Foster love, first crushes and a vengeful goblin by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Enjoy a big-hearted story about a young boy’s life with foster ‘siblings,’ share experiences with mixed-up teens facing the challenges of friendship and first crushes, enter a dark, dangerous and magical world in a super new gamebook adventure, and discover how everyone can help to save the planet in a selection of new children’s books.
The Day My Dog Got Famous by Jen CarneyThe Day My Dog Got Famous by Jen Carney
The Day My Dog Got Famous by Jen Carney

Age 8 plus:

The Day My Dog Got Famous

Jen Carney

As a child, you need a big heart and an accepting nature to share your home with an ever-changing cycle of foster ‘siblings,’ and that’s a theme that Jen Carney captures perfectly with her own big heart in the first of a delightfully funny and inclusive trilogy.

Lancashire-based author and illustrator Carney is noted for her contemporary, laugh-out-loud, middle grade fiction that celebrates diversity and modern families. Highly illustrated throughout, her books tell stories with family and friendships at their heart.

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And here – inspired by her foster carer sister – she explores some of the emotions that birth-children in blended families go through when new foster siblings arrive... and depart.

So first off, there are few things you should know about Ferris Foster: 1. He’s the cartooning genius behind ASTOUNDOG (star of The Hoot, available exclusively in his school playground) 2. His best friend is his actual dog Aldo who is anything but astounding 3. He’s had thirteen foster brothers and eight foster sisters and now he’s about to meet his new foster sister Tia for the first time 4. His nemesis is his totally annoying neighbour Destiny Dean. And when Destiny boasts about videos of her dog, Princess Foo-Foo, going viral, Ferris foolishly claims that Aldo can easily become a bigger internet star. There's just one problem... Aldo has about as much talent as a teaspoon. Then Ferris and Tia accidentally film Aldo doing what looks like an amazing trick. Will Aldo finally live up to the name of his comic book alter-ego and wow the world with his skills... or is this about to be the biggest epic fail ever?

This funny, uplifting, dog-tastic adventure is packed with comic strips and cartoons that will make everyone giggle, but it is also a reminder of the power of honesty, and the importance of family... in whatever shape or form that might be.

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 10 plus:

Cross My Heart and Never Lie

Nora Dåsnes

A book written for any girl who has ever felt ‘alone in all the madness of growing up’ is almost 100 per cent guaranteed to hit a chord with mixed up, muddled up tweenie youngsters. Written first in the author and illustrator Nora Dåsnes’ Norwegian, Cross My Heart and Never Lie has been translated into English by Matt Bagguley and is an unmissable, relatable and heartwarming graphic tale focusing on the universal topics of friendship and first crushes. Tuva is starting seventh grade, and her checklist of goals includes writing a diary, getting a cool look, building the best fort in the woods with her BFFs, and sharing everything with them. But when she starts school, nothing is how she hoped it would be. Seventh grade has split her friends into rival factions... Team Linnea and the girls who fall in love, and Team Bao and the girls who are still playing. Linnea has a boyfriend while Bao hates everything related to feelings. Worst of all, Tuva is expected to choose a side! Then Mariam shows up and suddenly things begin to make a little more sense. But with all her friends fighting, this is one part of growing up that Tuva isn’t quite sure how to share. Packed with stunning, full-colour illustrations and engaging diary-style hand lettering, Cross My Heart and Never Lie speaks loudly about positive and inclusive representation of a range of diverse and LGBTQ+ identities. A warm, wise and wonderful coming-of-age odyssey.

(Farshore, paperback, £10.99)

Age 9 plus:

Usborne Adventure Gamebooks: The Goblin’s Revenge

Andy Prentice and Tom Knight

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Choices, choices… do you dare to enter a dark and magical world and choose your own danger-packed adventure?

This classic adventure gamebook from Usborne is packed with exciting challenges, choices and decisions which will delight a new generation of thrill-seeking youngsters who want to put their own skills and imagination into play.

