Book reviews: Fighting for votes, exploring nature and cracking codes

A moving sequel to a much-loved classic tale, nature as you have never before seen it, and a warts-and-all witch are just some of the reading delights for children this autumn.

Wednesday, 18th October 2017, 10:23 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 1:23 pm
The Princess and the Suffragette by Holly Webb
The Princess and the Suffragette by Holly Webb

Age 8 plus:

The Princess and the Suffragette by Holly Webb

It’s now almost 100 years since women were finally given the right to vote and to mark the 2018 commemorations, popular children’s author Holly Webb has written a moving and enthralling sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s much-loved classic A Little Princess.

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Webb, who has written over 100 books for children, takes up the story of Sara Crewe who was left at Miss Minchin’s boarding school for girls in London by her wealthy father to prepare her for a life in high society.

This beautifully imagined new story opens in 1913, nine years after the end of A Little Princess which saw Sara Crewe escape Miss Minchin’s orphanage. Young women are ready for their lives to change and are uniting in their desire for a voice and for a vote. Meanwhile, life at Miss Minchin’s school feels as dull as ever for Lottie, the youngest girl from the original story, until she learns about the Suffragette movement from Sara, who returns to visit from time to time.

Soon after, Lottie sneaks out of the orphanage to attend a demonstration, in defiance of her cold, distant father, and becomes swept up in the women’s rights movement. And there are other important discoveries waiting for Lottie – not least digging out the truth about her missing mother.

Fans of A Little Princess will love meeting up again with familiar faces from the original book and there is plenty for readers to enjoy in this fascinating sequel written in fine classical style and which speaks loudly to a new generation about the joys of friendship, standing up for what you believe in and female empowerment.

(Scholastic, hardback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Explanatorium of Nature

Enjoy nature as you have never before seen it!

DK (Dorling Kindersley), a publisher which has become a byword in beautifully designed and illustrated children’s books, certainly know how to put the fun into facts and this amazing new ‘explanatorium’ brings us up close and personal with nature in a completely different way.

Using jaw-dropping, close-up, specially commissioned photography, this giant-sized book explores a myriad of different creatures from across the animal kingdom in stunning detail. Incredible images take centre-stage to reveal the wonders of plants, animals and the living world around us.

With cross-sections, fascinating diagrams and detailed graphics, the extraordinary Explanatorium will keep animal and nature enthusiasts of any age totally absorbed with its stunning images and explanatory artworks.

Covering all the elements of nature and illustrating the different processes of how everything in nature works in thrilling detail, readers will discover how different species hunt and eat, where they live and how they survive.

Did you know that baby foxes are born with blue eyes which later turn golden? Or that reptile scales are made from keratin, the same material as your hair and nails?

With ten chapters including the basics of life, microorganisms, plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and habitats, this unique book provides comprehensive explanations and information on the planet’s most fascinating and impressive living things, including why chameleons change colour, which whale has the biggest flippers, how ducks swim, how spiders spin webs and how snakes move.

From fruit to flowers, from shells to sharks, and from ants to elephants, this extraordinary new encyclopedia is the perfect way to find out how everything in nature works and what they mean for our world.

Nature in all its glorious technicolour!

(DK, hardback, £20)

Age 7 plus:

Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky

If it’s magic you’re looking for this autumn, climb aboard your broomstick and head off with the mischievous Magenta!

Kaye Umansky, author of the fun-filled children’s classic Pongwiffy, casts her spell again in this bewitching adventure starring a wacky witch and a madcap cast of characters.

When Elsie Pickles offers to house-sit the mysterious home of local witch Magenta Sharp, she has no idea what she is getting herself into. Left with a talking raven and a scruffy dog for company, a magical tower that has a mind of its own and a book of instruction called Everything You Need to Know, what could possibly go wrong?

With an assortment of weird and wonderful neighbours banging at the door and a box of volatile magical ingredients that must be used immediately, Elsie finds out that looking after Magenta’s home might not be as easy as she first thought ... does she have what it takes to be a witch for a week or will it all end in a magical disaster?

Umansky’s all-action story, brought to life with charming illustrations from rising star Ashley King, is full of sparkle and wit, and is guaranteed to cast a spell on young witches everywhere!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

How to Think Like a Coder: Without Even Trying by Jim Christian

Get to grips with coding without even touching a computer!

