Epic train travels, a Lakeland mystery and dangerous games by various authors - book reviews -

Explore a host of famous railway journeys from your armchair, enjoy the fascinating folklore of Poland in a dazzling debut novel, share a bucket list quest with a boy and his grandpa, and join a group of youngsters as they race to save the world in a super half-term selection of children’s books.

By Pam Norfolk
Wednesday, 16th February 2022, 3:45 pm
Epic Adventures: Explore the World in 12 Amazing Train Journeys
Epic Adventures: Explore the World in 12 Amazing Train Journeys

Age 7 plus:

Epic Adventures: Explore the World in 12 Amazing Train Journeys

Sam Sedgman and Sam Brewster

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You don’t have to be a full-on train fan to enjoy the thrill of this runaway global journey taking in some of the world’s most wondrous railways!

So leap aboard and don’t look back as lifelong train buff Sam Sedgman, Adventures on Trains author and the British Book Award of 2021 winner, takes youngsters everywhere from the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific, and from Silicon Valley to the African savannah and beyond.

Filled with the richly detailed colour illustrations of Sam Brewster, this beautiful, informative book encapsulates all the excitement and wonder of adventure and travel through an intriguing, criss-crossing trail of train journeys. Climb on board and travel across six continents, thirty-four countries and twelve train journeys to see futuristic cities and ancient temples, wild animals and even delicious meals.

Sedgman’s enthusiasm is infectious and young readers will delight in his descriptive and informative text about train journeys including the Eurostar (London to Amsterdam), Orient Express (Paris to Istanbul), the first Transcontinental Railroad (Chicago to San Francisco) and the Rejuvenation Express (Beijing to Hong Kong).

Each locomotive adventure reveals some of the rich history, culture, landscape and wildlife of the countries travelled. Take in the safari sights of Southern Africa, wrap up warm in the Arctic Circle, celebrate Chinese New Year, and taste some tea in India whilst on a toy train… there’s a whole world to discover when travelling by train!

With its epic scope, revelations about how railways and feats of engineering changed nations forever, and how train travel connects us all, this is a glorious global adventure for train and travel fans of every age.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Bird Singers

Eve Wersocki Morris

The fascinating folklore of Poland springs to glorious life in Eve Wersocki Morris’s dazzling and spine-tingling debut novel which stars two sisters engulfed in a super-spooky mystery in the Lake District. Wersocki Morris’s grandparents came to the UK in 1946 as Polish refugees and The Bird Singers – a dark and enthralling fantasy story full of twists and turns – harnesses her lifelong fascination with European myths and fairy tales. ‘The whistling had started on their first night. At first, Layah thought it was bird song – a high thin sound which became a melody, rising and falling. And each night, it returned.’ Strange things have been happening to Layah and her younger sister, Izzie, ever since their mother dragged them to a rain-soaked cottage miles from anywhere in the Lake District. There is a peculiar whistling at night, a handful of unusual feathers appear on their doorstep and there are murmurings of a shadowed woman in the forest. And their mother is behaving very oddly. Layah is mourning the loss of her dear grandmother in Poland and can almost hear her Babcia’s voice telling her the old myths and fairy tales from that magical place. And as the holiday takes on a dark twist, Layah begins to wonder if the myths might just be real. The loving relationship between the two sisters lies at the heart of this thrilling mystery as together they battle to unravel secrets from the past. With its electrifying atmospherics, original storyline and powerful evocation of place, The Bird Singers is a fantastic debut from an exciting new voice in children’s fiction.

(Hodder Children's Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Escape Room

Christopher Edge

Are you ready for the challenge of a brain-twisting, heart-racing, high-stakes adventure that will test both your mind and your mettle? Enter Christopher Edge’s gripping Escape Room and join a group of daring youngsters as they race to save the world. Award-winning author Edge, who grew up in Manchester, likes nothing better than to set young minds in motion and he is back to enthral and educate readers with an edge-of-the-seat mystery which pulses with the eeriness of Squid Game and the thrills of Indiana Jones. When twelve-year-old Ami arrives at The Escape, she thinks it’s just a game… the ultimate escape room with puzzles and challenges to beat before time runs out. Meeting her team-mates, Adjoa, Ibrahim, Oscar and Min, Ami learns from the Host that they have been chosen to save the world and they must work together to find the Answer before time runs out. But when the Host locks the door behind them as they enter the first room, they quickly realise this is no ordinary game. From a cavernous library of dust to an ancient Mayan tomb, a deserted shopping mall stalked by extinct animals to the command module of a spaceship heading to Mars, the perils of The Escape seem endless. It’s the ultimate game and there’s only one aim… to save the world. Can Ami and her friends find the Answer before it’s too late? There is so much to love in this fabulous middle grade novel as Edge weaves science, history, fantasy, horror and fun into one great big adventure full of surprises, suspense and mystery. So what are you waiting for… it’s game on!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List

