Wartime terrors, a dreamland escape and a modern fairy tale by various authors - book reviews -
Age 11 plus:
When The World Was Ours
The heartrending story of three children torn apart by the Holocaust packs an extra powerful punch in an outstanding novel from talented author Liz Kessler.
Based on her father’s experiences when he escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe, When The World Was Ours is an extraordinarily moving and insightful exploration of the unbreakable bonds of love, family and friendship, even in the cruellest and most hopeless of times.
In Vienna in1936, three close young friends – Leo, Elsa and Max – are spending a perfect day together to celebrate Leo’s birthday, unaware that around them Europe is descending into a growing darkness, and that events soon mean that they will be brutally separated.
Leo and Elsa are Jewish, and Elsa's family are so fearful of political events in Austria that they are considering moving to Czechoslovakia in the hope of finding safety, but Leo’s family would rather stay in the country where they have worked hard and prospered.
Meanwhile, Max is growing more and more troubled because his ambitious SS officer father, who is rising fast through the Nazi party’s ranks, has told his son that Jewish friends are forbidden in the new order.
With their lives taking them across Europe – to Germany, England, Prague and Poland – will the three friends ever find their way back to each other, and will they want to?
Already hailed as a modern classic, and written from deep within the soul of Kessler’s own family history, When The World Was Ours is a tale of hardship, hatred and inhumanity, but also a beacon of love, hope and compassion in what can too often be the cruellest of worlds.
This is a book that has to be read, a masterpiece of storytelling and real history which will certainly have an important place on the bookshelf of every school and library.
(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £12.99)
Age 10 plus:
When We Got Lost in Dreamland
There could be no better time to get lost in Dreamland!
Youngsters seeking an escape from the uncertainties of the pandemic are guaranteed a cracking adventure when they join forces with two brothers who discover that sharing dreams takes them to worlds beyond their wildest imaginings.
When We Got Lost in Dreamland is the landmark, funny, moving and brilliant new novel from Ross Welford, a thrilling and ingenious storyteller, and one of the most critically acclaimed middle-grade authors in the UK.
Twelve-year-old Malky is struggling to cope after his parents split up but after a dare goes wrong, he and his younger brother Seb become the owners of a Dreaminator. You simply hang the Dreaminator over your bed and it lets you share your dreams.
And soon, the brothers are sharing amazing adventures… from tree-top flights and Spanish galleons, to thrilling battles and sporting greatness, it seems like nothing is out of reach when you can share a dream with someone else.
But, impossible dreams come with incredible risks, and after the boys share an adventure with storybook hero, Kobi the Caveboy, Seb won’t wake up and is taken to hospital in a coma.
To save him, Malky is forced to leave reality behind and undertake a final, terrifying journey to the Stone Age to wake his brother…
When We Got Lost in Dreamland is a dream read for young readers who love adventure, fantasy and danger as Welford ramps up the action and the tension whilst neatly delivering some subtle, thought-provoking messages to young readers.
Throw in a cast of colourful characters, some fascinating facts, and a moving exploration of the bond between siblings and the effects of marriage breakdown on children, and you have the perfect panacea for the time of Covid.
(Harper Collins Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)
Age 9 plus:
A Vanishing of Griffins
S. A. Patrick
If the medieval German legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelyn has always sent a shiver down your spine, then dive into an exciting and atmospheric children’s fantasy series which is thrilling and chilling a host of middle grade readers.
A Vanishing of Griffins is the second, enthralling adventure in the out-of-this world Songs of Magic series from S. A. Patrick, an author who may be more familiar to adult readers as Seth Patrick, creator of the thrilling paranormal Reviver trilogy which won him fans and accolades.
These deep, dark and epic books were inspired by the medieval German legend of the Pied Piper, the spine-tingling tale of a terrifying villain who stole the children from a helpless town.
Long haunted by the centuries-old mystery, Patrick imagines a truly amazing world of dragons, sorcerers and bandits in which the Pied Piper is not a one-off but a rogue member of a larger group of magical but shadowy musicians who are summoned to help towns and villages in times of need.
It’s a fantasy of immense imagination, breathtaking characters and captivating storytelling, and stars three accidental young heroes fighting not just to survive, but to save the world from a deadly enemy.
And in A Vanishing of Griffins, the mesmerising, magical fantasy that began with the award-winning A Darkness of Dragons, we are swept back into the lives of Patch Brightwater and his friends, Wren Cobble, a girl cursed by a sorcerer to live as a rat, and Barver, a fire-breathing dracogriff (a cross between a dragon and a griffin).
Trainee piper Patch has discovered the deadly truth about the Piper of Hamelyn and the three friends – no strangers to danger – are ready to take peril in their stride as they seek out their evil foe… even though trying to stop his quest for power may end in a battle that will tear the three young heroes’ world apart.
Get ready for magic and music as the trio meet the Pirates of the Eastern Seas, marvel as they venture to the only city where dragons and humans live side by side, gasp as they journey high into the snowy peaks where the greatest secret of the griffins lies hidden, and tremble as they come face to face once more with the increasingly powerful and evil Hamelyn Piper.
This is adventure in the true sense of the word and an inspired reimagining of the Pied Piper legend… from thrills, spills and spine-tingling danger to soaring landscapes, awesome friendships, courageous heroes and magic aplenty, Patrick’s modern fairy tale is a magical experience from start to finish.
