Deep mysteries, beastly facts and crown duels by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Extreme Planet: The Deep by Laura Cowan and Qu LanExtreme Planet: The Deep by Laura Cowan and Qu Lan
Extreme Planet: The Deep by Laura Cowan and Qu Lan
Explore the chilling darkness of the ocean’s alien worlds, discover a world full of feathery, scaly, slimy and furry facts, meet a king in need of an heir, find out the secrets of making good friendships, and help the world’s greatest explorers track down a rare leopard with a spring selection of children’s books.

Age 7 plus:

Extreme Planet: The Deep

Laura Cowan and Qu Lan

Are you brave enough to delve into the chilling darkness of... the Deep? With no light, no heat and miles of sea above you, it might be the strangest, most extreme and scariest place on Earth!

Delve into this fun and fascinating new book in Usborne Publishing’s new Extreme Planet flap book series exploring the hardest-to-reach places on Earth, and prepare to meet strange and unusual creatures, and explore alien worlds which never see the light of day.

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The mysterious, dark depths of the ocean spring to eerie life in this fascinating book written by Lucy Cowan in consultation with marine biologist Dr Diva Amon of SpeSeas and the National Geographic series Welcome to Earth.

Youngsters will love climbing inside a submersible and plunging deep down beneath the surface, through the twilight zone and into the abyss where the sunlight can’t reach and the weight of the water above presses down on the creatures that live there.

This is the deepest place in the entire ocean and it’s there that readers will discover disturbing creatures, see what they eat and how they live. From the bobfish to the vampire squid, and the yeti crab to the cookiecutter shark, discover how these weird and wonderful creatures survive in one the most inhospitable places on Earth.

Filled with fascinating and meticulously researched facts, intriguing flaps to lift, and brought to vivid life by the stunning illustrations of Qu Lan, this is the perfect book for curious young minds eager to find out more about the amazing world that lies deep in our oceans.

(Usborne, board book, £10.99)

Age 8 plus:

Animal FACTopia!: Follow the Trail of 400 Beastly Facts

Julie Beer and Andy Smith

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Enter a world full of feathery, scaly, slimy and furry facts! Every incredible animal fact in this magnificent book is connected in wild and hilarious ways.

Simply follow a trail that hops from facts about escaping penguins to facts about sleeping meerkats, and from facts about baby snow leopards to facts about zebra stripes, and make a host of fascinating beastly discoveries.

Animal FACTopia! – written by animal lover Julie Beer and brought to life by photographs and Andy Smith’s brilliant illustrations – comes from the endlessly inventive boffins at Britannica Books and is the fabulous follow-up to the bestselling books FACTopia!, Return to FACTopia! and Gross FACTopia!

And as with the other titles in this dynamic series, Animal FACTopia! is verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica and doesn’t offer just one trail through a multitude of facts. Each of the 400 facts is connected to the next in a fascinating web of information where you will leapfrog from topic to topic in surprising and hilarious ways. Sometimes your path branches and you can slide down a rabbit hole to a totally different, but still connected, part of the book.

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Did you know that beavers have orange teeth, that some monkeys floss their teeth using bird feathers, that one species of bird can walk underwater, that alligators stay underwater for longer by swallowing rocks, that sea otters use rocks to crack open prey and that chameleons change the colour of their skin to help them cool down?

Discover facts about escaping penguins, farting zebras, leaping dolphins, snorting elephants, dancing bears and more... all linked in the most weird and wonderful ways.

So what are you waiting for… follow your curiosity, meet a purrfectly amazing world of animals, and get ready to roar with laughter!

(Britannica Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Unlikely Rise of Harry Sponge

Stephen Mangan and Anita Mangan

Hold on to your sides and prepare for violent waves of laughter as the sensational sibling team of much-loved actor Stephen Mangan and his talented artist sister Anita roll out their third fun-filled adventure.

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After the runaway success of joint debut novel, Escape the Rooms, and the hilarious The Fart That Changed the World, the dynamic duo return with an all-action, marvellously manic and laugh-out-loud tale with a message that any child can be a hero.

Grumpy old King Chisel has a problem. He needs an heir to his kingdom... fast! So he challenges the best kids from across the country to compete in the Crown Duels, with the ultimate winner becoming king or queen. Step forward champion athlete Gloria Squat-Further, mathematical genius Huxley Beeline, artistic ace Jonny Mould, empathy expert Gossamer Fountain, and ordinary boy Harry Sponge (definitely not to be underestimated!). The ridiculous prime minister, Farting Bernie, is in charge and the contest swiftly descends into chaos. Who will rise to the top and survive wild sabotaging, saggy royal pants, the most disgusting meal ever invented, and a pair of frisky goats?

Anita Mangan’s quirky and characterful illustrations are the perfect pairing for her brother’s wild, witty and wonderful story which reminds youngsters that you should never underestimate underdogs, and that you don’t have to be rich, famous – or even royal – to be a winning superhero.