Jenny Pearson and David O’Connell

A dysfunctional family, a large inheritance and a grumpy grandpa! Get ready for a new feel-good and thoroughly heartwarming adventure from the Costa Award-shortlisted Jenny Pearson whose brilliant books are based on a wonderful mix of all the children she has ever taught. Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List is an epic, action-packed adventure about family, discovering who you are, and realising that people are never too old to find happiness. Life has been a bit tricky for eleven-year-old Frank John Davenport. His dad, Frank Senior is always in trouble as one money-making scheme after another goes awry in true Delboy Trotter style. His mum is spending all her time at the tennis club after winning membership in a dubious competition. And Frank finds it hard to make friends of his own age on account of all the impromptu moves the family are forced to make. But when Frank receives an inheritance of £462,000 from the grandma he didn’t know he had, things take a turn for the unexpected. The money comes with strict instructions for Frank to look after his grandfather, a grumpy old man who is currently living in a residential home. But this isn’t going to stop Frank who quickly compiles a list of all the ways he can spend the money AND look after his grumpy grandpa. Money may buy hot-air balloon rides, monster-truck lessons and epic parkour experiences, but can Frank discover that happiness is, in fact, priceless? This tender and yet laughter-filled story, which explores the problems facing children in dysfunctional families and the threads of love that bind together the different generations, is guaranteed to pluck at your heartstrings. Bursting with Pearson’s sensitivity, humour and wisdom, this is a book that will be on every child’s reading bucket list!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Spark

Mitch Johnson

After the runaway success of his two novels, Kick and Pop!, award-winning author Mitch Johnson returns with an explosive, all-action adventure set in a thrilling dystopian world in which only the strongest will survive. Ash has always lived in Last Village, lonely since the day his father left and never came back. The world is unbearably hot, water is drying up, and life is hard. After a vicious thunderstorm, Ash wakes to find that the village’s water has completely run out, and all the other villagers have mysteriously disappeared. Accompanied by the outcast Bronwyn, Ash sets off in search of water and for answers about what happened to the villagers. They hope to find The Kingdom, a rumoured land to the north where life still flourishes. Ash and Bronwyn have to survive a journey across an arid landscape, discovering that other people out there are even more dangerous than the lightning strikes that follow them. Then they reach The Wall… beyond it, something impossible. Lying in wait are the answers Ash is searching for, and maybe even the truth about what happened to his father. If only he could get past The Wall... sometimes all it takes is just one spark. Johnson’s thought-provoking novel explores faith, belief, and a world in which heat and lack of water has brought desperation and enmity. With spine-tingling tension, a timely reminder about the threats to our endangered planet, and an adventure that celebrates the rewards of understanding and friendship, Spark is a gripping read from first page to last.

(Orion Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Dinosaurs Rock!

Dougie Poynter

Dinosaurs! Can children ever get enough of the fascinating prehistoric monsters that roamed the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago? And who doesn’t love to read about these creatures’ roars, claws and jaws? So to feed their cravings, let them get their teeth into this ultimate dino guide from Dougie Poynter, McFly bassist, dinosaur fanatic, and co-author of the bestselling picture book series The Dinosaur that Pooped. Filled with tons of fun facts, hilarious jokes and incredible infographics, this brilliantly entertaining and informative book provides youngsters with hours of fun as they unearth everything they ever wanted to know about these jaw-droppingly cool prehistoric legends. Read interviews with top dinosaur scientists, discover dinosaurs in pop culture, test yourself with true or false questions, enjoy an introduction to fossil hunting, learn more about the different species from the brachiosaurus to the velociraptor, and marvel at the fabulous infographics. A fun book to share with all the family, Dinosaurs Rock! is ideal for reluctant readers and dinosaur heaven for all those avid dino fans!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Luckiest Kid in the World

Danny Wallace and Gemma Correll

What if you suddenly had everything that you’d ever dreamed of… would it make you happy? That’s the question posed by comedy king, author and presenter Danny Wallace in his new fun-filled adventure starring an ordinary boy who discovers that going from zero to hero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Ten-year-old Joe Smith is average in every way. He is average height, lives in an average town, on an average street, in an average house, with a very average family. But when a survey identifies him as the most average kid in the country… well, that makes him very special indeed. Suddenly everyone wants Joe to test out their latest products. Overnight he is sent mountains of gifts… the best trainers, the coolest bike, the most exciting new tech and the latest flavours of ice cream. He gets special cinema screenings and the entire water park all to himself. Joe now has everything he could possibly want in the world… and that’s far from average. Maybe being ordinary is actually more special than he had imagined. Wallace’s rollicking cautionary tale – brought to life by the bold and expressive illustrations of Gemma Correll – is packed full of his trademark laugh-out-loud comedy but also contains inspirational and timely messages about the importance of family, the warmth of friendship, and the little things in life that make everyone special.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Fantastically Great Women Artists and Their Stories

