Pixie problems, a daring bear and life on Mars by various authors - book reviews -

The Truth Pixie
The Truth Pixie

Meet a mixed-up schoolgirl with a trusty pixie pal, head off on an action-packed train journey to the big city, have fun with a naughty but colourful monster, and learn some strange truths about dinosaurs in a super, holiday time collection of children’s books.

Meet a mixed-up schoolgirl with a trusty pixie pal, head off on an action-packed train journey to the big city, have fun with a naughty but colourful monster, and learn some strange truths about dinosaurs in a super, holiday time collection of children’s books.

Age 5 plus:

The Truth Pixie Goes to School

Matt Haig and Chris Mould

Perhaps one of the most talented children’s authors writing today, Matt Haig seems to hit the spot perfectly every time he puts pen to paper.

Creator of the runaway successful book, A Boy Called Christmas, which is being made into a film by Studio Canal, and nominated for the Carnegie Medal three times, Haig won the hearts of both children and parents last year with The Truth Pixie, an uplifting, rhyming story about a girl with a pixie friend who can’t tell lies.

Both funny and utterly beguiling, the story – illustrated throughout by the ‘inky genius’ Chris Mould – gave heart and hope to children struggling to cope with mood swings and depression, and encouraged them to learn to love themselves

And now our mixed-up little heroine, Aada, is back and facing the fears and uncertainties of a new school and new friends, but with the same old truthful pixie friend to help her get the better of bullies and learn the importance of being yourself.

‘Don't try to be something

You really are not.

Your one true self

Is the best thing you’ve got.’

It’s been a bad year for Aada… she’s had to move town, start a new school and wear a new frown. Even worse, her gran has died and her dad lost his job. But it’s not all sad because Aada still has her best friend, the Truth Pixie, who lives in Aada’s house and sleeps under her bed. She trusts the pixie implicitly because she can only say things that are true and tells her it’s okay to feel what she feels. But their friendship is tested to the limit when Aada comes under pressure to ditch the Truth Pixie in order to find some human friends. Can they survive without each other?

Haig is guaranteed to make readers – both young and old – laugh, cry and sigh with this beautiful, empowering and emotional story which delivers wit, warmth and wisdom with the intuitive intelligence and acute observation that we have come to expect for this humane and very human writer.

Aada’s experiences and struggles piece together fragments from every modern child’s world, a place where bullying is all too prevalent, friendship problems underlie everyday life, and self-confidence is often hard to maintain.

This is self-help reading with an impish flavour, adventure with timely, contemporary messages… and no home, school or troubled child should be without it!

(Canongate, hardback, £9.99)

Age 8 plus:

First Names: Malala (Yousafzai)

Lisa Williamson and Mike Smith

The world is – and has been – home to some amazing people… so what fun it would be to get up close and personal with them!

This exhilarating and quirky non-fiction series from David Fickling Books invites young readers to get on first name terms with some of our planet’s cleverest and most inspirational personalities through the lens of fun, lively and highly illustrated biographies.

The spotlight in First Names focuses on famous people from history like Emmeline Pankhurst, Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Houdini as well as more modern names like Elon Musk, the billionaire, mega-brain entrepreneur, that some readers may not know.

The aim is to let children discover who, for example, Albert Einstein really was and not just what he achieved, and to see these famous names as ordinary people who grew up to do extraordinary things.

In the latest book in the series, written by Lisa Williamson and illustrated by Mike Smith, we meet the inspirational, brave and brilliant activist Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize who survived being shot in the head at the age of 15 to keep fighting for all girls to receive an education.

Discover how Malala, the ordinary girl who has inspired everyone from Barack Obama to Reese Witherspoon, came to win the prize, how an earthquake literally rocked her world, and learn why everyone forgot her twelfth birthday.

All the titles in this brilliant series aim to be entertaining and factually accurate, and are designed to educate and inspire. Lively black and white illustrations, provided by a range of excellent comic artists throughout each book, help to tell the story, with each personality featured chipping in to add their own comments.

