A magical comedy, staying safe online and ghostly goings-on by various authors – children’s book reviews –
Age 9 plus:
Clarity Jones and the Magical Detective Agency
Chris Smith and Kenneth Anderson
Prepare for mystery, magic and mayhem as bestselling author Chris Smith digs deep into his incredible imagination for a hilarious new fantasy adventure set in the great and unforgettable city of Meandermart.
Billed as Cressida Cowell meets Robin Stevens with a dash of Pixar gold, Clarity Jones and the Magical Detective Agency is full of humour, adventure, marvellous magic and the kind of comical chaos that is guaranteed to have youngsters laughing out loud as every page turns.
Taking starring role is strangely wonderful Clarity Jones, M.I. (that’s Magical Investigator to those who don’t yet know) and her Sherlock-esque motto is ‘Never, ever eliminate the impossible.’ Thus, when lonely orphan and newly appointed (accidental) apprentice detective Mutt gets a job at the leading detective agency at Meandermart, the easternmost city of the kingdom of Rillia, he’s not expecting to work with ex-princesses, snow gnoblins and the most notorious assassin of the White Hand Clan. Meandermart is a very peculiar place, with its castle set on a hill and its high walls overlooking the Truly Terrifying Forest which is packed with strange and frightening creatures like grabbits, umlauts and the deadly nyterra. And poor Mutt is also definitely not expecting to be thrown in at the deep end (with the help of ace detective Clarity Jones of course!) on the agency’s toughest and most dangerous job yet... the Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Jester.
Packed with the perfectly matched, anarchic illustrations of Kenneth Anderson, Clarity Jones and the Magical Detective Agency is outrageously entertaining from start to finish with a cast of gorgeously grotesque characters and an exuberant, child-friendly plot brimming with adventure, mystery and an addictive sense of fun.
(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)
Age 13 plus:
Clicks – How to Be Your Best Self Online
Becoming a teenager is an exciting time on the journey to growing up, and in the modern world that often means finally stepping into the worldwide web and discovering the hazards that can await unsuspecting youngsters.
But the internet is awash with false information and various groups use social media platforms as a tool to influence the way we behave and what we believe so this could be the perfect time to help your teens navigate the digital world with the invaluable guidance of Natasha Devon, a writer, campaigner and broadcaster, who travels to schools and colleges throughout the UK and the world, delivering classes and conducting research with teenagers, teachers and parents on mental health, body image and social equality.
There are three billion people online and each of those people has their own biases, agendas and issues, she tells us. It’s little wonder then that when young people use the internet for the first time and are bombarded with ‘hot takes’, calls to cancel ‘problematic’ individuals, trolls, fake news, and celebrity sales pitches, they are likely to find it overwhelming and confusing.
Clicks – How to Be Your Best Self Online aims to change that. It will teach young people how to stay mindful of the internet’s challenges, see and evaluate all sides of an argument , spot fake news, recognise radicalisation attempts, explain their ‘take’ persuasively, use the internet to campaign for a fairer world, seek mental health support, get the most out of their online role models, and show allyship to marginalised groups.
Devon encourages readers to consider how tech manipulates and messes with minds and then offers tips and tricks that empower them to make conscious and informed decisions.
With advice and opinions from leading experts throughout, plus entertaining anecdotes and commentary from the author, this is must-read, coming-of-age guide for all young people using social media.
(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £9.99)
Age 9 plus:
Hilary McKay and Keith Robinson
Prepare to have your spine well and truly tingled in this haunting and superbly atmospheric modern ghost story from multi-award-winning author Hilary McKay.
Starring a girl on a school residential trip who finds herself trapped and alone on the salt marshes, and troubled by a haunting presence, there are chills galore for young mystery fans to enjoy.
Jodie never wanted to come on the residential trip to the field centre. A loner at school, she’s forced into a dormitory with other girls from her class who don’t understand her and talk about her behind her back. Even though they’re not trying to be mean, Jodie feels excluded and miserable, and eventually escapes out on to the salt marshes in search of a little dog she can hear barking in the distance. But the salt marshes are dangerous and Jodie gets trapped by the incoming tide. Stuck in the sucking mud, will anyone even notice that she’s gone? And where is the little dog that keeps barking so mournfully?
McKay is now one of Britain’s best-loved children’s authors and has won countless accolades, and it’s easy to see why. Written with her trademark insight and lyricism, the story is set against a dazzlingly dark backdrop brought to life by Keith Robinson’s evocative illustrations.
As we learn the reason for Jodie’s isolation, insecurity and loneliness, the hardships of her troubled home and family life are slowly uncovered, but McKay also gives us a redemptive, emotional and unexpected denouement, one that speaks loudly to youngsters about the power of hope and the importance of kindness and friendship.
(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)
Age 8 plus:
The Ministry of Unladylike Activity
Who knew spying could be dead funny?
