Book review: A sparkling selection of sunshine reads from Usborne

The joys of family life, a classic tale for horse lovers, an exotic Indian adventure and the inside story of how a tree grows take star billing in a wonderful array of new books from world-class children's publisher Usborne.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 21st May 2018, 3:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd May 2018, 1:36 pm
All About Families by Felicity Brooks and Mar Ferrero
All About Families by Felicity Brooks and Mar Ferrero

Age 3 plus:

All About Families by Felicity Brooks and Mar Ferrero

All families are different… and here’s a beautiful book to celebrate the rich diversity of family life in the modern world.

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All About Families is a new title in Usborne’s popular My First Book series and lets little children explore questions such as what is a family, what are the different sorts of families, and how do families change and grow.

Written by Felicity Brooks in the simplest and yet most comprehensive manner, and packed with the enchanting illustrations of Mar Ferrero, this is a book that both teaches and entertains.

Families, we discover, come in all shapes and sizes and from all sorts of backgrounds. They speak various languages, eat different sorts of food, live in different kinds of homes and celebrate special occasions in a wide variety of ways.

Children are encouraged to draw their own families and name the people who are part of the family. They learn about children who live with foster carers, children with step parents, children with two mums or dads, and children whose parents are divorced.

Family dynamics are also discussed so that we how learn how families change and evolve, how some children have half-sisters and half-brothers, and how some groups are the creation of what we now call blended or patchwork families.

Little ones will enjoy discovering how families look after and help each other, congratulate their loved ones, and cheer each other up if they are feeling tired or sad.

With a list of helpful ‘family’ words in the back of the book and an explanation of mood changes – like being upset, worried, angry, excited, grumpy or embarrassed – that can affect other family members, this is a brilliantly effective and joyous celebration of family diversity and the differences that make family life so rewarding.

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

Looking After Your Mental Health by Alice James and Louie Stowell

Illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff and Freya Harrison

We all know about taking care of our physical health… but mental health is just as important.

Not many of us knew about mental health when we were only ten years old but the world is changing fast and it is now acknowledged that children need to be equipped to look after their mental health so that they can deal with the pressures of society and grow into healthy and confident adults.

With reports of mental health difficulties in young people rising, this is the perfect time to give them the tools to fight back against mental illness… and leading children’s publisher Usborne is here to help.

This safe and accessible guide – packed with expert advice from consultants from the Royal College of Psychiatrists – is treading new ground by raising children’s awareness of mental health.

It offers a funny and gentle introduction to topics like the science of anger, handling toxic friendships, sex and relationships, and how to manage social media whilst staying mentally healthy.

Self-esteem, peer pressure, depression, anxiety, body image and healthy eating, gender identity, relationship break-ups, drink and drugs, coping with pressure, the good, the bad and the ugly of using the internet, and channelling your anger are just some of the many topics which come under the microscope.

This timely and wise book is full of good advice without preaching or making judgments and offers a warm and sensible helping hand to youngsters who want a reliable guide to navigate them through the challenges that could affect their mental health.

The experts encourage children to talk more about how they are feeling, what they are thinking and worrying about, and provides explanations about why we have emotions, and what can influence them, from friendships and social media to bullying, divorce and bereavements.

With lots of practical advice, a glossary at the back to explain some of the words and terms used in the book, and ‘quick links’ to discover lots more useful resources online, this lively guide is an essential book for all growing youngsters.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Girls for the Vote by Linda Newbery

In the centenary year of women winning the right to vote, discover the exciting and inspiring story of a schoolgirl who becomes determined to join the suffragette movement.

Girls for the Vote – first published as Historical House: Polly’s March in 2004 as part of Usborne’s much-loved 6 Chelsea Walk series – is a gripping story of courage, friendship and speaking up during a time of change from Carnegie-shortlisted author Linda Newbery.

This much-loved series brought young readers the extraordinary lives of the groundbreaking girls who have lived throughout history at 6 Chelsea Walk. The series was a unique collaboration between three award-winning authors Adèle Geras, Linda Newbery and Ann Turnbull, all writing about one very special house and the extraordinary girls and women who have lived there throughout history.

