Drama at sea, a world of danger and a Roman romp by various authors – children’s book reviews -

Climb aboard the Titanic with two young adventurers, discover an underworld of danger and drama, enjoy Ancient Rome as you’ve never before seen it, meet a young boy battling to save the family pizza shop and enjoy the bizarre goings-on at super-strange school in a sunshine selection of children’s books.
Call of the Titanic by Lindsay GalvinCall of the Titanic by Lindsay Galvin
Call of the Titanic by Lindsay Galvin

Age 9 plus:

Call of the Titanic

Lindsay Galvin

A young cabin steward, a stowaway girl and a mischievous dog take centre stage in a thrilling and magical new adventure from Lindsay Galvin, a former science teacher who has become one of our most exciting middle grade authors.

Already the bestselling creator of immaculately researched novels Darwin’s Dragons and My Friend the Octopus, which have become favourite reads in classrooms across the world, Galvin now harnesses dramatic events around the sinking of the Titanic with an uplifting alternate history of real-life survivor, Sid Daniels.

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With a touching animal friendship at the heart of the story, as well as hints of mythology, Call of the Titanic is an enchanting read, showcasing Galvin’s trademark combination of exciting adventure, real-life history and an alluring magical twist.

Cabin steward Sid is proud to be working on the Titanic, the greatest steam liner ever built. Clara, meanwhile, dreams of adventure at sea, and discovers it the hard way as a stowaway in the hold of a much smaller ship, the Carpathia. Here, she meets a giant Newfoundland dog called Rigel who is on his way to be reunited with his owner and has a reputation for mischief. What none of them can foresee is how they will need each other on the ice-cold night when the Titanic collides with an iceberg. Or that an even more extraordinary creature, a sea serpent, might also answer their call...

Galvin certainly knows how to put an alluring sense of adventure into learning. Packed with rich and well-researched historical detail, Call of the Titanic reimagines the tragic sinking and the terrible aftermath in a sensitive way that makes it a comfortable read for children to understand and relate to.

With the endearing animal friendship taking the spotlight, intriguing ingredients of myth and legend, a wonderfully mysterious link to historical sightings of sea serpents, and some real facts and figures at the end of the book, this stunningly imagined and magical new story is destined for classrooms everywhere… and as a favourite holiday beach read.

(Chicken House Books, paperback, £7.99)

Fablehouse

E.L. Norry

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Unlock the legends, unleash the magic and step into a fantastical world of danger, wonder... and hope!

Author E.L. Norry, who grew up in residential children’s homes and foster homes, relied on books and her ‘big wild imagination’ to get through some tricky times. She says that as mixed-race, Welsh and Jewish, she always felt that she belonged ‘everywhere and nowhere, an inhabitant of multiple worlds and identities.’

And it was her constant search for ‘connection,’ and Holnicote House, a Somerset orphanage that was once home to the ‘brown babies’ of white women and black American GIs, that inspired the creation of Fablehouse, a moving, heart-rending story set in 1954.

Fablehouse, a mysterious mansion surrounded by ancient woodland, is Heather’s new home. Roaming the countryside with some of the other mixed-race kids who feel that something is missing in their lives and are in care there – Lloyd, Arlene and Nat – she finds a stone tower with a strangely magical feel.

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And it’s there that the friends meet Palamedes (Pal) the Black knight from King Arthur’s court, who is out of time and place. He warns them that danger lurks in a world beneath their feet. Heather, Pal and the gang set off to rescue children who have been taken to this threatening underworld. No child will be forgotten on their watch.

Heather and her friends soon realise they have been specially chosen for this quest and now they must use the talents they’ve been given to save Fablehouse and all the children who have found shelter there.

With action, drama, magic and adventure on every page, and history and legend providing a colourful backdrop, reading Fablehouse is a thrilling escape into a world tingling with atmosphere.

So fasten your seatbelts and get ready for an unforgettable ride with a feisty, fearless heroine and a marginalised friendship group that refuses to give up the fight to save other lost children… and to claim their rightful destinies.

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

My Family and Other Romans

Marie Basting and Flavia Sorrentino

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Enjoy the ancient world as you’ve never before seen it in a rip-roaring Roman romp from Manchester-based author Marie Basting who bewitched young readers with her critically acclaimed debut novel Princess BMX.