Kate Pankhurst

Women are the creative geniuses behind some of the world’s most daring and influential artwork… but for too long their stories have not been told. So let your youngsters feast their eyes and hearts on this inspirational celebration of female artists from Kate Pankhurst, a descendant of Emmeline Pankhurst, the famous organiser of the UK suffragette movement. Over half of all the visual artists working today are women, but most of the paintings and sculptures shown in many galleries and museums are the work of men. Pankhurst sets the record straight with her fascinating, illustrated stories of some of history’s most talented female artists. Express your feelings and find your identity through art with Frida Kahlo, run away to the circus and paint with Dame Laura Knight, help bring talented artists into the spotlight with Peggy Guggenheim, and challenge racism and segregation by creating powerful art with Faith Ringgold. You can also meet Amrita Sher-Gil, Elisabeth Le Brun, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Kathe Kollwitz. With comic strips, family trees, maps and more, Pankhurst’s revealing and enlightening book is a celebration of just some of the women whose creativity and dreams have left a mark on the world and the first of an exciting new series for young readers.

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

There are Birds Everywhere

Camilla de la Bedoyere and Britta Teckentrup

Dig out your binoculars and reach for the sky with a fabulous book of birds that will have all the family aflutter! Camilla de la Bedoyere, an author with a background in zoology, and award-winning illustrator Britta Teckentrup explore the amazingly colourful world of birds in There are Birds Everywhere, a super-sized and sumptuously illustrated non-fiction book. The colourful world of birds is full of surprises and diversity… some birds live by the sea, some in the savannah, and some might live in your roof. See eagles soaring through the skies, peek at a woodpecker’s treetop nest and follow emperor penguins as they brave freezing temperatures on their icy journey to the sea. Young readers learn where in the world all sorts of different birds can be found, and all the weird and wonderful things about them that they never imagined were true. With an added search-and-find element, this an exciting, fun and fascinating way to take flight with a host of feathered friends.

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 5 plus:

Big Sky Mountain: The Forest Wolves

Alex Milway

Dr Dolittle meets Dora the Explorer in this exhilarating new illustrated series which is the next best thing to breathing in the scents of the great outdoors! Screenwriter and Hotel Flamingo author Alex Milway inspires everyone to pull on their walking boots and join a little girl called Rosa on Big Sky Mountain… a place in the wilderness that has a home for everyone. There is never a dull day on Big Sky Mountain! Rain or shine, there is always something that needs doing. Rosa has come to live with her Grandma Nan and they are busy building a bigger cabin when a storm strikes, and a host of animals descend for shelter. It’s not long before Rosa discovers that she can talk to the animals but there is one unexpected visitor… a tiny wolf cub. This little wolf doesn’t seem like the scary, giant-fanged forest wolves that Rosa has heard about! Can the cub really be part of their pack? Rosa and Grandma Nan set off into the forest to find out. There is adventure with a capital A in this gorgeous tale of friendship, outdoor fun and caring for the environment. Ideal as a first chapter book for new readers and full of Milway’s vibrant two-tone illustrations, this is a truly wild and wonderful story for your own little explorers!

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Snowy White

Gareth P. Jones and Loretta Schauer

‘Crystal ball up on the wall, who’s the finest cat of all?’ Be prepared to preen, pucker, giggle and guffaw as Gareth P. Jones leaps back into the lives of little ones. Snowy White is the third Fairy Tale for the Fearless in Jones’ fun-filled twist on traditional fairy tales series which has included the hilarious Rabunzel and Cindergorilla. These laugh-out-loud adventures come with the fabulously bold and eye-catching illustrations of Loretta Schauer and lots of empowering messages for young children. Here we meet vain ginger tom Kingsley who reckons he is the finest cat in the kingdom. How does he know? Because his crystal ball tells him so! But one day, the crystal ball has a different story to tell. A new cat by the name of Snowy White has arrived in the kingdom. She’s beautiful, she’s kind and Kingsley is determined to get rid of her. Luckily, though, Snowy gets a helping hand – or seven – from some very special new friends! With its ingenious twist on the classic tale of Snow White and super silly story full of cat stars, this heartwarming tale of courage, friendship and recycling will have your youngsters purring with delight!

(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Frank and Bert

Chris Naylor Ballesteros

There are one hundred reasons to love this adorable picture book featuring a stellar fox and bear double act! With a thread of humour (and wool!) running through its warm heart, author and illustrator Chris Naylor Ballesteros delivers a heartwarming reminder to us all about the joys and rewards of friendship. Frank the fox and Bert the bear are the best of friends and they love to play hide and seek. But, on account of his size, Bert isn’t quite as good at hiding as he thinks he is and Frank ALWAYS wins… every single time. So when it’s Bert’s turn to hide, and Frank has to decide between winning again or making his friend happy, Frank has a countdown plan that will let Bert win (even if Bert has the last laugh!) This interactive and fun-filled story – with its stunning illustrations featuring eye-catching flashes of neon colour and lots of visual humour – proves that winning isn’t everything, and is guaranteed to get your youngsters counting and giggling right through to the last page! Every Nosy Crow paperback picture book comes with a free Stories Aloud audio recording… just scan the QR code and listen along.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)