Robin Stevens, the multi-award-winning author of the Murder Most Unladylike series, gathers up her murder-mystery loving fans and sweeps them away to wartime and into the life of a feisty ten-year-old girl who is hell-bent on saving the world. And with spills, thrills and laughter all the way, this all-action new series looks set to be an all-round, hands-down, dead-cert winner.
In 1940, Britain is at war and a secret arm of the British government called the Ministry of Unladylike Activity is training up spies. Enter May Wong (soon to be eleven)... she’s courageous, stubborn, and desperate to help end the war so that she can go home to Hong Kong (and leave her annoying school, Deepdean, behind forever). May knows that she would make the perfect spy. After all, grown-ups always underestimate children like her. When May and her friend Eric (who is kind and sensible, and usually right about everything) are turned away by the Ministry, they take matters into their own hands. Masquerading as evacuees, they travel to Elysium Hall, home to the wealthy Verey family, and that includes snobby, dramatic Nuala. They suspect that one of the Vereys is passing information to Germany. If they can prove it, the Ministry will have to take them on. But there are more secrets at Elysium Hall than May or Eric could ever have imagined. And then someone is murdered...
California-born Stevens is the best thing since Agatha Christie when it comes to murder mysteries for young readers. Packed with a dazzling cast of goodies and baddies, rich in seductive period detail and exciting backdrops, and with a plotline that includes bags of intrigue, some deft detective work and a gang of the canniest kids in town, this series looks set to be another Robin Stevens classic.
(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)
Age 8 plus:
An Alien Stole My Planet
Pooja Puri and Allen Fatimaharan
Top team Esha and Broccoli return with an amazing new invention… so what could possibly go wrong? Everything it seems! Welcome back to the wild, wacky and wonderful world of genius inventor extraordinaire Esha Verma, the hilarious creation of author Pooja Puri and her brilliant illustrator team-mate Allen Fatimaharan. In this all-action, laugh-out-loud third book in the A Dinosaur Ate My Sister series, which introduced readers to Esha, her snotty apprentice Broccoli and his secretly cunning pet tortoise, the trio are on an inter-galactic mission to stop an alien from stealing their planet. When Esha invents the Inviz-Whiz, a device designed to make the user invisible, she does not expect it to open a portal to outer space! And things go from bad to worse when Esha, Broccoli, Archibald and Broccoli’s annoying cousin Bean are immediately abducted by Goospa, an alien with an evil plan. With the help of a surly alien called Nix, Esha and the gang must race across the galaxy, navigate a Lava Marsh, fight vicious Ice Bats and prevent Bean getting into too much trouble. But can they stop Goospa’s plan before it’s too late? Puri and Fatimaharan work their special magic on this madcap adventure which also features a devious shape shifter and a deadly cobra. A hilarious chapter of accidents that no mischief-maker would want to miss!
(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)
Age 7 plus:
Aisha Bushby and Coralie Muce
There’s fun coming down the line and you wouldn’t want to miss the ride! The magic begins with a train journey in award-winning children’s author Aisha Bushby and illustrator Coralie Muce’s charming fantasy adventure which has a twist reminiscent of Studio Ghibli, the animation studio known for its lovable characters and whimsical stories. When Zahra accidentally swaps suitcases with a witch, it’s the beginning of a whole series of magical mishaps. Her feet take on a dancing life of their own when she puts on a pair of enchanted boots (mortifying!), while her first flying adventure in a charmed cloak nearly ends in disaster... terrifying! But it’s not all bad. She learns a spell that can transform her dad’s worst cooking into a gourmet delight and makes a new best friend in the form of a talking cat. When she finds the witch again, will Zahra even want to get her own suitcase back? Packed with fun and fantasy, all brought to vibrant life by Muce’s beautiful artwork, and published in Barrington Stoke’s trademark dyslexia-friendly format, Suitcase S(witch) is top-class storytelling with an important message finding your confidence gently wrapped inside. Truly spellbinding!
(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)
Age 5 plus:
The Worries: Leo Says Goodbye
When there is a death in the family, it’s not always easy for young children to understand the concept of bereavement and grief. So if you too are lost for words, guide youngsters through this emotional time with the fourth book in Jion Sheibani’s gentle and reassuring illustrated series which aims to help children talk about their different worries.
In this story we meet Leo who has always been a happy little boy but when his beloved Nana dies, he feels very sad and very worried. What if something happens to him, or his mum and dad? And what if he begins to forget Nana? Mum and Dad say Leo’s feelings are normal... but they don’t feel very normal to Leo. The last thing Leo thinks he needs is a bunch of fretful furry monsters causing chaos... it’s the Worries! But sometimes, Worries are good. Sometimes, they show us that our feelings might be sad and strange but by paying attention to them, they can help us heal.
Leo Says Goodbye has been written with input from Winston’s Wish, a leading child bereavement charity and includes guides on talking to children about death, grief and living with loss as well as activities for children.