And after turning traditional fairy stories on their head, this imaginative writer turns back the clock to the beating heart of Ancient Rome for an all-action, laugh-out-loud adventure starring a madcap family thrust back in time.

As a schoolgirl called Livi, she just wanted to fit in so being catapulted back to Ancient Rome and finding out her mum is a warrior goddess was not part of the plan. As for the rest of the family... her sister is a cyclops, her uncle is building an army, and her role-play, LARP-obsessed dad is now a lava soldier. So here she is now, Silvia Fortuna Juno De Luca... half-schoolgirl, half-goddess. Yes, an actual Roman goddess. And it all started with Dad. He was messing about, re-enacting battles at Hadrian’s Wall, when – pow! – he was transported to Ancient Rome. Livi went after him because someone has to and now, the fate of her whole family and the world rests on her shoulders. Can she sort out this mess?

Filled with humour, fascinating facts on Roman mythology and life in the city that was once the centre of a vast empire, My Family and Other Romans sees Basting – who long ago learned that girls can do anything they want – put Fun (with a capital F!) into this witty and wonderful adventure.

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Add on important themes of family, belonging and confidence-building, and the quirky illustrations of Flavia Sorrentino to provide the final, fabulous flourish, and My Family and Other Romans is just too good to be missed!

(Chicken House Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Pizza Pete and the Perilous Potions

Carrie Sellon and Sarah Horne

When a twelve-year-old boy starts meddling with magic to save the family pizza shop, only one thing can ensue... chaos! Meet Pete, the memorable and empathetic star of Carrie Sellon’s delightfully clever and entertaining debut novel which offers laughs, tasty pizzas and words of wisdom in equal measure. ‘Twenty-five days ago, something awful happened, and I made a promise to myself. Never to leave home again.’ Pete loves the pizza shop where he lives with his dad and is terrified of the outside world. But when a huge restaurant chain steals their customers, Pete and his friend Anna have to come up with an ingenious plan to sell more pizzas, otherwise he’ll be forced to move. When they find a mysterious briefcase in the attic, they create the most extraordinary magical pizzas, and soon a queue of customers snakes down the road. But can they make enough money in four days to save Pete’s home? Throw in an exploding headmistress, a fire-breathing dog and a vengeful bully, and Pete’s life soon ramps up from Margherita to Spicy Pepperoni! Pete is a true hero for young readers, a boy who has to battle to save his family’s pizza business whilst struggling with his own anxiety issues. And it’s the author’s distinctive brand of laugh-out-loud, slapstick humour – perfectly complemented by Sarah Hone’s extravagant, fun-filled illustrations – which provide the ideal wrapping for a story that gently, and sensitively, tackles serious issues around mental health and bullying. Don’t miss a slice of the pizza action fun!

(Guppy Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Attack of the Robot Librarians

Sam Copeland, Jenny Pearson, Robin Boyden and Katie Kear

If you enjoyed The Underpants of Chaos, last year’s exciting first superstar collaboration of authors Sam Copeland and Jenny Pearson, then get ready for more irreverent larks and laughter as their middle grade detective series, Tuchus and Topps Investigate, makes a welcome return.

This pitch-perfect middle grade series juxtaposes laugh-out-loud humour with themes of friendship and teamwork, and comes in an easy-to-read, illustrated, dual-narrative format that boys and girls alike are sure to love.

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The super-funny books follow the adventures of reluctant detective duo Lenny Tuchus and Agatha Topps who investigate all the peculiar goings-on at their rather bizarre school, Little Strangehaven Primary.

And we join them for a new year at the school, where things are just as weird as last term. Who put laser-eyed robot librarians in charge of class discipline, what's with the new pedal-powered desks and what does it all have to do with the mysterious goings-on in the cellar? Spy-detectives Lenny and Agatha reckon it’s got to be something to do with Pamela Stranglebum and her sinister company, Minerva Industries. With the help of their Scottish gargoyle chum Gregor, can Lenny and Agatha uncover the truth before it’s too late?

Packed with the hilarious illustrations of Robin Boyden and Katie Kear, this daffy detective romp will have youngsters giggling and guffawing from first page to last!