Add on a celebration of youthful resilience, ingenuity and heroics, and a brand of humour that will have mischief-makers giggling all the way to the last page, and The Unlikely Rise of Harry Sponge is set to soak up yet more much-deserved acclaim!

(Scholastic, paperback, £7.99)

Age 11 plus:

Friendship Survival Guide

Caroline Young

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Friendships are of vital importance for people of every age... but what is a friend and why do we need them so much?

Good friendships go hand-in-hand with good mental health and this invaluable guide explores how we can make friends, how we can keep them, what makes a good friend, and whether we need best friends.

Accessible, friendly and perfectly pitched for children in the last year at primary school and first years at secondary school, the insightful Friendship Survival Guide is the work of writer and editor Caroline Young, with expert advice from clinical psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin.

Friendships can be tough... and as adults, it’s difficult to watch young people struggle with issues with friends and the impact it can have on them so here are the tools and information to help them navigate friendships.

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From recognising fake and toxic friendships and coping with bullying and unkindness both on and offline to surviving fall-outs and break-ups, to building resilience while successfully navigating issues around tribes, groups and gangs, the guide comes packed with entertaining illustrations, quizzes, tips on making friends and being a good friend yourself, and links to further advice at Usborne Quicklinks.

With friendly advice to guide youngsters through the ups and downs and choppy waters of all kinds of friendships, this Usborne Life Skills book is a must for home and school.

(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Gold Medal Mysteries: Thief on the Track

Ellie Robinson and James Lancett

Join three sporting detectives as they race around the world in an all-action new mystery series from Ellie Robinson, a multi gold medal-winning Paralympian swimmer. Robinson, who won gold and bronze medals at Rio in 2016 and a Commonwealth gold in 2018 before competing in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, partners with illustrator James Lancett for this runaway adventure series which comes packed with fun, drama, intriguing clues and lively illustrations. Hannah, Maria, and Seb are at the World Championships in Tokyo, bonding over their excitement at watching their favourite athletes compete. But Jesse Marks, a star runner on the US relay team, has had his gold medal stolen! The sports park is alive with gossip and as the three new friends begin to investigate, several suspects begin to emerge. With time running out before the final race is run, can the detectives uncover who is out to sabotage the team? The race to solve the case is on in this twisting, turning behind-the-scenes look at the world’s biggest sporting event. With its sporting themes, fascinating backdrop and a cast of charismatic young detectives, these Gold Medal Mysteries are perfect for reluctant readers.

(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Adventures of Billy Shaman: The Rage of the Sea Witch

Roland Chambers

A spirit fox, a talking tortoise and a shape-shifting grandmother! There is so much to discover – and to love! – in a fascinating and feel-good new series about exploration and discovery through the ages from author and illustrator Roland Chambers.

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The Rage of the Sea Witch is the first book in the Adventures of Billy Shaman series and introduces us to Billy, a new kind of explorer who uses his magic to visit the past and to return the contents of the Darwin museum to their original home.

Featuring pivotal moments of discovery through the ages, Chambers brings the past to life with a generous helping of fantasy and humour, alongside a gallery of delightful, black and white illustrations on every spread.

Shaman by name and shaman by nature, Billy just hasn’t found his magic... yet. When his selfish, globetrotting parents (one a famous explorer and the other a scientist) abandon him for yet another summer in the long-gone Charles Darwin’s strange, museum-like house, Billy stumbles across a 200-year-old giant talking tortoise called... Charles Darwin. Named by the famous man himself, Charles D, the tortoise, knows every inch of the house and every artefact and fossil in it, and he’s keen to help Billy realise his powers and set him on the path to adventure. A beautifully carved Inuit ivory necklace is the first object that whisks Billy back in time to the shrieking chaos of an Arctic blizzard to meet its rightful owner, a girl called Ahnah, her shape-shifting grandmother, and the mysterious Greek geographer, explorer and astronomer Pytheas.

Chambers’ sparkling new series comes with an addictive playground buzz and offers learning through fun as readers join Billy’s worldwide adventure, make fascinating discoveries about Charles Darwin and become explorers themselves.

(Zephyr, paperback, £7.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Lost Leopard

Jonny Marx and Xuan Le

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Meet Flora and Fauna, the world’s greatest explorers, and help them track down an exceptionally rare and elusive species of wild cat! Youngsters will love making their own exciting discoveries in this intriguing picture book which lets little hands lift flaps and fold-outs as they join an extraordinary adventure across rivers, through dense forests, high up into the mighty mountains of the Himalayas and into the steamy jungle. Children’s book editor and author Jonny Marx, and Vietnamese illustrator Xuan Le, combine their talents to transport readers to lands far away as they follow a family on the hunt for the amazing clouded leopard. Leading the way on this epic odyssey is science boffin and map-reader Flora, inventor and animal tracker Fauna, and their cute baby Bud who likes to laugh (and cry!) a lot. Packed with fascinating facts about nature and wildlife, information on the different types of climate throughout the world, and warnings about the blight of litter, The Lost Leopard is both a captivating adventure and an eye-opening look at the world around us.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