Here we meet Polly Stubbs who longs to become an explorer but in 1914, women’s rights and choices are limited, something that 12-year-old Polly learns when she befriends the new neighbours who have moved into the empty flat at 6 Chelsea Walk.

Edwina Rutherford and Violet Cross are two suffragettes, fighting for women’s rights to vote, and Polly soon finds herself questioning the views of those around her. Polly’s conventional parents are appalled, but Polly is intrigued.

The Votes for Women campaign has struck a chord with her and she becomes determined to join the suffragettes’ protest march. But will Polly dare to defy her parents and do what she thinks is right?

Girls for the Vote is packed with excitement, humour, drama and a cast of likeable and inspirational young women… but it is also a valuable teaching tool for a new generation of girls as they learn that women’s rights could not always be taken for granted.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Generations of children have grown up with the moving story of Black Beauty, Anna Sewell’s enchanting and compelling ‘autobiography of a horse’ which was first published in 1877 and became an immediate best-seller.

With fifty million copies sold, the children’s novel is one of the best-selling books of all time and was composed in the last years of Norfolk-born Sewell’s life, during which she remained in her house as an invalid. She died just five months after the publication of Black Beauty but lived long enough to see her only novel become a success.

As part of the Usborne Illustrated Originals series, this glossy, beautifully-produced, complete and unabridged gift version comes lavishly illustrated by Fiona Hsieh and with a ribbon bookmark.

Anna Sewell was born in Great Yarmouth. At the age of 14, she fell while walking home from school in the rain and injured both ankles. Through mistreatment of the injury, she became unable to walk or stand for any length of time for the rest of her life.

Sewell began learning about horses, spending many hours driving her father to and from the railway station from which he commuted to work. Her dependence on horse-drawn transportation fostered her respect for horses and she said that her purpose in writing the novel was ‘to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses.’

The story is narrated by Black Beauty, a sleek, well-bred horse whose life moves from carefree days with his mother on an English farm to a difficult life pulling cabs on the dark streets of Victorian London and his happy retirement back in the countryside. Along the way, he meets with many hardships and recounts many tales of cruelty and kindness.

As well as teaching the importance of animal welfare, Black Beauty also reminds us that we should treat people with kindness, sympathy and respect.

A book to treasure, and a story to inspire…

(Usborne, hardback, £14)

Age 8 plus:

The Rose Muddle Mysteries: The Secret Ruby by Imogen White

The wonderful northern Indian city of Jaipur is the inspiration for the second thrilling adventure in Imogen White’s action-packed Rose Muddle Mysteries series.

White, who lives in Hove, is inspired to write by local history and firmly believes in children’s stories that are not limited to beautiful countryside locations or secluded seaside coves.

The Amber Pendant, the first book in this enthralling debut fantasy series, drew on the mystery of a Bronze Age amber cup tucked away in White’s local museum, but here she sweeps us away to magical Jaipur – a city she recently visited and fell in love with – to explore the world of Rui Singh, one of the Rose Muddle Mysteries’ star players.

The other star is 12-year-old Rose Muddle who was plucked from the workhouse in 1907 by a mysterious woman only to find herself plunged into a perilous adventure with her new friend Rui, nephew to the Maharajah of Jaipur, and Bahula the monkey.

Rose has inherited an ancient pendant with extraordinary powers but it comes with huge responsibility and danger, for there is a second pendant held by those who wish to wreak havoc on the world and turn it into a place of shadow inhabited by fearsome enemies, including the scary Brotherhood of the Black Sun.

In this new adventure, Rose and Rui are back with Bahula the monkey in tow, and a new enthralling mystery to solve. The pair must travel to Jaipur to return Mr Gupta’s precious ruby to his family. But unknown to them, they are being followed by a sinister stranger who wants to steal the gem.

