Family love, storm tides and a plane plot by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Be inspired by the moving wartime story of a father and his remarkable son, dive into an unforgettable tale set in an underwater world, join a high-flying mission to stop a dastardly espionage plot, and have your spine tingled by a terrifying Day of the Triffids-inspired thriller as a new collection of children’s books hits the shelves.
Fritz and Kurt  by Jeremy Dronfield and David Ziggy GreeneFritz and Kurt  by Jeremy Dronfield and David Ziggy Greene
Fritz and Kurt by Jeremy Dronfield and David Ziggy Greene

Age 8 plus:

Fritz and Kurt

Jeremy Dronfield and David Ziggy Greene

The moving story of the all-consuming love between a father, a son and a brother is explored in this retelling of one of the most inspirational accounts to come out of the Holocaust.

Jeremy Dronfield’s bestselling publishing phenomenon, The Boy Who Followed his Father into Auschwitz, was first published to great acclaim in 2019 and acted a reminder of both the best and the worst of humanity, the strength of family ties, and the power of the human spirit.

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And now Dronfield has adapted for younger readers his almost unbelievable true story of Austrian Jew Fritz Kleinmann who volunteered to follow his father, Gustav, into Auschwitz in 1938 rather than be separated from him.

When everything is taken away from you, love and courage are all you have left. In 1938, the Nazis come to Vienna. They hate anyone who is different, especially Jewish people. Brothers Fritz and Kurt’s family are Jewish, and that puts them in terrible danger. Fritz, along with his father, is taken to a Nazi prison camp, a terrible place, full of fear. When his father is sent to a certain death in Auschwitz, Fritz can’t face losing his beloved Papa and chooses to go with him and fight for survival. Meanwhile, Kurt must go on a frightening journey, all alone, to seek safety on the far side of the world. Fritz and Kurt face unimaginable hardships, and the two brothers wonder if they will ever return home...

Dronfield’s heart-rending and eloquent account of the Kleinmann family’s horrific ordeal – a truly extraordinary story illustrated throughout by David Ziggy Greene – is handled with immense sensitivity without losing sight of the importance of truth and factual honesty.

Fritz and Kurt is a tragic and shocking story, with the Kleinmanns’ experiences of the cruelty suffered by Jews in the concentration camps acting as a powerful reminder of the evils of the Nazis, but it is also an enduring and resonant tribute to the unbreakable bonds of family love.

(Puffin, paperback, £8.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Storm Swimmer

Clare Weze

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Dive into this glorious middle grade novel from Clare Weze and you won’t want to surface again until the last page – and the tide – has turned!

Weze, whose debut children’s book The Lightning Catcher was longlisted for the 2022 CILIP Carnegie Medal, sweeps away her young readers on an unforgettable adventure that travels across the land and under the sea, and has a life-changing friendship at its warm and beating heart.

Summer was supposed to be Ginika’s time for fun, friends and fairs, but instead she has been sent to live at the dead-end seaside boarding house which her grandparents run. Even though her parents – who have hit hard times – say it’s just for a little while, she can’t help feeling abandoned and heartbroken to be missing out on everything she loves back home. And then she meets Peri. He leaps and dives through the water like a dolphin and he talks like a burst of bubbles. He’s not exactly a mermaid, but he is certainly a sea dweller and definitely something Ginika has never seen before. His family is far away too but unlike Ginika, he loves his independence. As Ginika shows Peri her world of life living on the land rather than in the sea, she starts to feel free as well. They don’t need anyone else when they’ve got each other. But then the lights and noise of the human world start to change Peri. And when things spin out of control, Ginika must be the bravest she has ever been to face her fears and make the hardest decision of her life. Join Ginika and Peri as they dive beneath the waves and walk the lands that will take them into each other’s worlds on an adventure they will never forget and a life-changing friendship.

There may be an ocean of difference in the worlds of Ginika and Peri but Weze’s atmospheric and exquisitely created story fills that gap with an inspirational friendship which has no boundaries when it comes to care, empathy and shared affection.

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Throw in some very real issues around the angst and uncertainty that comes from financial hardship, and the loan sharks who feed on those who are vulnerable, and you have an original, exciting and magical adventure with some important life lessons swimming very close to the surface.

A master storyteller at work!

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

Age 9 plus:

The Wildstorm Curse

Eve Wersocki Morris

Can a girl with dyslexia find the words that will save her friends? Despite struggling with her reading and spelling as a child, and fearing that she would never be able to read to even a basic standard, Eve Wersocki Morris has never let her dyslexia diagnosis stand in the way of her gift for storytelling.

