Book review: Get ready for autumn with Macmillan Children’s Books

With autumn term on the horizon, publishers Macmillan have their sights set on a ‘cool’ new collection of children’s books.

Monday, 1st September 2014, 10:00 am
The Rain by Virginia Bergin
The Rain by Virginia Bergin

From terrifying killer rain in a dystopian Britain and a teenage boy heading to World War One Gallipoli to an eccentric cake competition and a brilliant search-and-find book for a new generation, there is book to suit all ages and all tastes.


The Rain by Virginia Bergin

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Survival thrillers don’t have to star Amazonian young ladies with death-defying skills and a brain the size of a globe…

Meet Ruby Morris, she’s just an ordinary 16-year-old. She hates her boring stepdad Simon, she likes breaking the rules and she’s in love with a dishy boy called Caspar McCloud.

There’s been a lot of talk on the internet about an asteroid that has been blown to smithereens causing some kind of epidemic in Africa, South America and now Russia but it’s far too boring for Ruby to take an interest in it.

So one minute she’s at a friend’s summer evening party enjoying her first proper kiss with Caspar in a hot tub and the next she’s being bundled inside the house, dripping wet, cold and in her underwear. Not what she had planned.

‘It’s in the rain,’ says an emergency public service broadcast that has just interrupted a programme on her mate Barnaby’s mobile phone.

As she and Caspar shiver in the kitchen, it starts to rain and that’s when the big panic starts. The whole internet has crashed, everyone must stay indoors and it all feels likes some ‘freaky horribleness.’ But Caspar left his precious MP3 player out on the grass and he’s determined to sneak out and retrieve it.

That was two weeks ago, and now Ruby is totally alone. People weren’t prepared for the rain, they got caught out in it and didn’t realise that you couldn’t drink water from the taps either. Even a single drop of rain infects your blood and eats you from the inside out.

Ruby knows she has to get to London to find her real dad, but she just doesn’t know where to start. After rescuing all the neighbourhood dogs, Ruby sets off on a journey that will take her the length of the country, getting by in the only way she knows how.

She must do whatever it takes to stay alive and to survive the inevitable heartbreak along the way…

The first book in Virginia Bergin’s original and fast-paced dystopian thriller series stars the kind of girl we all recognise… moody, difficult, over-confident but charmingly down-to-earth and darkly humorous.

Thrown into a nightmare landscape, Ruby, the unlikeliest of heroines, must either sink or swim as she negotiates a nightmare world in which only the strongest will survive.

Bergin does a brilliant job of ratcheting up the tension whilst beguiling us with a narrative that veers from fear to farce at the turn of a page.

A heady mix of danger, desire and death…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

What’s Up With Jody Barton? by Hayley Long

There’s nothing like a mind-blowing twist to make a story unforgettable… and they don’t come better than the cracker served up in Hayley Long’s teen teaser.

Long, whose wonderfully funny young adult books have become something of a sensation, doesn’t put a foot wrong in this 2012 Costa Award-shortlisted title which has been republished with a brand-new look.

Jody and Jolene Barton reckon it’s hard enough being one half of the world’s least identical twins without both of you falling for the same guy. Jolene has turned flirting into a fine art but twin Jody is struggling to keep up with her sister.

And as if a ‘twinny’ love triangle wasn’t messy enough, there’s something nobody knows about Jody Barton, something that is very, very big…

Told with the trademark laugh-out-loud humour and heart-warming honesty of the author of the much-loved Lottie Biggs books, this is a brilliant and original story that that will make you think and amaze you with its gobsmacking final surprise.

Not to be missed…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad by Hayley Long

And comeback kid Lottie Biggs is also making a welcome return with the new-look books featuring one of fiction’s most hilarious teens.

Long is a true pioneer of her genre and the Lottie Biggs books serve up warm and funny stories that reveal everything you need to know about the life of a teenage girl and, in Lottie’s case, so much more.

Narrated in Lottie’s achingly honest and authentic teenage voice and her random but expressive jottings, these stories have their finger firmly on the pulse of girls growing up with what Lottie dispassionately calls ‘a mental disturbance.’

Her name is Lottie Biggs and in three weeks’ time, she will be fifteen years old. At school, most people call her Lottie Not-Very-Biggs and she has never found this particularly funny. Her current hair colour is Melody Deep Plum which is not as nice as Melody Forest Flame but definitely better than the dodgy custard colour she tried last week.