So forget all those stuffy, dull history books and get up close with the people who made (and, in some cases, are still making) things happen. High energy, informative and entertaining, these books make learning fun and are the perfect addition to every inquisitive child’s shelf.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Hamish Takes the Train

Daisy Hirst

East or West, home is best…

Creative author and illustrator Daisy Hirst takes youngsters on an action-packed adventure from cosy countryside to busy city in an enchanting and heartwarming new story.

Friendship and the reassuring familiarity of home take star roles alongside a daring bear and contented goose in this quirky, funny and gentle story from rising star Hirst who has been shortlisted for an AOI World Illustration Award and whose first picture book, The Girl With a Parrot on Her Head, was an Honor Book in the prestigious Ezra Jack Keats Awards.

Hamish the bear and Noreen the goose lead a very happy life in the country. They love to spend long days together, watching the trains whoosh past, but Hamish has always wondered what lies at the other end of the train tracks.

And so begins Hamish’s adventure as he journeys to the city to explore new places, makes new friends and even gets himself a job on a building site where he learns to drive a crane. But however brilliant the city is, Hamish realises how much he misses his home and his good friend, Noreen. And there’s always the destination at the other end of the tracks to explore!

Combining both the spirit and fun of adventure, and the rewards of kindness, Hirst’s gloriously offbeat and richly layered story, filled with her distinctively textured illustrations, is narratively and visually appealing, and ideal for new readers and as an enchanting bedtime story.

Heart and humour in perfect harmony…

(Two Hoots, hardback, £11.99)

Age 4 plus:

Life on Mars

Jon Agee

Is there life on Mars?

There certainly is in this playful, laughs-on-every-page picture book from American Jon Agee, a master of visual storytelling and deadpan humour whose books have won starred reviews and medals galore in his native country.

With wry wit, sardonic silliness and pictorial perfection, Agee’s story, featuring a daring and optimistic young astronaut who arrives on Mars with the certainty that he will be the first person to discover life there, simply brims with its creator’s irresistibly quirky charm.

Our intrepid young astronaut is absolutely sure there is life on Mars and sets off on a lone mission, determined to prove the naysayers wrong. But when he arrives, equipped with a packet of cupcakes as a gift, he sees nothing but a barren planet. Just as he starts to lose hope, he spies a single flower and packs it away to take back to Earth as proof that there is indeed life on Mars. But as he settles in for the journey home, he cracks open his cupcakes and discovers that someone has mysteriously eaten them all!

Young readers will love getting in on the joke that unknown to the tunnel-vision space explorer, there’s a giant-sized Martian wending his way through the illustrations and enjoying a delicious snack of cupcakes along the way.

Classic slapstick storytelling combines with minimalist master Agee’s stylish, uncluttered illustrations in a story rich in humour, fun, subtle simplicity and visual virtuosity. Out of this world!

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 4 plus:

The Truth About Dinosaurs

Guido van Genechten

Do chickens and dinosaurs have anything in common? Surely not…

Belgian-born author and illustrator Guido van Genechten turns the tables on traditional notions of evolution with this enchanting picture book tale of a chicken who shows how she is related to dinosaurs by sharing her family scrapbook.

Almost everyone thinks that dinosaurs are extinct, but is that really true? What if you were to find out that they are still alive, and even living among us! Meet an ordinary chicken whose family photo album reveals the long withheld truth about her daddy’s very, very, very distant ancestors in an incredible (but true!) story about dinosaurs.

Van Genechten provides plenty of giant-sized tyrannosaurus laughs as he takes us on a fascinating, illustrated tour through the world of dinosaurs as we meet members of the velociraptor, diplodocus, stegosaurus, triceratops and iguanodon families, and onwards through asteroid collisions, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Using humour, lively illustrations, a fun-filled story, and a charismatic chicken, The Truth About Dinosaurs delivers an eye-catching and entertaining potted history of evolution which is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of anyone aged between four and 250 million years old!

(Five Quills, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3:

The Colour Monster Goes to School

Anna Llenas

When the world seems a scary and confusing place, there’s one person who can teach us all a lesson… the Colour Monster!

Five years ago, Spanish-born author and illustrator Anna Llenas won hearts and minds with her beautiful picture book, The Colour Monster, which explained, in the most delightful and imaginative way, the many human emotions that we all experience.