And the proof is in her growing reputation as an exciting author of thrilling, chilling mystery novels full of myths, legends, folklore and fantasy. So experience all that irresistible black magic in The Wildstorm Curse, a dark and dazzling adventure that serves up the same spine-tingling brand of spooky supernatural which won hearts and minds in her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Bird Singers.

A fabled witch, a powerful curse, a monster out for revenge... thirteen-year-old Kallie Tamm can’t wait to spend a week of her summer holidays at the Wildstorm Theatre Camp, and she is determined not to let her dyslexia hold her back from achieving her dream of becoming a playwright. The finale of the whole week is a performance in the local village theatre. But as soon as she arrives, Kallie discovers that the cast will be performing a play written by a 17th century witch, Ellsabet Graveheart, and strange, scary things start happening. Unbeknown to Kallie, a dark shadow is stirring in the woodland near Wildstorm... an ancient and dangerous creature has awoken from a centuries-old slumber, and it is out for revenge, putting Kallie and all of her new friends in grave danger. Can an unlikely hero find the words to save her friends?

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This is adventure with a capital A, a suspenseful tale about unlikely heroes and the power of storytelling which comes steeped in 17th century witchlore and darkly dangerous demon myths. With its reassuring message that even the best spellers are always the best storytellers, and that ‘true heroes aren’t always the strongest or the most powerful,’ The Wildstorm Curse is empowering, bewitching and page-turningly good!

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

Age 9 plus:

Alice Éclair Spy Extraordinaire: A Spoonful of Flying

Sarah Todd Taylor

The heat is on as French baker-cum-spy extraordinaire Alice Éclair embarks on a high-flying mission to stop a dastardly plane plot in the second book of a brilliant mystery series cooked up by Sarah Todd Taylor.

Star of the show is Alice Éclair who leads an exciting double life as a baker by day at her mother’s patisserie in Paris and a rather unusual spy by night. And after the breathless adventures on Alice's first mission, A Recipe for Trouble, she is ready to whisk young readers away on a fabulous journey full of daring action and delicious cakes.

Inventors and artists from all nations have gathered in Paris for the World Fair. All eyes are on the aeroplane exhibition... these incredible machines will take humanity to new heights! Alice suspects that some of these inventors are in terrible danger but no one believes her until France’s top aeroplane engineer mysteriously disappears. Surrounded by enemy spies, Alice will need to use every trick in the recipe book if she is to keep her friends safe and stop France’s greatest invention from falling into the wrong hands. With a half-baked plan, a dash of daring, and the help of her new espionage partner Claude, Alice must foil the enemy’s devious plot before the whole thing boils over...

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Ideal as a stand-alone novel, or enjoyed as part of the series, A Spoonful of Spying dishes up the same delicious mix of mouth-watering mystery, super-sleuthing, cakes baked to perfection, and fast-paced fun and action.

Roll on the third course!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Albi the Glowing Cow Boy

Georgia Byng, Angela Cogo and Levi Pinfold

Can a special relationship between a boy and a calf help to give them both a better future? Vegan and animal lover Georgia Byng explores the world of animal agriculture and its impact on the planet in a moving and original novel aimed at encouraging empathy and opening questioning young minds. On a quiet farm in a frosty England, under the glowing light of a magical milk moon, an albino boy calf is born. His name is Albi, and he has no idea how extraordinary he is going to be. Several miles away lives a human boy called Rufus Chumley whose father owns the local abattoir. Rufus is extraordinary in his own way – he has a condition that has made him grow way beyond the size of other children of his age – but he has no friends and no one to love him, not even his parents. Rufus seeks the family he never had and he’ll go to any lengths to find it. Albi and Rufus must each embark on a journey that will take them across continents, showing them things they never believed could be true. But why are they so deeply connected? And will each extraordinary ‘boy’ find what they are searching for? Told through the alternating narratives of Albi and Rufus, Byng’s beautifully atmospheric story – complete with a cover illustration by Levi Pinfold and the stunning inside illustrations of Angela Cogo – is filled with ethereal beauty, harsh realities... and plenty of food for thought.

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Mapmakers

Tamzin Merchant

If magic, maps and marvellous adventures are your route to reading heaven then journey back to the spellbinding world of Cordelia Hatmaker, the inspirational star of actress and now exceptional new storyteller Tamzin Merchant’s stunning novel The Hatmakers. This stunning sequel once again sweeps us away on another wild and imaginative wave of danger, discovery and soaraway fantasy in which Cordelia must try to save the very essence of magic itself. Ever since Cordelia – who comes from a long line of magical milliners – discovered the hidden map in her father Prospero’s precious telescope, she has been searching the streets of London by starlight, trying to uncover its secrets. She’s sure that her missing father is out there somewhere, and that if she follows his map, she will finally discover the truth about his disappearance. What she doesn’t expect is to stumble upon a secret society of Mapmakers... or to learn that magic isn’t limited to the few Maker families, but instead is all around if you just know where to look. Now danger is lurking around every corner and Cordelia must convince the rival Maker families to work together for once... not only to bring her father home, but to save a whole world of magic. With illustrations by Paola Escobar adding extra vibrancy and life to Merchant’s story, and plenty of intriguing twists and turns along the way, The Mapmakers explores the bonds of friendship and family with warmth, insight and an irresistible sense of fun. Magic, charm, heart and humour... perfect middle grade reading for all young adventurers!