And this is her book – it’s about important things like boys and shoes and polo-neck knickers and rescuing giraffes and certainly not fancying Gareth Stingecombe (even though he has manly thighs) and hanging-out with your best friend having a blatantly funny time.

And it is definitely not about sitting in wardrobes or having a mental disturbance of any kind…

Long deals with mental health issues like anxiety and mood swings with sensitivity, subtle depth and a dark humour that will speak loudly to many youngsters.

Entertainment and education in a clever, compelling package…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

In the Age of Love and Chocolate by Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin’s thrilling dystopian Birthright trilogy about a reluctant mafia princess reaches the end of the road with a spectacular denouement that will blow away her army of fans.

As ever, heart-stopping romance takes centre stage as we follow the final chapter in the gruelling struggles of timeless heroine Anya Balanchine, a plucky teenager who has been forced to deal with the problems and responsibilities of a grown woman.

In the follow-up to All These Things I’ve Done and Because It Is My Blood, we meet again up with Anya who is now eighteen years old and hoping that the past is firmly behind her.

Losing her mafia boss father, her mother and then her grandmother, and being responsible for her sister and brother – not to mention a prison stay for a crime she didn’t commit – have taught Anya a lot about life.

Against all odds, the nightclub Anya opened with her old nemesis Charles Delacroix is a huge success and she is on her way to shedding the constraints of her family’s criminal past and finding a way to legalise the supplying of chocolate.

But Anya has lost Win, the love of her life, as a result of her partnership with his father Charles. In typical fashion, Anya puts the setback on the back burner, focusing instead on expanding her business. But soon a terrible misjudgement leaves her fighting for her life and for the first time Anya is forced to let people help her.

In the Age of Love and Chocolate, a memorable coming-of-age story, showcases the best of Zevin’s brutally realistic writing style. Anya is a girl for all seasons, a gutsy heroine who has developed over the series from gauche girl to determined woman.

(Macmillan, paperback, £7.99)

Age 11 plus:

The Danger Game: Travis Delaney Investigates by Kevin Brooks

Kevin Brooks has become a master of suspense and his second exciting Travis Delaney mystery ratchets up the tension to breaking point.

Fourteen-year-old Travis Delaney is trying to get his life back on track following the crash that killed his parents last summer. The police called it an accident but Travis knows better. His parents were on to something and whatever they were investigating ended with their murder.

Since Travis’ grandad took over Delaney and Co, things have finally started to look up. But when his private investigation partner Courtney is attacked following a routine inquiry into a local business, Travis can’t help but get involve, even though he’s supposed to be focusing on his own investigation into thefts at school.

What he discovers draws him into more danger than he ever could have imagined. Tangled up in a web of gang warfare, dirty police and secret organisations, Travis needs to find a way out but at the heart of it all is a traitor. And the traitor is someone close to Travis, someone he’s supposed to trust. But, as he’s learning fast, trust is a dangerous thing…

Brilliant storytelling and realism are the keys to the success of Brooks’ teen adventure books. His intriguing mysteries teem with plausible characters and red-hot action, all guaranteed to keep young readers on the edge of their seats.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Turning to Jelly by Candy Guard

Moving from primary to ‘big’ school isn’t always a comic experience… unless your name is Jelly Rowntree.

Jelly (who is wobbly only when she runs and when Roger Lovely is in the vicinity) is the delicious star of a new comic book style illustrated series from Candy Guard which explores the trials and tribulations of growing up and the worries, hopes and mixed emotions of nervous pre-teens.

Jelly’s experiences are typical of any youngster taking the big step into high school and offer wisdom and reassurance through a funny, quirky and warm-hearted story which is written in diary form and packed with amusing doodles and illustrations.

Twelve-year-old Jelly and her dorky best friends Ruby and Myf are going to secondary school. They know it’s time to be cool and stop playing with dolls in their secret Faithful Club but the trouble is, none of them are really cool at all.

In fact, Jelly’s mum and stepdad are like chalk (a bit screechy) and cheese (a bit smelly) and her brother Jay, who tells her that as a new girl she might get her head flushed down the toilet, accuses her of showing off even when she’s not doing anything at all.

Nothing seems to be going right for Jelly until her mum suggests a birthday party…

Madcap Jelly’s adventures come in an easy-to-read formula with appealing, expressive illustrations which will strike a chord with children preparing to leave the intimacy of primary school and head for the gates of ‘big school.’

