug.

Brimming with Bartram’s larger-than-life, colourful illustrations and a sense of fun that permeates every page, the adventures of lovable rogue Rufus are monstrously entertaining!

(Templar Books, paperback, £6.99)

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