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Terror of Hilltop House

Dan Smith and Chris King

There’s something seriously scary going on at creepy Hilltop House… and three daring children are determined to discover exactly what it is! Get ready to have your spine well and truly tingled in a terrifying Day of the Triffids-inspired thriller from the pen of Newcastle-based Dan Smith, the award-winning and imaginative author of the exciting Crooked Oak Mysteries series. When Pete, Krish and Nancy read a story in the local paper about weird gunk being found in a field where sheep have gone missing next to Hilltop House, they’re sure there’s a mystery to be investigated. The new research farm at Hilltop is working on the creation of bio-fuels, but when a storm knocks out the power in the local area and something escapes from the farm, it’s clear that the research has gone horribly wrong. Will anyone believe our three smart and intrepid detectives from Crooked Oak Academy, and can the brave trio save the village in their most terrifying adventure yet? Featuring the wonderfully atmospheric black and white illustrations of Chris King, and published in Barrington Stoke’s trademark dyslexia-friendly format, this terrific, fast-paced tale of three youngsters caught up in a secretive plot is packed full of twists and turns, monstrous apparitions and dangerous genetic experiments. Expect thrills, chills and spills… but best read in daylight hours!

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

Lizzie and Lucky: The Mystery of the Disappearing Rabbit

Megan Rix and Tim Budgen

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Abracadabra! Enjoy lots of fun and frolics with young detective Lizzie and her adorable puppy Lucky as they work hard to track down a missing rabbit in their third mystery-solving adventure. Author Megan Rix and illustrator Tim Budgen work their special magic on this enchanting new chapter for a little girl growing up with hearing loss. Drawing on her own experiences of living with partial deafness, Rix blends gentle adventures with fun activities and the basics of sign language to add extra sparkle to her story. Lizzie and Lucky are off to a magic show. But during the performance, a very large and world-famous rabbit called Rudy disappears... and it was not on purpose! Can Lizzie and Lucky find Rudy, get to the bottom of who stole him, and why? Featuring short chapters ideal for new readers, packed with Budgen’s charming and heartwarming illustrations, an adorable Dalmatian pup as a detective sidekick, and some useful tips on caring for pet rabbits, this magical adventure is a dream read for young animal lovers.

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Dig, Dig Digger

Morag Hood

When you’re fed up of digging down, the only way is up! The highs and lows of being a digger machine are explored with the trademark wit and creative genius of award-winning author and illustrator Morag Hood in her new brilliantly funny picture book. It’s a day like any other at the roadworks when Digger decides she no longer likes digging down into mud, dark and worms. Instead, she wants to dig UP and find sky, stars and adventure! Although up is quite tricky to get to, with some ingenuity and the help of balloons, Digger flies off on a journey of discovery. But what she does find is that adventures aren’t so much fun without friends... so Digger must dig her way home! The earth certainly moves for our daring little digger in this brilliantly funny picture book from an ever-inventive author and illustrator who leaves no stone unturned when it comes to comical and creative thinking. Packed with eye-catching artwork, the clever playfulness and endearing mischievousness that we have come to expect from Hood, and a finger trail spread to follow Digger’s journey, this is story that celebrates the fun and joy of friendship... and is destined to be a favourite with all the family!

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age six months plus:

That’s Not My T. Rex...

Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

Meet five friendly T. Rex as they stomp and snort through the pages of an exciting and especially sparkle-edged new book in Usborne’s award-winning That’s Not My... series, a much-loved favourite with both parents and children. The bestselling touchy-feely series has over 70 titles and has sold over 20 million books worldwide. The simple text, bold, colourful illustrations and tactile patches are irresistible to babies and toddlers who love turning the pages and touching the fun and ‘feely’ patches. Written by Fiona Watt and illustrated by Rachel Wells, this new title features different textured patches on every spread as we discover a colourful array of furry and fuzzy dinosaurs. These board books allow the youngest family members to have a hand in all the fun of reading as they touch the textured patches, follow the story and look for the little white mouse on every page. Specially designed to develop sensory and language awareness, the distinctive That’s Not My… board books really are a vividly visual and hands-on treat for inquisitive babies and toddlers. Touchy-feely genius at a stroke!

(Usborne, board book, £6.99)