Jim Christian, a web developer, IT consultant and co-founder of FireTech Camp Australia, a technology camp teaching kids how to make awesome things with technology, is out to prove that you don’t need to have computing experience to know how to code.

Computers are all around us, from traffic lights to cash machines and it just takes a little common sense to work out what makes them tick.

The puzzles and exercises in this fun and educational book help you think logically, work within constraints and deconstruct problems, turning everyday situations into opportunities to code.

This back-to-basics guide on coding is ideal for absolute beginners, whether adults or children. Coding is set to change the way we work and the skills we will need in the future. For those who know nothing about coding, getting to grips with the basics is daunting.

Accessible and fun, the book goes right back to the very basics, teaching central concepts such as loops, data types, pseudocode and calculations without having to learn a single line of code.

Using a set of dice, a deck of cards or a pack of dominoes to enjoy fun and straightforward exercises, you will practise key skills such as critical thinking, creativity, logic and problem-solving and begin to think like a coder without even turning on your computer.

Once you are equipped with this basic toolkit, Think Like a Coder discusses the basic programmes that are available for beginners, keeping a focus on simple activities that draw analogies with the outside world to make learning easy and fun.

Designed to be a thorough and yet light-hearted introduction for the complete beginner, Think Like a Coder is an essential addition to any keen programmer’s bookshelf.

(Batsford, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Rise of Wolves by Kerr Thomson

Prize-winning author Kerr Thomson transports us an enchantingly remote Scottish island in his gripping and atmospheric new adventure.

Innis Munro is walking home across the bleak wilderness of Nin Island in the far reaches of Scotland when he hears the chilling howl of a wolf. Innis knows every inch of the island… every rise, dip, boggy pool and gorse bush. He also knows that there are no wolves on the island, not since they were hunted to extinction centuries ago.

Together with his best and only friend Kat McColl, he decides to investigate his island home. Along the way, he accepts an ancient challenge; he who jumps the Bonnie Laddie’s Leap wins a fortune. As the wolves rise from the darkness of history, and long-buried secrets resurface, Innis’ adventure truly begins…

Thomson’s classic tale, set against a majestic and brooding backdrop, is filled with magic and the mysteries of the natural world. Exciting, beautifully written and full of the spirit of adventure, this is an enchanting story for middle-graders.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Storm Dog by Holly Webb

Meet a young girl caught up in an exciting wartime adventure in a sparkling addition to Holly Webb’s much-loved Winter Animal Stories.

Tilly is excited because she is going to stay with her Gran and Great-Gran in Wales for Christmas. She’s got a big school project about the Second World War to do and Gran, who was evacuated herself during the war, has promised to help. Travelling alone on the train for the first time, Tilly falls asleep and wakes up to discover she has travelled all the way back to the time of the Second World War.

She is being evacuated to Wales with her two younger brothers and will live with the rather stern Mr Edwards. As they settle into their new home on Mr Edwards’ remote farm, Tilly meets his very special sheepdog Tarran. But as Christmas approaches, the farmhouse gets cut off by the snow. And when Tarran comes to Tilly for help one stormy night, she needs to be braver than ever before.

The Storm Dog is an enchanting tale, wonderfully packaged, full of Webb’s warmth and wisdom, and featuring beautiful illustrations. Ideal for reading alone or to share with a loved one at bedtime.

(Stripes, hardback, £8.99)

Age 5 plus:

Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures by Matt Sewell

They are the monsters from the film world and they are the bones we see in museums… but what do we really know about dinosaurs?

Best-selling wildlife author and illustrator Matt Sewell, who has been described as the Banksy of the bird world, takes us up close and personal to the prehistoric creatures that once ruled our planet in this fabulous book of eye-catching illustrations and fascinating facts.

Sewell, who admits to being fascinated by dinosaurs, helps us to imagine not just what they looked like but what they sounded like and even what they smelt like in this large-format book which examines the many amazing types of dinosaur that lived during the prehistoric periods.

Packed with Sewell’s large, watercolour illustrations, his irresistible humour and charm, and interesting information on how the dinosaurs fought, hunted and defended themselves, this book also looks at up-to-date findings on dinosaur appearance, colour and habits.

A must read for dinosaur fans, and the perfect gift for all lovers of fine illustration.

(Pavilion, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Pretty by Canizales

Magic, humour and super stylish artwork are in perfect harmony in this wonderfully quirky picture book from exciting new illustrator Canizales.

