Book reviews: Llama dramas, pirate pranks and a battle royal

There's animal magic and exciting adventure in a sparkling new selection of children's books timed perfectly for the half term holidays.

Tuesday, 23rd May 2017, 6:37 pm
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:14 pm
Llama dramas, pirate pranks and a battle royal
Llama dramas, pirate pranks and a battle royal

Team up with a herd of footballing llamas, meet a boy king battling a deadly enemy, join a hunt for the legendary Bigfoot or sail out to sea with a rum bunch of shipmates.

Age 9 plus:

Llama United by Scott Allen and Sarah Horne

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The footballing world is caught on the hoof when a herd of hairy llamas proves to have more ball skills than Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale put together!

Welcome to the brilliantly madcap debut novel from Scott Allen, a professional sports writer with a keen eye for the beautiful game… and a deft touch for off-the-wall humour.

Packed with hilarious llama dramas, some real-life football coaching tips and Sarah Horne’s crazy, comical illustrations, this soccer-themed odyssey is perfectly ‘pitched’ for all young footie fans.

Eleven-year-old Tim Gravy has recently moved from the city to a farm in the countryside and is feeling lonely because he has no friends… that is, until he meets the rather eccentric Cairo (his mum is a big fan of travel!)

Cairo’s mum runs an animal shelter and the newest arrivals are eleven llamas needing a new home. When Tim’s dad decides to house the hairy animals and start a spot of llama farming, the fun begins because to everyone’s amazement, the llamas are soon playing football, and not just any old football.

It seems that the llamas have unwittingly eaten the scattered ashes of Arthur Muckluck, the world’s greatest footballer EVER, and have developed footie skills to rival the Premier League’s biggest names. These llamas can do short, fast passes, smash in thunderous shots and dribble the ball as though someone had smeared it in glue.

Under the watchful eye of Tim and Cairo, and Scottish World Cup winner McCloud as coach, Llama United are unstoppable. But not everyone wants to see the woolly wonders succeed in their pursuit of victory in the prestigious cup finals. Can the llamas make it to the final whistle, or will someone call foul?

Young footballers of every age are guaranteed to get a kick out of this anarchic llama caper which comes with laughs on every page, plenty of knockabout fun and a plot that moves from daft to dastardly with every blow of the whistle.

Written with warmth, energy and irrepressible humour, Llama United will keep readers onside until the last page has turned…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Defender of the Realm by Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby

Real life and fantasy prove a thrilling mix in a new escapist adventure that pits a reluctant boy king against a host of terrifying supernatural foes.

Defender of the Realm, featuring stunning stories of super-villains and out-of-this-world monsters, is just what a children’s fantasy series should be… brimming with fast-paced action, positively buzzing with electrifying danger and starring two unlikely but charismatic young heroes.

These exciting stories are the work of Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby, an Emmy-winning and BAFTA-nominated writing partnership who have scripted a host of flagship children’s TV shows, including Danger Mouse, Peter Rabbit, Shaun the Sheep & Thunderbirds Are Go.

In the first book of the series, we meet 14-year-old Prince Alfie, who is unexpectedly thrust on to the throne when King Henry the Ninth dies suddenly.

Although he always knew his destiny, Alfie didn’t expect to be king so soon and he quickly learns that he doesn’t know half of what wearing the crown entails. As Defender of the Realm, he becomes a legendary superhero, fighting a secret, centuries-long battle to protect the nation from monsters and fearsome enemies.

Fortunately for Alfie, who is more than a little scared by his new role, he has befriended a tough, smart girl called Hayley Hicks when she visited the Tower of London with her Jamaican grandmother.

Soon, Hayley finds herself fighting alongside Alfie in a desperate struggle to stop a powerful new enemy… the Black Dragon.

And in the second book of the series, Dark Age, the nation breathes a sigh of relief, believing that they have seen the last of the Black Dragon following the great battle at King Alfie’s coronation.