Written by Andy Prentice, and spectacularly illustrated throughout by Tom Knight, The Goblin’s Revenge is the latest atmospheric and enthralling adventure in a series which grips readers from beginning to end and brings together picture puzzles, exciting dice-based combat and a story in which the hero is YOU.

In The Goblin’s Revenge, we discover that the evil sorcerer Darkmoon has the kingdom in his grip and the only hope of stopping him is a treacherous quest to try to find the last remaining rebels and help them end his reign. With a horde of undead warriors on your trail and a series of blood-curdling challenges ahead of you, it would be a terrifying task for anyone... but you're just a goblin, which makes things even more challenging.

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From this point onwards, you are in control of an epic adventure full of emotion and humour. Prepare for menacing monsters, ghostly magic and a thrilling race against time in this spectacular mission. But remember, every choice is yours, and your survival depends on the decisions you make.

Full of choices to make, each one leading to different adventures and endings, this dark and sweeping story, with its fiendish picture puzzles, is perfect for all fans of gaming and fantasy role-playing games.

(Usborne, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:


Mitch Johnson

Saving the planet is all in a day’s work for three intrepid youngsters in a dazzling and danger-filled new novel from Mitch Johnson, an award-winning writer of children's books whose debut novel, Kick, was endorsed by Amnesty International UK for its portrayal of children’s rights. In this all-action rainforest adventure, the stakes are high as the hunt is on to find a rare frog with a life-changing secret. Billionaire beauty mogul Anura Hegarty has pledged to acquire as much of the rainforest as possible to preserve it. But when armed guards appear and bring in portable terrariums to capture wildlife, Jessica and her friend Renata realise something much more sinister is going on. The rainforest holds a frog with a secret to staying young forever, and Jessica and Renata know they must find and save it first. Together with Briony-Rose, the girls journey deeper into the rainforest. Danger and betrayal lurk in every corner, and soon they are running for their lives, dodging blow darts and falling into traps. Will the children make it out of the forest alive? This fantastic, race-against-time battle to survive long enough to find the frog will have young readers leaping eagerly from page to page. With thrills and chills at every turn, and three inspirational heroes to cheer for, this is the ideal read for all daring adventurers!

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

Age 9 plus:

The Pirate’s Dragon

Liz Flanagan

Put fire into the tail end of winter with the mesmerising conclusion to Yorkshire writer Liz Flanagan’s thrilling Legends of the Sky fantasy trilogy which brought us the much acclaimed Dragon Daughter and then second book, Rise of the Shadow Dragons.

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Inspired by many of the beautiful places she has visited, these dazzling stories sweep youngsters into a magic land of dragons and evil deeds where thrilling adventures spring to life with tension, danger, fast-paced action, fiery friendships and daring dragon riders.

In The Pirate’s Dragon, we are swept away to the island of Arcosi where we meet up once again with Milla, the former servant girl who is now a princess after discovering her hidden past and her true destiny as a dragonrider. Serina lives on a separate island to Raff Sparrowhawk , whose mother Malena was once Queen of the Pirates, and each believes the other’s people to be their sworn enemy. Forced together in dramatic circumstances, they become unlikely friends while caring for their young dragons. But when Serina’s home, family, and all the dragons of Arcosi are threatened, can Raff and Serina persuade their families to work together? It will take faith, forgiveness and courage to save the dragons!

Flanagan has a true gift for superbly imagined and richly detailed world building, and this breathtaking finale to a dazzling and much-loved fantasy series is packed with bravery, danger, powerful emotions and the unbreakable bonds of family and friendship. Don’t miss it!