And now the irrepressible, fun-loving Colour Monster is back with more comic capers as he rollercoasters his way through his first day at school, and discovers that learning is a big adventure.

Our madcap hero knows he has to go to school, but what exactly is it and what will he do there? Will it be a spooky castle filled with terrifying animals, a scary jungle guarded by evil plants, or a place in the sky amongst the rainbows and clouds? And will he ever escape? With his friend Nuna by his side, the Colour Monster has an unexpectedly exciting – and chaotic – first day at school!

From music lessons, to lunchtime (and eating books), to making new friends, the Colour Monster’s antics are guaranteed to win top marks from children who will love the bright illustrations, slapstick comedy and laugh-out-loud conundrums encountered by the exuberant monster.

A graphic designer, Llenas’ distinctive and visually exciting collage-effect illustrations, full of warmth, wit and vibrant colour, exquisite design and eye-catching contrasts, provide a simple but highly effective and accessible exploration of the fun and fears of that first day at school.

(Templar Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it Was None of His Business

Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch

A little mole gets down to ‘business’ in a super-funny, scatological picture book that created quite a stink when it was first created 30 years ago, and has gone on to become a multi-million selling phenomenon!

A huge success since its publication in Germany in 1989, The Story of the Little Mole, who is the victim of a rather smelly incident, has delighted adults and children alike to become an all-time comedy classic.

Despite being turned down by many publishers who thought it was too rude, the quirky detective tale now enjoys a cult following, has been published in ‘plop-up’ format, and has even been performed as musical theatre!

This hilarious children’s classic, by German author and illustrator duo Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch, has now been reissued in a special anniversary edition with a shiny, gold-foiled cover and beautiful, glossy pages.

Star of the story is a little mole who wakes up one morning only to have one of the other animals ‘do its business’ on his head. The short-sighted but determined Little Mole sets out to track down the culprit by examining their poo, and to exact his revenge in his own cunning little way.

The Story of the Little Mole was way ahead of its time 30 years ago, breaking a taboo and opening the ‘toilet door’ to a host of authors and illustrators who have since featured a natural part of human life in their children’s books.

And now a new generation of mischievous youngsters can enjoy the original and best story in this glorious new edition. A story not to be poo-pooed!

(Pavilion Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Mind Your Manners

Nicola Edwards and Feronia Parker-Thomas

‘If we want to be happy together,

We need to have all of the tools.

Good manners make life so much better.

They’re not just some silly old rules.’

It’s never too early to start teaching little ones the importance of good manners and this clever, colourful picture book provides life lessons with both love and laughter.

Young readers will get a gentle jolt of recognition when they step into a noisy, nightmare jungle full of squawking, squealing and tears! It’s full of misbehaving animals, from messy monkeys and rude tigers to grumpy grizzly bears. But with the help of some quirky, memorable rhymes from Nicola Edwards, lessons in being good team players and adorable animal illustrations from Feronia Parker-Thomas, children will enjoy learning how good manners really do make the world go round!

Through upbeat, exhilarating rhymes and a playful animal adventure, Edwards provides little readers with a fun introduction to manners and the importance of being polite. Parker-Thomas’s jungle animals are portrayed with humour and whimsy while the light-hearted tone lets little ones learn the lesson of minding your manners through visual and verbal enjoyment.

The politics of politeness perfectly portrayed…

(Caterpillar Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

As We Grow

Libby Walden and Richard Jones

‘There’s no escaping growing up, it’s something we all do.’

The theme of ‘growing up’ is now part of the school curriculum and this engaging picture book from author Libby Walden and illustrator Richard Jones is the perfect aid for teaching in schools and sharing at home.

Walden’s warm and wise words about the journey from infancy to old age includes the imaginative play of childhood, the ‘wild and restless’ teen years, the adventures of young adulthood, and the ‘inner peace’ that comes from learning the wisdom of ‘life’s lessons.’

Jones’ enchanting and atmospheric illustrations sensitively depict each stage of life and the transformations that we undergo as we grow up.

As We Grow is a gentle and sensitive introduction to discussions about the whole process of change. The story educates curious minds but works equally well as a story book with its calming palette of muted colours and a lilting and lovely rhyme structure.