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Saving H’non: Chang and the Elephant

Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung

Can a hard-working elephant be rescued from a lifetime of hardship and captivity?

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The ongoing battle to save the world’s precious wildlife is brought to vivid life once again by the talented partnership of Trang Nguyen, a Vietnamese wildlife conservationist and environmental activist, known for tackling the illegal wildlife trade in Africa and Asia, and Vietnamese award-winning manga artist Jeet Zdung.

They are the caring pair behind Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear, which was shortlisted for the 2023 Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration, and they have pooled their skills once more for Saving H’non: Chang and the Elephant, an inspirational graphic novel adventure based on a real rescue case.

After 50 years of living and working in captivity, H’non the elderly elephant meets Chang, a young activist and intrepid explorer who is determined to rescue her from a lifetime of captivity. And together, they embark on a quest to find a new home where H’non can live as nature intended... wild and free.

Saving H’non follows Trang’s own story about overcoming the odds to rescue H’non and documents the harrowing and heartbreaking conditions that she – along with thousands of other working elephants – endure throughout their time in captivity.

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Packed with Zdung’s breathtaking traditional manga illustrations, which use pencils, watercolours, ink and other digital devices to create works of beauty and innovation, this moving graphic novel provides inspiration for all young conservationists who have ambitions of their own to help endangered wildlife around the globe.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 5 plus:

What is Art? and What is Music?

Sarah Walden and Katie Rewse

If you want to encourage your little ones to start engaging with big ideas, this perfectly pitched Little Book, Big Idea series has some resonant questions and answers. Helping to build foundations for life-long learning by explaining big ideas to little people, the carefully created, illustrated series uses simple language to explain complicated ideas, with each book taking the core questions that relate to each subject and providing answers that make sense to young children. We have drawn on walls since prehistoric times and in the third book in the series, What is Art?, children learn what art is, what you can make with art, what modern art is, and how art can help people. And in What is Music?, also written by Sarah Walden and illustrated by Katie Rewse, youngsters learn the answers to questions like what is a song, what is an orchestra, what is rhythm, is music the same all round the world, and what can you do with music. Each double-page spread in these creative books explores one question and various answers, and each page is filled with Rewse’s imaginative illustrations which inspire positive thinking and make each exploration fresh, engaging and different. And with a glossary of important words at the back of each book, What is Art? and What is Music? are perfect for sharing with any inquisitive child.

(Noodle Juice, hardback, £9.99 each)

Age 3 plus:

Sammy Striker and the Football Cup

Catherine Emmett and Joe Berger

Kick off a summer of football with this beautiful picture book published in perfect time for the Women’s World Cup which will be hosted by Australia and New Zealand, and runs from July 20 to August 20. With Oscars Prize-shortlisted Catherine Emmett’s inspirational rhyming story about following your dreams, and all brought to colourful life by illustrator and cartoonist Joe Berger, Sammy Striker and the Football Cup hits the spot perfectly. Sammy Striker is never found without a football at her feet, and one day at the park, she’s spotted by Melissa McDream who coaches the Under-8s National Team. Sammy is a dribbler-extraordinaire, headed straight for the top but, as the Football Cup gets closer, Sammy’s shots on goal go a bit.... well, wonky. Will Sammy work out that it’s what makes her different that will help them win the final? This picture book team are right on goal for young footie fans with their uplifting, empowering, illustrated story about friendship, football, and having the courage to believe in yourself. Sammy’s struggle to fulfil her potential provides the ideal lesson for young children as they learn that sometimes in life, you have to move the goalposts to follow your dreams!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Amazing Dad

Alison Brown

Dads are amazing... and here’s a picture book that celebrates their fun, versatility and care. Talented author and illustrator Alison Brown – who won hearts with her gorgeous book Amazing Mum – turns the spotlight on dads with another of her super-cute picture books. Amazing dads are all around! They find your lost treasures, they celebrate your achievements and they never let you down. Some dads juggle, some dads snuggle, some fuss, some drive a bus. They can be chatty, practical, silly, sporty, and other dads can be busy, whizzy, caring, sharing. But there’s just ONE dad who gives the best hugs of all. Can you guess who it is? All the family will enjoy this pitch-perfect, inclusive celebration of dads everywhere. This super-cute new book from brilliantly talented picture book creator Alison Brown is the ultimate inclusive, joyful celebration of dads and care-givers – and the love they give us every day. Full of youthful energy, with an adorable rhyming text, and gorgeously illustrated with a whole host of irresistible, relatable and quirky animal characters, Amazing Dad is perfect to share at any time of year when you want dad to know how much you love him!

