Young sleuths, crazy capers and animal magic by various authors - book reviews -

Peril en Pointe
Peril en Pointe

Enjoy adventures at a ballet school for spies, join a young magician on a dangerous mission, and share the madcap schemes of a deliciously revolting schoolboy in a super summertime selection of children's books.

Enjoy adventures at a ballet school for spies, join a young magician on a dangerous mission, and share the madcap schemes of a deliciously revolting schoolboy in a super summertime selection of children's books.

Age 9 plus:

Peril en Pointe

Helen Lipscombe

Budding ballerinas will be pirouetting with joy when they get their hands on Peril en Pointe, a thrilling middle-grade debut novel which blends dancing and detective work into one big, bold story.

Billed as Murder Most Unladylike meets Ballet Shoes, this opener to the Swan House Mystery series comes from Welsh-born Helen Lipscombe who admits that her own ballet career went down a plug-hole when she was only six.

But fortunately for young readers, she wasn’t prepared to linger forlornly in the wings and is happy to be taking a grand jeté into the world of children’s fiction with a mystery adventure series that promises to be a big hit with budding sleuths, and perfectly in step with all would-be ballerinas.

Milly Kydd yearns to dance like her famous ballerina mum but during the biggest performance of her life when she competes for the Scarlet Slipper Ballet Prize, she messes up and her mum – who was in the audience – disappears.

Eight months later, Milly, who is being looked after by her eccentric Russian grandmother Bab, receives an unexpected invitation to join the Swan House School of Ballet. Thrilled, Milly accepts, only to find that Swan House is no ordinary ballet school… it’s a ballet school for spies.

And when Milly learns that she and her mother are in terrible danger, can her new skills help her discover the truth about mum’s vanishing act, and rescue them both?

Fresh, funny, and full of exciting twists and turns, Peril en Pointe introduces us to the intriguing Swan House, a place where students learn the disciplined art of ballet alongside the stealth skills of a spy.

And taking centre stage is the resourceful Milly who must learn ballet’s secret language of moves and signals whilst making new friends, learning who she can trust… and discovering just who is the enemy.

Classy, clever and full of sautés and skulduggery, this is a brilliant first act to an enthralling new series…

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Bad Luck Lighthouse

Nicki Thornton

A year ago, former independent bookseller and winner of the 2016 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition, Nicki Thornton, won hearts and plaudits with her fresh and inventive debut novel, The Last Chance Hotel.

Blending the detective acumen of Agatha Christie, the dynamics of a fairy tale, and a big helping of Harry Potter-style of magic, Thornton’s atmospheric and intriguing murder mystery introduced us to the irresistible young magician-in-the-making Seth Seppi.

And now Seth is back to cast his spell over young readers again as he heads off with his trusty black cat companion, Nightshade, for a thrilling new adventure at a deserted lighthouse where death and danger are only ever a heartbeat away.

In solving the mystery of the Last Chance Hotel where he worked as downtrodden kitchen boy to the spiteful Bunn family, Seth Seppi has discovered a bewildering new world of magic. But the truth about his mother’s fate and other secrets remain, stolen away with the firefly cage by his nemesis, the Bunns’ wicked daughter Tiffany.

Determined to chase her down, and prove himself as a magician, Seth is soon swept up in the new MagiCon case investigating ghostly goings-on at the deserted Snakesmouth Lighthouse. But when eccentric owner Mina Mintencress is murdered, Seth realises danger lurks around every corner. With the help of his cat, Nightshade, Seth must put his new-found magic to the test. Can they unlock the key to the hauntings and unmask a sinister sorcerer… before it’s too late?

Thornton has lost none of her powers to conjure up some thrilling black magic as we follow Seth and Nightshade on a rollercoaster magical mystery tour to the creepy Snakesmouth Lighthouse and share an adventure full of secrets, sorcerers and the strangest characters you could ever hope to meet.

With its timeless charm, super sleuthing and spine-tingling atmospherics, The Bad Luck Lighthouse is a brilliant sequel, and brings together all those much-loved hallmarks of a classic in the making. Not to be missed!

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Dirty Bertie: Slime and Grime

Alan MacDonald and David Roberts

And now for something truly hair-raising, foul-smelling and revoltingly wonderful… a super-amazing nine-stories-in-one-book collection featuring the muck-propelled adventures of the one and only Dirty Bertie!

Dirty Bertie, the cringe-making creation of writer Alan MacDonald and illustrator David Roberts, is the boy with nose-pickingly disgusting habits who just can’t help getting involved in comic chaos, and has proved to be one of the most enduringly popular and entertaining story book anti-heroes for younger readers.

An expert in all things yukky, there’s nothing Bertie likes more than to be surrounded by worms, fleas, bogeys, burps and suspicious smells... and with ever-increasing madcap schemes and crazy capers, Bertie is a disgusting delight for his legion of fans who revel in his revolting ways.