Matched by her simple, child-focused artwork in a beautiful, two-colour format, Sheibani’s thoughtful text balances fun storytelling with a gently important message, making it ideal to read and share with bereaved youngsters.
(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)
Age 5 plus:
Dream Sticker Dress-Up: Dogs & Puppies
Noodle Fuel and Lucy Zhang
Summer is almost here and it’s time to pick the perfect outfit for a day out in the sunshine with a host of cute puppies! Hours of hands-on fun are guaranteed with the new Dream Sticker Dress-Up book from Usborne Publishing whose various sticker doll series have proved popular with all little fashion lovers. And with over 200 stickers to enjoy, this delightfully dreamy sticker book is perfect for little animal lovers! Meet adorable puppies on every spread as you bring their world to life. From the park and the dog cafe to the vets and the dog groomer, there are so many fun settings to explore with your new fluffy friends. With lots of dolls and perfect pups to accessorise, and the vast array of stickers, children won’t be stuck for something to do with this beautiful activity book. And with so many reusable stickers to choose from, this is a paw-fect book that no young fashionista will want to miss!
(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £7.99)
Age 4 plus:
I Am, You Are: Let’s Talk About Disability, Individuality and Empowerment
Ashley Harris Whaley, Ananya Rao-Middleton and Hannah Wood
Some people have disabilities you CAN see and others have disabilities you CAN’T see. Ashley Harris Whaley, a writer, speaker, speech-language pathologist and disability activist, has used her knowledge and experiences to bring youngsters a resonant book which aims to support children, parents, teachers and carers by explaining what disability is and why it should be celebrated.
Diversity means we are all different and we can learn so much from each other’s differences. I Am, You Are is a powerful, practical book which helps children and adults have meaningful discussions about disability and ableism. Most importantly, it encourages children to feel empowered, to embrace individuality, to look out for one another and to celebrate disability as diversity.
Fully-illustrated throughout by talented illustrator, disability activist and advocacy campaigner Ananya Rao-Middleton, and children’s illustrator Hannah Wood, I Am, You Are is aimed at children aged four and above.
Containing explanations on key words and concepts, written in child-friendly, accessible language, and with relatable examples, the book supports children’s understanding in building an anti-ableist stance from an early age, and is perfect to read at home or in classrooms to support children’s lifelong learning journey.
(Ladybird, hardback, £12.99)
Age 3 plus:
More Peas Please!
If you dream about your fussy little eater saying more peas please, then tuck into this tasty picture book and give the greens a chance to shine! Author and illustrator Tom McLaughlin gives vegetables centre stage in his funny, fantastical, action-packed picture book which aims to help despairing parents – who we know always have a lot on their plate – encourage their picky or reluctant young diners to eat up. ‘I can’t eat peas!’ exclaims Milo. ‘They’re too GREEN! Greener than a stinky, swampy pond, greener than a giant dragon, greener than a fleet of space-sick aliens.’ It’s fair to say that Milo doesn't like peas but is it possible that his wise and inventive sister Molly could help him change his mind by showing him how cool they can be? McLaughlin’s gallery of bold, vibrant illustrations provides extra gusto to a clever, comical and hopefully enlightening story which is guaranteed to provide plenty of food for thought!
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)
Age 3 plus
Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup
‘If you look down towards the ground, A world of wildlife can be found. And now that spring is in the air, New life is blooming everywhere.’ A COLOURFUL array of amazing bugs and minibeasts take starring roles in this striking peep-through book from children’s author Patricia Hegarty and award-winning illustrator Britta Teckentrup. Little ones will love turning the pages of this gorgeously produced book to watch the wonders of nature’s insect world unfold. Hegarty’s lyrical, rhyming text helps little ones to understand the magical activities and busy lives of creatures like caterpillars, ladybirds, moths and butterflies throughout the year while Teckentrup’s colourful and expressive artwork brings the teeniest, tiniest bugs to life. Don’t miss this visual and verbal trip to a wild and wonderful world of creepy crawlies!
(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)
Age 3 plus:
Wellington’s Big Day Out
Let your little ones learn how to think big in this irresistibly funny and heartwarming picture book from BAFTA-nominated animation director Steve Small. Guaranteed to win the hearts of elephant lovers – and little boys – everywhere, Wellington’s Big Day Out is a wonderfully whimsical tale about the all-too-familiar worries of growing up. When Wellington is given a new jacket exactly like Dad’s for his birthday, at first he’s delighted. But his delight turns to disappointment when he tries it on and it’s far too big. And what if, even worse, Wellington thinks, it’s not that the jacket is too big but that he’s too small? Well, Wellington’s dad has a plan, and on an exciting day out that takes in a ride on the bus, a super-size strawberry sundae, a toot on a tuba and a visit to his grandad, Wellington learns that he’s growing up exactly as fast as he should be… and just like his dad. Small’s colourful gallery of pictures is a joy to behold… both children and parents will feast on this beguiling blend of heart-melting illustrations and a story that reaches out far beyond the pages. Picture book perfection!
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)