With clever peep-through introduction that enhances the appeal to small children, and stunning illustrations, As We Grow is a must-have for schools, nurseries and parents.

(Caterpillar Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Happy: A Children’s Book of Mindfulness

Nicola Edwards and Katie Hickey

Amidst all the pressures of our busy, modern world, many schools are now incorporating mindfulness techniques into their daily activities in an effort to ease childhood stress and anxiety.

And Nicola Edwards and Katie Hickey have created the perfect soothing read for those quiet times of thoughtful meditation. Happy: A Children’s Book of Mindfulness gently encourages young readers to take a look their emotions and the beautiful world around them, with stunning illustrations and thought-provoking rhymes on every page.

This poetic journey to a place of happiness and calm will inspire and empower youngsters to enjoy the healing practice of mindfulness.

A range of emotions and sensations, which all children have experienced, are explored through the words of Edwards’ tender poetry while Hickey’s atmospheric, evocative illustrations – set mainly in the great outdoors ­– perfectly conjure up the feelings in focus.

Each double page spread contains a positive message and a gentle prompt for practising mindfulness. ‘We breathe deep and expand like the galaxy, We breathe out many thousands of stars, And if ever we start to feel panicky, This reminds us of just who we are.’

A much-needed and empowering pause in a frantic, non-stop world…

(Caterpillar Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

We Found a Seed

Rob Ramsden

Understanding the life cycle of a plant has never been easier – or more enchanting – than in this beautiful picture book from Rob Ramsden.

Written and illustrated by Ramsden, who teaches graphic illustration and animation to both children and adults, this deceptively simple but appealing book is the second in a series of stories from Scallywag Press and aims to encourage young children to enjoy and appreciate the natural world.

We Found a Seed explains the miraculous growing cycle of plants and the concept of a plant’s ability to die and regenerate itself for another season as seen through the eyes of two youngsters who are dismayed when the plant that they have cherished withers at the onset of autumn.

A little boy and girl find a seed and decide to keep it safe. They play with it, dance for it, and sing to it but it doesn't grow. So what must they do to make it grow? They learn to plant the seed and in the early spring it starts to grow and grow until the autumn comes and it dies. Their sadness is lifted when they discover the gift that their plant has left for them… lots of new seeds to plant!

Ramsden’s thoughtful and charming story encourages an increasingly vital human empathy with the natural world and will inspire children to plant their own seeds and watch the plants grow and regenerate for another year.

Colourful, contemporary illustrations and a short, rhythmic story help to convey the magic of nature, the joys of friendship, and the fun of shared activities, making this the perfect book for home, school and nursery.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Grandad’s Island

Benji Davies

Four years ago, Benji Davies’ beautiful picture book, Grandad’s Island, won awards for its sensitive and reassuring approach to helping bewildered young children coping with bereavement.

The story of eternal togetherness won the children’s book professional category at the Association of Illustrator’s prestigious World Illustration Awards, picked up the Sainsbury’s Best Picture Book Award, and was crowned overall Sainsbury’s Children’s Book of the Year 2015.

And now the moving tale of Syd and his beloved Grandad has been published in a sturdy, board book format which is ideal for parents and families who want to discuss concepts of loss, love and grief with the very youngest children.

At the bottom of Syd’s garden, through the gate and past the tree, is Grandad’s house. Syd can let himself in any time he likes. But one day when Syd comes to call, Grandad isn’t in any of the usual places. He’s in the attic where he ushers Syd through a door, and the two of them journey to a wild, beautiful island awash in colour.

Grandad decides he will stay on the island so Syd hugs him one last time and sets sail for home. Visiting Grandad’s house at the bottom of the garden again, he finds it just the same as it’s always been… except that Grandad isn’t there any more. Syd knows he will miss him very much but is happy that Grandad is in such a wonderful place.

The message that Syd loves Grandad, Grandad loves Syd… and that will never change lies at the heart of this gently illuminating and charming story which is sure to comfort to youngsters struggling to understand loss by reminding them that our loved ones live on in our memories long after they have gone.

(Simon & Schuster, board book, £6.99)