(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Can You Share, Little Whale?

Jonny Lambert

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Blend a beautiful, thought-provoking tale with spectacular artwork, and what do you have? A stunning new picture book from talented illustrator, designer and paper engineer Jonny Lambert! Creator of Little Why, The Only Lonely Panda and I Love You More and More, Lambert has a way with both words and pictures, and this strikingly illustrated book about learning to share will delight readers both young and old. Little Whale does NOT like to share. She wants to be the one to lead the pod and to eat all the delicious fish by herself. And she certainly doesn’t want anyone to share her mum’s attention. But when her friend Blue shares a snack, Little Whale is inspired to set out on a journey to find the beauty of sharing with one another. Can You Share, Little Whale? is a visual and verbal treat with the heartwarming and tender story providing an ideal talking point for parents who want to discuss with their children the importance and joy of sharing. A special book to love and treasure.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

My Small World: Dinosaurs

Caryl Hart and Harry Woodgate

See imagination spring gloriously and colourfully alive in My Small World: Dinosaurs, a spectacular new picture book series from the top team of award-winning Peak District author Caryl Hart and Waterstones Book Prize winner, Harry Woodgate. Hart’s enchanting rhyming story features two inquisitive youngsters on a journey of discovery in a place where creatures run wild and the sun shines all day and is brought to vibrant life by Woodgate’s beautiful artwork. ‘My small world is waiting, so come take my hand, I’ll show you who lives in my Dinosaur Land.’ Youngsters will love joining in the fun of an adventure of a lifetime through the land of the dinosaurs! Meet Europasaurus, the helpful herbivore, a whole family of Stegosaurs and many, many more. And, at the end of the story, learn how to build your very own Small World, with instructions and a handy How To guide. Adventure, fun and learning in one BIG adventure!

(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Hello Summer

Jo Lindley

The warm sun is high in the sky, the days are long, and it’s perfect weather for the beach. Yippee, it’s summertime! Soak up the vibes of summer in the third title of a magical picture book series from debut author and illustrator Jo Lindley. Best Friends with Big Feelings features stories about friendship, feelings and the seasons, and each is set in an enchanting natural world that little readers will love to return to again and again. So say hello to the Little Seasons! The sun is shining and the Little Seasons are on their way to the beach. But Summer is feeling hot and bothered. First their picnic is overrun by hungry creatures, next their game of catch is ruined when their ball goes POP. Luckily his friends know the perfect way to relax... building a giant sandcastle. Finally Summer is starting to have fun but no one has noticed the great big wave that’s rolling in! Lindley’s four charismatic friends, who control the seasons, gently explore key social and emotional themes, such as managing emotions, especially anger and frustration, and showing compassion – to ourselves and others – in this new addition to an irresistible series. With its sparkling foil cover and a gallery of colourful and eclectic illustrations, Hello Summer is an entertaining teaching tool for exploring both emotions and the seasons.

(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age one plus:

Flora and Nora Hunt for Treasure

Kim Hillyard

Meet Flora and Nora, two cats who live a purrfect life together at sea until a storm splits them apart... and they discover that being on the ocean wave isn’t always plain sailing. Award-winning author and illustrator Kim Hillyard – whose previous picture books, Mabel and the Mountain, Ned and the Great Garden Hamster Race and Gretel The Wonder Mammoth, touched young readers’ hearts – returns with a beautiful story celebrating the power of friendship. Flora and Nora are a pair of adventurous seafaring cats. As they sail off in search of The Secret Treasure, a storm hits, destroying their boat and leaving the best friends separated at sea! Will Flora and Nora remember the value of their friendship or will they get carried away by the lure of adventure and jewels? Courage, self-belief, kindness and friendship all play leading roles in this fun and funny tale which is filled with Hillyard’s adorable illustrations and has love at its heart. The perfect, wind-down bedtime read!

(Ladybird, paperback, £7.99)