(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £7.99)
Age 8 plus:
How to Be a Hero
Cat Weldon and Katie Kear
An ungodly case of mistaken identity leads to madcap adventures and giggles galore in the first book of wonderful fantasy trilogy from debut author Cat Weldon.
Superbly illustrated throughout by Katie Kear, this all-action, fun-filled tale of friendship and bravery is set in the comically convoluted world of the Norse gods.
Lotta is training to be a Valkyrie (a group of maidens who served the god Odin and are sent by him to the battlefields to choose which of the dead are worthy of a place in Valhalla) but the truth is she’s the worst-ever trainee.
And when Lotta mistakes an unconscious, no-good Viking thief, Whetstone, for a fallen hero and takes him triumphantly to Valhalla, things are definitely not turning out to be epic or glorious.
Having lost a precious talking cup, Whetstone is also desperate to cover up his mistake and the two embark on a quarrelsome journey to find it and regain their heroic status.
But Loki the trickster God is desperate to get his hands on the cup with a plan to unleash chaos across the nine worlds. Can Whetstone prove himself a hero after all when it matters most?
Reluctant readers, slapstick comedy fans, and young adventurers are going to be in heavenly Valhalla as they share adventures with lovable Lotta and discover not just what it means to be a hero but also how weird and wonderful the Norse Gods really are!
(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)
Age 8 plus:
The Perfect Parent Project
Give a boy a big, warm hug!
That’s what you’ll want to do when you read this moving, sad and yet ultimately uplifting story from Stewart Foster, an award-winning author who has the gift of seeing the world through the eyes of a child.
The star of this unforgettable story is Sam, a boy who has spent most of his life in foster care and is desperately in search of the perfect family where he can stay forever and finally put down roots.
1. A mega mansion like the ones footballers live in 2. A garage wall with a basketball hoop 3. No gerbils 4. Holidays to Disneyland
All Sam wants is a family of his own, a home instead of a ‘house’ and parents he knows will still be there when he wakes up. Because Sam has been in and out of foster care his whole life and he can’t imagine ever feeling like he truly belongs.
Then his best friend Leah suggests that rather than wait for a family to come to him, he should go out and find one. So begins The Perfect Parent Project… but Sam may just discover that family has a funny way of finding you.
Prepare to laugh, cry and have your heartstrings well and truly plucked as the adorable Sam – whose troubled life so far has seemed to be constant change and rejection – finally finds the new home he longs for, and learns the important lesson of how to trust people again.
Authentic, richly perceptive, and packed with Foster’s trademark emotional intensity, The Perfect Parent Project is a funny, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful journey that readers young (and adult!) won’t want to miss.
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)
Age 5 plus:
Elliot and the Perfect Wave
Anthinula Tori and Jean Tori
Feast your eyes and feed young imaginations with a fabulous picture book positively overflowing with colour, beauty, magic… and important messages about our endangered planet.
Elliot and the Perfect Wave is an inspirational story about a grumpy, beach-cleaning pig with ambitions to surf the ocean and comes from a collaboration between Jean Tori, a British-born artist who has been painting professionally since 1965 and lives in Italy, and her daughter Anthinula, a writer and designer.
The mother-daughter partnership creates high quality, beautiful, collectable books, produced by Jean Tori Design Ltd and featuring Jean Tori’s stunning artwork, which is rich in both texture and meaning, combined with imaginative stories starring characters with strong voices.
Themes of exploration, friendship, imagination and co-operation are featured in colour-filled, fascinating worlds while the breathtaking artwork creates a sense of wonder and endless possibilities.
In Elliot and the Perfect Wave, we follow Elliot the Pig who is happy in his job as a beach cleaner but harbours a seemingly impossible dream… he wants to surf the perfect wave. The problem is that he doesn’t even know how to surf.
With a lot of help from his friends, Elliot sets off on an adventure and learns how to surf and on his return, he invents a unique solution for all the plastic washed up on his beloved beaches. Oh, and he also learns that every wave is perfect in its own special way!
Young readers will love following Elliot on his quest in this wonderfully colourful and humorous story which speaks loudly about helping the environment and helping each other.
Jean Tori’s stunningly multi-coloured, graphic and richly detailed artwork fills every page of this exquisite book and the all-action, magical story showcases a wide variety of creatures, locations and themes.
Elliot and the Perfect Wave is guaranteed to enchant, inform and inspire youngsters to play their own small part in helping to save the Earth.
(Jean Tori Books, hardback, £12.99)
Age 2 plus:
Dinosaurs in Love
Fenn Rosenthal and Hannah Jacobs
Fall in love all over again with singer-songwriter Tom Rosenthal’s viral, heart-melting song Dinosaurs in Love!
When Rosenthal and his then three-year-old daughter Fenn Rosenthal posted their song at the beginning of 2020, it became an instant classic. Just as Fenn’s dinosaurs fell in love, so did the world and the two of them became an internet sensation overnight.
The sweet and deceptively simple story about love, longing, and loss was written by Fenn and now readers, young and old, can enjoy her heartfelt, poignant lyrics again in this irresistible, sing-aloud picture book featuring bright, retro style illustrations from Hannah Jacobs.
At its core, this is a story about love and yearning, and grown-ups will enjoy the darkly humorous twist at the end while the charming illustrations and easy-to-follow story will capture the hearts of all little dinosaur fans.
A perfect gift for Valentine’s Day… and for any budding palaeontologists!
(Orchard Books, paperback, £6.99)