Leonora Bolt: Eco Engineer

Lucy Brandt and Gladys Jose

Welcome back to Crabby Island, home of the amazing secret inventor Leonora Bolt, the girl who makes incredible gadgets from any old junk. If you haven’t already met the resourceful Leonora in this super-sparkling Leonora Bolt: Secret Inventor series – written by Lucy Brandt and illustrated by Gladys Jose – then get ready to giggle and gasp at her hilarious adventures alongside a wonderfully wacky cast of characters. In her third laugh-out-loud eco-mission, Leonora faces a new battle with her terrifying Uncle Luther whose evil plans have already included kidnapping her super-scientist parents. And this time, he has hatched another outrageously evil plan to make his fortune. BrightWorld is a brand new amusement park built under a massive snow globe and hidden in the Perilous Desert, a blistering expanse of hot nothingness. The park is an environmental disaster, yet tickets are selling in their millions! What's Uncle Luther’s secret? Together with her friends and pet otter Twitchy Nibbles, secret inventor Leonora must battle sandstorms, navigate the Bizarre Bazaar, save her parents, and shut down Luther... for good. Filled with fun, friendship, fantastic inventions and epic adventures, this clever and creative series provides bags of comedy and entertainment, as well as gentle reminders about the fragility of our planet.

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 4 plus:

Silver Linings

Fiona Woodcock

Opposites attract, yin and yang, the perfect balance... whichever way you look at author and illustrator Fiona Woodcock’s moving picture book, Silver Linings, it’s a true celebration of harmony, empathy and friendship!

Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, this wise and wonderfully created book is brimming with imagination, emotional intelligence and welcome positivity as neighbours, Pip and Parker, prove that being very different can be the ideal recipe for the closest, strongest friendships.

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Pip and Parker live next door to each other and are such good friends that sometimes they don’t even need words to communicate. If something goes wrong, Parker (who always looks on the bright side) helps Pip see the silver lining. When the clouds roll in, Pip sees a day spoiled by rain, but Parker sees a chance to play a fun cloud guessing game! When Pip accidently drops her sweet strawberry snack into her lemonade, she’s certain disaster has struck. But Parker finds a reason to celebrate their unexpected pink lemonade! But what will happen when Parker makes a mistake and needs a little encouragement, too? Can Pip cheer him up and show him the silver lining?

Woodcock gives her stylish illustrations a palette of soft, pastel shades to reflect the warm and gentle understanding between the two close friends... one who tries always to be positive, and one who can’t help but feel the negatives.

Through words and pictures – which deliver a glorious celebration of imagination, mutual support and loyalty – little ones learn that even when their plans go awry, friends can provide the comfort, reassurance and cheerful positivity that they need.

Fun to read aloud, Silver Linings is perfect for bedtime, story time, and for use in the classroom.

(Greenwillow Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age one plus:

Amy Gets Eaten

Adam Kay and Henry Paker

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Former doctor Adam Kay – and his partner in slime, aka illustrator Henry Paker – takes youngsters on a pooey, gooey adventure through the human body in their gross (but amazingly anatomically accurate!) new book.

Amy Gets Eaten is the first picture book from the winning author/illustrator team which created the bestselling middle-grade non-fiction titles, Kay’s Anatomy and Kay’s Marvellous Medicine, and follows a piece of sweetcorn on a fascinating but squelchy journey through the human digestive system.

So meet Amy, the small piece of sweetcorn who is eaten by Noah, a medium-sized boy. Travel with her, and share laughs and yucks, as she zooms down Noah’s throat, arrives in his stomach, takes a twisting, turning ride through the intestines and discovers lots of facts about digestion, including how different foods help us stay fit, strong and well.

Kay and award-winning comedian, writer and illustrator Paker are on their best writing and illustrating form in this laughter-filled picture book which blends riotous humour with hard facts, and proves that the functions of the human body can be interesting as well as rather disgusting!

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Ideal as a teaching tool, and perfect for parents who might learn a little bit too...

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age one plus:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s Jungle Hide & Seek

Eric Carle

Come and play in the jungle... and discover some amazing wildlife! Little ones will love joining the Very Hungry Caterpillar in this interactive board book written and illustrated by the remarkable author and illustrator Eric Carle. Carle, who died in 2021 at the age of 91, was the acclaimed American creator of brilliantly illustrated and innovatively designed picture books for very young children but his best-known work was undoubtedly The Very Hungry Caterpillar which has been translated into 70 languages and sold over 55 million copies. In this beautiful board book – with its gentle, rhyming narrative, die-cut finger trails and details, and a chunky flap on every page – the Very Hungry Caterpillar is playing hide and seek in the jungle. Follow the finger trails and lift the flaps to discover sleeping sloths, swooping parrots, crawling tigers and many more creatures. There is so much for little hands to explore in this fun, first introduction to jungle creatures, their names and their habitats. Following finger trails and lifting flaps encourages babies and toddlers to be curious about the world and the creatures who live in it. Add on lively illustrations in vibrant colours, and you have the perfect early learning package!

(Puffin, board book, £7.99)