But while Alfie gets busy learning what it means to fill his father’s shoes, a band of undead Vikings appears. Alfie, Hayley and the rest of the Yeoman Warders fear that Professor Lock is back to finish what he started.

And for the epic battle that is brewing, Alfie will need to enlist help from abroad, as well as from a mysterious new friend who seems to be watching over him...

These inspirational, high-impact stories are ideal to get reluctant readers on board, offering thrilling adventures with two very different but ideally partnered young action heroes, battling evil in its many different forms against an epic backdrop.

Adventure fiction at its best…

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Bigfoot, Tobin and Me by Melissa Savage

A new home and new experiences aren’t always an exciting prospect for children… so take a trip to California and join the hunt for the legendary Bigfoot.

US author Melissa Savage knows more than a thing or two about kids. As a children’s therapist, she knows their hopes and fears, and it was this knowledge – and a keen interest in cryptozoology – that inspired her to write Bigfoot, Tobin and Me, a beautiful, perceptive novel about adventure, friendship and overcoming grief.

At the warm heart of this story is a young girl who has had to move from her home in San Francisco to tiny, wooded Willow Creek, California, after the death of her beloved mother and becomes caught up in a quest to find Bigfoot, the ape-like creature of American folklore that is said to inhabit the forests.

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ Despite being named after her mum’s favourite saying, there isn’t much for 10-year-old Lemonade ‘Lem’ Witt to look forward to since her mother died, especially now that she has moved far away to the wilds of Willow Creek.

Still grieving for her mum, Lem has come to live with a grandfather she doesn’t know at his home in a part of the country still obsessed with solving the age-old mystery of Bigfoot.

Before long, she has teamed up as assistant to a rather eccentric and annoying boy called Tobin whose father is missing in action in Vietnam and who, as head of Bigfoot Detectives Inc., is the sole investigator for the town and determined to track down the legendary beast.

Reluctantly, Lem joins Tobin in search of Bigfoot and together they try to capture a shot of the elusive creature on film… but what they find is even more amazing!

There is an enchanting, reassuring and nostalgic feel to this clever, compelling story as the two youngsters are swept up into the action and learn to enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood.

Bigfoot, Tobin and Me is primarily a thrilling adventure but, alongside all the fun and comedy, Savage still manages to tackle head-on serious issues like dealing with the death of a parent, moving to a new home and bullying.

An exciting new voice in middle grade fiction…

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Accidental Pirates: Journey to Dragon Island by Claire Fayers

Hoist the mainsail and batten down the hatches as a rum bunch of shipmates return for more pirate pranks!

Life on the ocean wave just gets more and more exciting as Claire Fayers sails into harbour with the second amazing book in her all-action series, The Accidental Pirates, starring the irresistible schoolgirl Brine Seaborne.

The first book in the series, Voyage to Magical North, has been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Award 2017 and the follow-up is another extraordinary voyage, packed with monsters, pirates, magic and good old-fashioned fun and adventure.

Since accidentally joining the crew of pirate ship the Onion, the lives of 12-year-old Brine, her magician friend Peter and former librarian Tom have been turned upside down.

Having battled the world’s most evil magician, Marfak West, fought off sea monsters and found Magical North, they thought they were prepared for whatever the eight oceans could throw at them… until they hatched the world’s last-known dragon.

Desperate to find a family for their fire-breathing friend and hoping to unravel the secrets of Brine’ s mysterious past, the Onion and her crew sail into uncharted territory. Their aim is to find the legendary Western Island and its floating castle, where – legend has it – there be dragons!

With an ocean full of danger, dragons, dinosaurs, plenty of knockabout humour, some brilliant plot twists, a feisty, bookish heroine, heartwarming friendships and a brilliant bunch of pirates, you really wouldn’t want to miss the boat!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Big, Fat, Totally Bonkers Diary of Pig by Emer Stamp

Everyone’s favourite Pig is back… and we still can’t believe that he isn’t telling porkies!