There are nine fully illustrated and hilariously revolting stories in this bumper book, so join bad, bold Bertie as he tackles everything from aliens and outlaws to ghostly blobs and birdwatching disasters!

With each action-packed, fun-filled story approximately 30 pages long, and split into chapters with wickedly funny illustrations on almost every spread, Dirty Bertie is ideal for reluctant readers in need of some laugh-out-loud, comedy bait, confident young readers to enjoy by themselves, or simply to share with (secretly amused!) mums and dads.

Bertie, a boy with big ideas but a poor record for carrying them out, is the perfect anti-hero for any youngster who attracts trouble like a magnet, and isn’t afraid to make the most of it!

Naughty… but very, very funny!

(Stripes, paperback, £8.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Loneliest Kitten

Holly Webb and Sophy Williams

Holly Webb is back to enchant her young readers with the amazing 43rd story adventure in her adorable and hugely popular Animal Stories series which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since the first story hit the shelves in 2006.

Webb, who has a magic touch when it comes to writing for children, is one of the UK’s best-loved authors and has written over 100 books for youngsters, including the Animal Stories, My Naughty Little Puppy, and a sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic 1911 book, The Secret Garden.

In this enchanting new adventure, we meet Darcy who is delighted that her lively new tabby kitten, Charlie, is settling in so well… if only he would just wear a collar! Then Darcy is picked to join her school football team and suddenly she hardly has any time for entertaining a kitten.

Charlie is bored now Darcy has no time to play with him, so he ventures over the back wall to explore. There he meets a new friend, a cat-loving lady who makes lots of fuss over him. But Darcy soon starts to notice that Charlie keeps disappearing and one night he doesn’t come back at all. What if he doesn’t want to be her kitten any more?

Sophy Williams provides the gorgeous black and white illustrations for this beautifully created and gentle series which has captured the hearts of every animal-loving child. And don’t forget to look out for the free app on App Store and Google Play. It’s jam-packed with exciting activities from fantastic games and puzzles to creative colouring and sticker fun.

Perfect for children just starting to read alone, youngsters who love to share a book with mum or dad, and any child who can’t resist the irresistible allure of animals.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Rabbit Listened

Cori Doerrfeld

When troubles come, sometimes a listening ear is all we need…

US author and illustrator Cori Doerrfeld pulls at heartstrings, and brings us a moving and compelling exploration of loss, grief and depression, in her picture- and word-perfect new book.

The Rabbit Listened, which speaks loudly to little ones struggling cope with, and understand, their emotions, comes from London-based Scallywag Press, a new children’s book company which aims to publish work by talented newcomers as well as classic titles and the work of favourite authors and illustrators with established reputations.

When his tower of building blocks collapses, Taylor is heartbroken and doesn’t know where to turn. All the animals are sure they have the answer. The chicken wants to talk about it, but Taylor doesn't feel like chatting. The bear thinks Taylor should get angry, but that doesn’t seem right either. One by one, the animals try to tell Taylor how to get through his disappointment and loss, and one by one they fail. But then the rabbit arrives and all the rabbit does is listen which, it turns out, is just what Taylor needs.

With its spare but resonant words, and irresistibly enchanting illustrations, The Rabbit Listened is the perfect go-to book for parents, teachers or carers trying to explain in the simplest and most accessible way possible, the power of warmth, sharing and empathy to soothe heartbreaks and setbacks.

No home, school or nursery should be without this beautiful book…

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age from birth:

Economics for Babies and Engineering for Babies

Jonathan Litton and Thomas Elliott

It’s never too early to score top marks in economics and engineering!

Baby 101, a fun and playful board book series from the inventive Little Tiger group, introduces a wide array of educational, non-fiction subjects to babies and toddlers to give them an exciting first experience of learning.

In Economics for Babies, little ones will love discovering just how simple economics can be – whether that’s money matters, stocks and shares, or supply and demand – through an array of eye-catching illustrations and simple, bite-sized facts.

These wise and whimsical books are creatively written by Jonathan Litton, who has a background in science but can pen information and stories about everything from saving the planet to pirates and princesses, and feature the bright and bold illustrations of Thomas Elliott.

The talented duo also work their magic on Engineering for Babies which introduces tiny tots to the different types of engineers and their problem-solving skills. Learn the simple facts on engines, bridges and tunnels, discover how they are made, and get the basics on aerospace and mechanical, electrical and molecular fields.

And to make learning even more fun, there is a brilliant lift-the-flap surprise at the end of each book!

So whether it’s getting the lowdown on money, people and jobs, or building the future with ideas and skills, these appealing and light-hearted books are the perfect way to present big topics to the tiniest tots!

(Caterpillar Books, board book, £5.99 each)