Harold Jiménez Canizales is an artist from Colombia and this entertaining warts-and-all story about a witch who is desperate to improve her witchy appearance carries a powerful and timely message to young readers.

There’s a witch with a date and she wants to look her best. The woodland creatures have lots of ideas on how she can improve herself... but will she still be the same witch at the end of it?

Canizales’ thought-provoking story explores the pressure to be perfect and how easy it can be to lose the real you in the process. The striking use of tone and colour combined with bold, eye-catching artwork, full of character and detail, combined with a surprisingly dark twist in the tail, make this an appealing package for little ones and their parents.

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Oh No! Where did Walter Go? by Joanna Boyle

Fancy a game hide-and-seek? Turn the pages of this beautiful picture book and help a little girl find her lost parakeet!

London-based animator and illustrator Joanna Boyle has fun with her young readers in this enchanting interactive hide-and-seek story packed with colour and detail to keep little ones engaged from first page to last.

When Olive's best friend, Walter the beautiful green parakeet, flies outside, she doesn't know if she will ever be able to find him. Walter is small and the city is very big. But Olive knows that her special acrobat-detective-explorer-pirate skills will help her find Walter… won’t they? Can Olive find her friend?

Keen-eyed readers will love helping Olive in her search for flyaway Walter in this beautifully illustrated and imagined story from a fresh and exciting talent.

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

That’s Not a Hippopotamus! by Juliette Maciver and Sarah Davis

Join in the fun as a class trip to the zoo descends into a chaotic hunt when a hippopotamus goes missing!

Teacher, zookeeper and all the children all set out on the search but when the noise, mayhem and madness reaches fever pitch, no one thinks to listen to quiet little Liam. And Liam might be the only one who really knows where the hippo is hiding!

Juliette Maciver provides the delightful, fun-filled rhyming tale, packed with word play and madcap energy, while illustrator Sarah Davis tells a whole different story in the exceptionally bright and busy illustrations.

A treasure trove of fun, discovery and comical detail!

(Gecko Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Daddy and I by Lou Treleaven and Sophie Burrows

Share a magical walk through the countryside with a little girl and her daddy!

Author Lou Treleaven and illustrator Sophie Burrows tug at our heartstrings in this warm celebration of the relationship between fathers and daughters as we head off into the delights of nature and nurture.

Saturday’s Daddy day, just for us two.

Making and baking – so much we can do.

But I see fields and a big blue sky.

We’re off for a walk now, my Daddy and I.

Treleaven’s lyrical, rhyming text takes us on a magical walk as one little girl and her daddy explore both the real rural delights about them and the imaginary world of the child.

The love between fathers and daughters springs to life through in the hands of rhyming genius Treleaven and with beautiful, heartwarming illustrations from Burrows, this is the perfect cuddle-up book for dads to share with their daughters at bedtime.

(Maverick, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Bonkers About Beetroot by Cath Jones and Chris Jevons

A giant beetroot leaves a red face in this wonderfully madcap picture book from young-at-heart publishers Maverick.

Starring an optimistic Zebra and a pessimistic Penguin, this laugh-out-loud story is packed with fun, frolics and a fantastic cast of animal characters.

Sunset Safari Park could be in danger of shutting down because nobody is coming to visit them. Penguin is convinced they are too boring but Zebra has a cunning plan to woo the visitors. They will grow the biggest beetroot in the world because people are crazy for it! Penguin says the plan is bonkers and when their beetroot won’t stop growing, Zebra decides he will have to eat it himself… with colourful results!

Debut author Cath Jones lets her imagination run wild in this wacky safari adventure brought to life by Chris Jevons’ vibrant illustrations. No child can resist this riot of colour, creative antics and a VERY large beetroot!

(Maverick, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Words and Your Heart by Kate Jane Neal

Explaining emotions to little ones is never easy, but this clever, warm-hearted picture book provides answers in the most endearing and effective way.

Words and Your Heart, by talented author and illustrator Kate Jane Neal, is a simple story told through words and pictures but it carries a universal message of love for a world that always needs a little more kindness.

Basic words, gentle illustrations and two adorable characters, Pip and Cat, demonstrate in the most appealing way the importance of what we say – both positive and negative – and its impact on those around us.

Thoughtful, warm-hearted and reassuring, this is a book that proves the power of words and has already resonated with large numbers of children as teachers report a sea-change in the culture of their classroom after reading the story.

A clever teaching aid for schools and nurseries whiuch speaks powerfully to readers of every age.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)