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £8.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Second Hand Boy

Jennifer Lane

Losing a best friend can often be a big deal for children, and a writer who knows that well is Greater Manchester-based author and freelance nature writer Jennifer Lane. As Children’s Mental Health Week draws to a close, Lane’s timely new novel, The Second Hand Boy, is a reminder of the struggles and anxieties that youngsters of all ages can experience. As someone who battled with her own childhood anxiety issues, Lane brings us the tale of Billy who fears that the school bullies will come for him now that his best friend and protector Marty is moving away. With Marty gone, Billy finds himself all alone and his world comes crashing down around him. Between avoiding the bullies and looking after Mum, there seems to be no escape from his problems. However, when his Mum, who has her own mental health problems, gives him a second-hand copy of Philippa Pearce’s classic time-slip novel, Tom’s Midnight Garden, everything changes. Billy now has a new friend called James, the previous owner of the book who liked to scrawl messages in the margins. And soon Billy finds himself drawn into an icy world of parallel universes where things aren’t quite as they seem. Expect imaginary friends with evil intentions and new friendships in unexpected place as Billy learns that he must overcome his fear of being different and conquer his demons if he is to grow and take control of his life. An alluring blend of real life and one boy’s fantasies, this is a story that offers both reassurance and fun.

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £8.99)

Age 7 plus:

Don't Panic! We CAN Save The Planet

James Campbell and Rob Jones

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Find out how cow-farts are wrecking the world and help blow away some of the worries about climate change with this hilarious antidote to the fear factor from comedian, award-winning author and eco-activist James Campbell.

Don't Panic! We CAN Save The Planet – a spin-off to the bestselling Funny Life Of series – is a hands-on and fun guide to saving the world which shows how together, families and children can stop being eco-worriers and start being eco-warriors.

From plastic fish and fast fashion to earthships and eco-protests, this funny and informative guide contains everything children need to understand what is causing climate change.

Filled with fascinating facts explaining climate change and how it can be actively tackled by working together, this light-hearted look at the problems facing planet Earth is ideal for educating and comforting children who have become sad and scared about climate change.

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With Rob Jones’ super-funny and richly detailed illustrations putting the action into pictures, this brilliant book teaches children what fossils fuels actually are and reveals how a story about one grandpa’s fateful fall into a poo chute could teach us a lot about the climate crisis.

Campbell, who lives off-grid, owns a compost loo and is passionate about demystifying the importance of saving the planet for children, says: ‘Children are worried about pollution, animals going extinct and the climate crisis. Truly, we have enough resources and if we start now, there is just enough time – so we need to get on with it. From weeing on a compost heap to starting an eco-club, every family and every child can do something to help save the planet!’

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

Age 5 plus:

Mind & Me: Going To Bat

Sunita Chawdhary

Mind how you go! Join the dynamic double act known as Mind and Me in the second book of a funny, perceptive and reassuring series from doctor, and also author and illustrator, Sunita Chawdhary. These gentle and relatable stories are the ideal introduction to discussions with young children about mental wellbeing and managing anxieties. In this new adventure, it’s the start of a new term and Maya is excited to join the cricket club at school and share the good news with her Grandpa in India. But between juggling sports superstars, the big green monster, and her mum coming to coach the team, she has a lot to handle. And on top of that, Mind thinks they’ve forgotten something important… like sending that letter to Grandpa. Can Maya and Mind work together to get it all sorted out before the big cricket game? These engaging and clever adventures star Mind as the voice in Maya’s head, reflecting her ideas and emotions. Mind is very active and can be quite noisy which is sometimes helpful but sometimes a hindrance! With warm-hearted, mindfulness stories and lively illustrations that give focus to thoughts, the books are perfect for reading aloud at bedtime or in class, giving adults and children a prompt to talk about emotions. Mental health lessons for children in the most helpful and entertaining way!

(Knights Of, paperback, £5.99)

Age 4 plus:

How I Feel: 40 Wellbeing Activities for Kids

Activities to help children feel happier, calmer, kinder and braver

Becky Goddard-Hill and Assia Ieradi

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Growing up isn’t easy, particularly when it comes to negotiating a whole host of complex emotions, so help young children through this baffling maze of feelings with a fun and reassuring activity book.