He is a member of the Brotherhood of the Black Sun, and dark secrets await Rose and Rui when they dock in India. As a dark curse falls across the land, there is a dark magic in the air and they find themselves in mortal danger.

Can they uncover the ruby’s secrets before their shadowy enemies work their deadly chaos?

This spectacular story is a superb follow-up to The Amber Pendant, serving up the same heady cocktail of intrigue, danger, suspense, fun, ancient legends and first-class entertainment as Rose and Rui become immersed in the natural (and unnatural!) wonders of the exotic city of Jaipur.

Expect the unexpected and plenty of magic and mayhem as our daring duo taking on powerful enemies in this fast-moving and exhilarating new adventure.

The next chapter in Rose and Rui’s magical journey can’t come soon enough!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Never Get Bored by James Maclaine, Sarah Hull and Lara Bryan

Illustrated by Jacob Souva, Ellie O’Shea, Kyle Reed and Briony May Smith

Every parent must sometimes ask the question… is there an antidote to boredom?

This ingenious and inventive activity book might just be the answer! Whether it’s a rainy afternoon or a long summer’s day, whether you are on your own or with friends, children have no excuse for boredom with this tedium-trouncing treasure trove of puzzles, ideas and brain-teasers.

There are over 128 pages of fun and entertainment in this sturdy book which comes with an elastic bookmark-cum-binder so you never lose your page and your book stays closed when you are on the move.

Never Get Bored is simply packed with boredom-busting activities that will keep children entertained for hours on end… whatever the weather. Stage a shadow puppet show, make musical instruments, get stuck into a few scientific experiments, learn how to read the clouds and take plant cuttings, master some amazing photo tricks, make ice cube treats or set up your own bowling alley.

And when you have finished making and playing, stimulate your brain with riddles, word games and memory puzzles. There are answer pages at the back and specially selected links to websites with even more fun things to do.

Usborne pack in hours of constructive play, brain work and discovery in this all-singing, all-dancing book which fills up the day both indoors and outdoors, and will leave youngsters with no time to say… I’m bored!

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 3 plus:

Sleeping Beauty (Pop-up Fairy Tales) by Susanna Davidson and George Ermos

Little ones will love entering an enchanting fairy tale world in a beautiful new pop-up book filled with extraordinary surprises and Jenny Hilborne’s amazing paper engineering which will leave youngsters gasping in delight.

The magical story of Sleeping Beauty comes to life in this imaginative and creative book. Little eyes will shine brightly as they listen to Susanna Davidson’s magical retelling of the classic fairy tale and enjoy the thrill of fantastic pop-ups on every page, all stunningly illustrated by George Ermos.

Watch as the secret tower unfolds, see Sleeping Beauty prick her finger on the spindle of a rotating wheel, witness everyone in the castle fall asleep, follow the fairies’ starry trail and see if magic and a dashing prince can save the day.

This spectacular retelling of a classic fairy tale is a pleasure to share with little children, and a wonderful gift at any time of the year.

(Usborne, board book, £9.99)

Age 3 plus:

Peep Inside a Tree Illustrated by Simona Dimitri, written by Anna Milbourne and designed by Nicola Butler

Spring has sprung… and now you can watch nature at work as a tiny acorn grows into a beautiful oak tree!

Long before a child learns to read between the lines, there is another way to let them make their own discoveries… peeping between the pages.

Usborne’s Peep Inside series has become a firm favourite with pre-schoolers and this exciting interactive new book offers intriguing flaps, shapes and facts on every page.

Peep under leaves and behind branches to discover hibernating squirrels and creepy crawlies in this charming introduction to trees, filled with intricately cut flaps and holes to peep through. Find out what trees need to grow, just how deep a tree’s roots can spread, what happens to a tree through the seasons, how long an oak tree can live for, and discover all kinds of creatures that live among trees.

Easy-to-understand, perfectly pitched for pre-schoolers, brimming with the kind of questions that little ones love to ask, and making learning an exciting adventure, Peep Inside a Tree will have little ones branching out to make their own woodland discoveries.

(Usborne, board book, £7.99)