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Captain by Sam Angus

This year’s centenary of the start of the First World War has spawned a raft of books for both children and adults and few are more moving than this tale of a boy and his faithful donkey fighting to stay alive in the battlefields of Gallipoli.

It’s 1915 and British troops are about to sail to Gallipoli. Billy is the youngest soldier in his platoon and is teased for not being old enough to drink or shave. The truth is that at 15 he’s not old enough to be a soldier. He knows that to defend his country should make him feel grown up and ‘manly’ but he’s never felt so young and so alone. He can’t relate to his fellow soldiers and he’s terrified of the war he is about to fight.

Then he meets Captain, a refugee boy, and his donkey Hey-ho. Together they teach Billy what it means to be brave, loyal and fearless, and above all what it means to be a friend. Wherever they go, they will go together.

Through the inexperienced and innocent eyes of a boy, Angus brings us the story of a cruel war from a lesser-known and compelling perspective.

Using years of research, she captures the reality of the Gallipoli campaign and reveals to a new generation the horrors of the disastrous Eastern Front with a subtle, human and gentle touch.

A must-read in this year of commemoration…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Great Kitten Cake Off by Anna Wilson

No-one does animal magic better than Anna Wilson, author of a what seems like a library of children’s books featuring a whole host of four-legged friends.

From the Puppy Love and Kitten Kaboodle books to the ever-popular Pooch Parlour series, Wilson seems to have a gift for words and a wonderful way with animals.

Here she sets her sights on kittens, cakes and calamities in a heart-warming story about a marvellously madcap family and a cuter than cute cat.

Ellie Haines despairs of her family. Her younger brother Charlie is irritating beyond belief and so desperate to be on TV that he has tried everything from sending films of his hamster to Springwatch Live to auditioning mum for How to Look Good Naked (urgh!).

Meanwhile, mum appears to be going through some kind of midlife crisis and dad’s bad ‘yolks’ have reached alarming new ‘egg-stremes.’ The only bright spots in Ellie’s life are her naughty kitten Kitkat and her best friend Mads.

But when Mads and Ellie apply for the Junior Cake Off, their friendship soon starts to crumble. It doesn’t help that the gorgeous Ted Watson has caught Mads’ eye too… can Ellie win back her best mate, or will their friendship go up in smoke?

Andy Rowland’s lively illustrations are the cream on the top of a purrfectly delicious creation!

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Digby Dog Delivers by Tor Freeman

Illustrator and author Tor Freeman has hit on the perfect search-and-find formula in this brilliant book for early years children.

Digby Dog is the best delivery dog in town but he needs his reader friends to track down missing items for his customers… and only those with the sharpest eyes can help.

From a missing T.Rex bone for the Dinosaur Museum to a replacement bow for the violinist in the orchestra, Digby’s parcels must reach the right place at the right time. Whether he’s looking for Fred Fox at the busy nursery to deliver a bucket of flies, dropping off a giant tin of beans for Ginger Guinea Pig at the Food Market or a missing dinosaur bone to Annie Ape at the museum, Digby has his work cut out.

There are hours of fun and fascination on offer as little ones use the ‘Can You Find’ activities to search out each character and spot the additional items hidden in each busy scene.

A story and activity rolled into one, this unique book is packed with lively illustrations, quirky details and a degree of difficulty pitched perfectly for younger children. Digby Dog is an ideal introduction to the fun of search-and-find books and proof that it’s never too early for a bit of ‘brain training’!

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

The Something by Rebecca Cobb

There’s a ‘hole’ lot of mystery in author and illustrator Rebecca Cobb’s enchanting new picture book.

Cobb, the award-winning creator of Aunt Amelia and Lunchtime, and illustrator of The Paper Dolls written by Julia Donaldson, has a wonderful way of capturing the innocence of childhood in her appealing stories.

When a little boy loses his bouncy ball down a mysterious hole underneath the cherry tree in his garden, he can’t stop thinking about what could be down there.

His mum reckons it’s a little mouse’s house, dad thinks it’s a hole for frogs (and he hates frogs). His sister says it’s the lair of a scary, hungry troll that might come and eat him if he’s naughty, or it might even be a dragon’s den.

The little boy doesn’t really mind what’s down there, he’s just glad that something has chosen to live in his garden… and he’s not afraid to find out what it is.

Bold, inventive and witty illustrations capture the wonder of discovery and the joy of an inquisitive mind in a story guaranteed to capture young hearts and minds.

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)