The amazing adventures of Pig and his charismatic farmyard friends have won an army of fans with youngsters trotting back to seek more madcap adventures after the publication of each bonkers book.

Author and illustrator Emer Stamp was raised on a sheep farm in Devon and it was here that she met all the characters who star in these hilarious escapades, written in the form of bizarre diary entries and all accompanied by a gallery of Pig’s brilliant illustrations.

And in this fourth farm outing, there are the now trademark parps, slops and poo bombs as well as a brilliant new character… Rusty the three-legged dog!

Pig doubts you will believe any of his new adventures. In fact, he tells us that if ‘you are the kind of farmer what finds it hard to believe unbelievable stuff, you should put it down right now. I wouldn’t blame you. If I was reading it I would be like, ‘Don’t be silly! Stuff like this would never happen to a pig, it’s totally impossible.’ But it’s not. Just ask Duck, or Cow, or Ki-Ki, or Rusty. They’d all tell you. It’s all 1,000% true and 10,000% bonkers!’

Young readers will enjoy rearranging Pig’s jumbled up sentences and can visit Pig’s extraordinary website to find out more about him, ask him questions, discover fun Piggy activities and lots more.

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)

Age 4 plus:

Walk This Wild World by Sam Brewster

Where do birds and animals spend their days… and where do they sleep at night?

Discover for yourself a wonderful world of creatures and their amazing habitats as you turn the pages and lift the flaps in this fun and fascinating walk on the wild side courtesy of award-winning illustrator Sam Brewster.

Big Picture Press, an imprint of the busy Bonnier Publishing group, loves giving youngsters a spectacular view of the world and its wonders in their array of top quality and beautifully designed discovery books.

This is the third book in their popular Walk This Wild World series and invites children to travel to a different continent with every turn of the page, lift the flaps and enjoy a dazzling celebration of animal and plant life, and their hidden habitats.

Peer under the desert sand and find giant wasps that can kill a tarantula spider, visit the Amazon to discover the cacao tree which is used to make chocolate and unearth a long-eared hedgehog in the vast Russian steppe.

Lift the flaps and see polar bears in the Arctic tundra, tigers in the foothills of the Himalayas and the incredible sea life in Antarctica’s Southern ocean.

Brewster’s stunning artwork brings the animals to life and a beautiful rhyming text, brimming with easy-to understand facts, explains where they live, eat and sleep.

The perfect gift for all young animal lovers...

(Big Picture Press, board book, £14.99)

Age 2 plus:

Wishker by Heather Pindar and Sarah Jennings

Be careful what you wish for!

Author Heather Pindar and illustrator Sarah Jennings have fun with a wishful thinking young girl and a stray cat with magical powers in this wonderfully playful picture book.

Wishker comes from the Maverick Arts stable, a lively and innovative children’s publisher which was launched in 2009 by Steve Bicknell and has been gaining momentum over the last few years. They now have with over 60 books in print and another 36 are being published this year.

Maverick specialise in bright, colourful picture books and have a strong ethos of championing new authors and emerging illustrators.

And stories don’t come much more engaging than this comical caper starring Mirabel, the little girl who reckons it’s not fair that the answer to all her questions is ‘No.’ Mum won’t let her friends come for a sleepover, gran won’t let her have a pet monkey and her brother Jim won’t let her play in his bedroom.

Imagine her delight when a rufty-tufty roaming cat called Wishker shows up with his magic wish-granting whiskers. Things start looking up for Mirabel… when yes is always the answer to everything. She can have ice cream for breakfast, lunch and tea, a house full of friends forever and a menagerie of animals and acrobats sent over by the circus and the zoo. But as the house fills up, Mirabel starts to wish that things could be normal again…

Packed with chaos, comedy and Sarah Jennings’ bold, busy and colourful illustrations, Wishker is an enchanting adventure which comes complete with life lessons and home truths about not always getting your own way… and with a mischievous twist in its charming little tail.