Packed with activities to help children feel happier, calmer, kinder and braver, this invaluable book is written by children’s therapist and emotional wellbeing author, Becky Goddard-Hill, and given extra special child appeal by Assia Ieradi’s appealing and colourful gallery of empathetic animal characters.

The fun, simple activities are designed to give parents, carers and children the tools to cope with a whole range of different emotions. Go on a happiness hunt, play animal charades, feed your worry monster, and do the cushion walk!

How I Feel encourages children to talk about feelings through play, making them easier to understand and helping children to choose how to react to them, and to create strategies to make them feel more in control. And with tips for grown-ups to spark conversations and give advice, this is the perfect book to share with your little ones.

(Collins, paperback, £9.99)

Age 2 plus:


Simon Philip and Nathan Reed

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A Simon Philip adventure always takes some licking and this cautionary tale – with the magic word ‘please’ at its soft centre – is guaranteed to scoop plenty of plaudits! Philip is one of the comedy kings of picture books and this anarchic rhyming romp – perfectly matched with Nathan Reed’s high-energy and wonderfully detailed illustrations – zones in on the importance of saying please with a giant dollop of pure comic madness. You probably know it’s good manners to ALWAYS say ‘please’ when asking for something. But when Bill forgets this very simple rule at the ice-cream van, the consequences are wackier than he could ever have imagined. Join Bill on a laugh-out-loud adventure featuring spaceships, jungle tigers, mountain yaks, fairytale castles and a whole host of alien toads as he learns that saying ‘PLEASE’ should never be forgotten! With an addictive sense of youthful joy running through every page, Reed’s dazzling artwork and Philip’s trademark wit and verve, this ‘pleasing’ story is set to become a firm family favourite!

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

Age 2 plus:

Once Upon a Storytime

Gareth Peter and Natelle Quek

Settle down together at bedtime with this beautiful picture book that transports little ones to dazzling, dreamy adventures... and the wonderful world of sleep! Written with love and heartfelt emotions by Gareth Peter, the author of My Daddies!, and lavishly illustrated by Natelle Quek, a Malaysian-born illustrator now living in England, Once Upon a Storytime is an uplifting homage to the power of the stories we love most, and the way they bring us together. Nia loves stories about dragons and unicorns, brave princesses and faraway lands. Every night, Mum tucks her into bed and they lose themselves in another wonderful adventure. But what if, Nia asks, she gets kidnapped by a wicked witch? Or locked up by a terrible beast in a tower? Or stuck at the top of a beanstalk with a grouchy giant? Would Mum come and rescue her? The answer to that is … ‘yes, always.’ Filled with colour, warmth and gentle reassurance, this alluring picture book is both a fantastical adventure and a big hug for bedtime!

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

Age 2 plus:

No Matter What: The 25th Anniversary Edition

Debi Gliori

‘I’ll always love you no matter what...’ Steep yourself in the beautiful words and pictures of award-winning writer and illustrator Debi Gliori’s classic, heartfelt picture book No Matter What, which has been repackaged and sealed with love for a new generation to enjoy. Gliori’s warm, reassuring and irresistible story about unconditional love is perfect for comforting little ones, and this glorious 25th Anniversary Edition retains and enhances all the exquisite colour, poignancy and vibrancy of the original. ‘I’ll always love you no matter what...’ says Large. ‘No matter what?’ Small asks. But what if he turns into a bug, or a crocodile, or even a grizzly bear? Small has all sorts of questions about love, and Large reassures him that her love will never, ever run out... no matter what. Gliori’s reassuring beautifully told and illustrated story has been setting little ones’ big worries to rest for twenty-five years and it’s easy to see why. Soothing and sensual, this gorgeous edition includes never-before-seen sketches and a special letter from the author that will delight readers young and old.

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