The cat’s whiskers for feline fans!

(Maverick, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Snugglewump by Lou Treleaven and Kate Chappell

Every child has a favourite toy… but which one is the cuddliest?

Top team Lou Treleaven and Kate Chappell play with our emotions in a gorgeous picture book that is guaranteed to win the heart of every toddler and child who wouldn’t dream of going to bed without their much-loved fabric comforter.

Treleaven’s endearing rhyming story of Molly’s toys, all competing to be the favourite, has the real ‘aaah’ factor and stars heart-melting Snugglewump who feels left out in the cold.

Molly’s toys are determined to prove that each of them is loved best. Ted is convinced Molly loves him the most, the antique doll reckons she is much admired and Action Andy claims he offers the most fun. But what about the poor old Snugglewump… is he really ‘just a square with nothing there’? Only an adventure in the outside world can convince the Snugglewump that you don’t need bells and whistles to be loved!

Treleaven’s quirky, warm-hearted and wryly funny tale is brought to vivid life by Kate Chappell’s expressive and eye-catching illustrations making this the ideal bedtime book for all little Snugglewump fans!

(Maverick, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Nut Stayed Shut by Mike Henson

There’s top notch comedy in a nutshell in an inventive and high-energy picture book from the talented Mike Henson, a new author and illustrator with a genius for slapstick humour.

Patience really is a virtue in this frenetic and funny tale of a squirrel with a tough nut to crack. Of all the nut-crackers in the world, Rodney is the best! Cracking nuts is so easy for world champion Rodney that he can do it with style and with a smile. But what’s this… a nut that Rodney can’t open? Not to be beaten, Rodney tries everything he can think of, a giant hammer, an elephant, a chainsaw and even a big BANG, but the nut stays shut. To crack some nuts, the only answer is to wait!

Henson, who enjoys writing songs and children’s stories, adds his own unique beat to a highly visual story full of rhyme and reason, and with a few lift-the-flap surprises. And children will be glued to the fantastic gallery of illustrations, all created through a distinctive palette of bold, vintage colours and textures.

Entertaining, enlightening and laugh-out-loud funny, this addictive little story is destined to be a family favourite…

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Dog on Wheels by Gillian McClure

Get your skates on if you want to keep up with this doggy duo!

Gillian McClure, a shortlisted author and illustrator for the Carnegie medal, sets off at top speed in a fast-moving, rhythmic picture book that sees two canine friends having a wheelie fun adventure.

Speed wizard Dubbin and his little friend Todd are heading off for a walk through the busy city before breakfast. Dubbin is raring to get moving on his skateboard but Todd, who has only his paws to walk on, is lagging a long way behind. It doesn’t help that Todd is also carrying a huge bone, a rather juicy bone, in fact, which is attracting the unwelcome attention of another scheming dog. Can Dubbin, Todd and the bone get home safely?

McClure uses a simple, repetitive refrain to add an addictive upbeat impetus and to encourage little readers to actively participate in the story while a lively and lovely gallery of illustrations in watercolour and gouache add extra texture to the story.

Friendship, loyalty, fun and adventure all take starring roles in this charming story which is sure to delight both children and their parents.

(Troika, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

What I think about when I think about… running by Eleanor Levenson and Katie O’Hagan

As the dog days of summer draw nearer, spare a thought for what a dog thinks about!

Hot on the heels of her quirky picture book, What I think about when I think about… swimming, freelance journalist and author Eleanor Levenson embarks on a wise and wonderful exploration of the meaning of life from a dog’s point of view.

Have you ever wondered what dogs think about when they are running? A walk, a ball, the past, the future, the joy of a good scratch… or perhaps just the next meal?

Katie O’Hagan provides the big, bold, sometimes funny and sometimes soulful illustrations for a canine caper that is sure to capture the imaginations of children and parents alike.

A full-throttle adventure with a wag in its tail…

(Troika, paperback, £6.99)