The final whistle, super sleuths and an ungodly mystery by various authors - book reviews -

The remarkable story of a group of Preston girls who made footballing history reaches the final chapter, a pizza delivery boy heads off for a slice of sleuthing action in Japan, meet some unlikely heroes in the ancient Norse world, and discover the wonders of nature at night in an exciting selection of new children’s books.

By Helen Nicholas
Wednesday, 26th January 2022, 12:30 pm
Dick, Kerr Girls: All Together Now
Dick, Kerr Girls: All Together Now

Age 9 plus:

Dick, Kerr Girls: All Together Now

Eve Ainsworth

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Welcome back into the lives of the team of ordinary working girls from Preston who made footballing history.

The remarkable munitions workers from the Dick, Kerr factory in Strand Road – whose first match was played before an astonishing 10,000 spectators at Deepdale on Christmas Day in 1917 – take centre stage again in the final book of a thrilling Dick, Kerr Girls trilogy from Carnegie-nominated author Eve Ainsworth.

All Together Now – which follows on from Kicking Off! and The Perfect Shot – continues the feminist coming-of-age re-telling of events leading up to the formation of the famous Preston football team, which emerged at a time when women weren’t allowed to play professional football, but whose plucky members went on to play in front of crowds the size of today’s men’s Premier League teams.

It’s 1920, and the team have a new member training with them. Martha – little sister to Hettie and Freddie – has finally been given her chance to swap street kickabouts with the local lads for the chance to play alongside the world’s best female footballers. But Martha has more to worry about than keeping up with the older girls. She’s dealing with new and confusing feelings. Things at home are hard and the future of women’s football in general is under threat. Are Martha’s dreams – both on and off the pitch – too far out of reach?

Meticulously researched and brimming with the excitement and determination of those footballing legends, this powerful and inspirational series has been a reminder of the obstacles these young women faced, and the release that sport offered them from the grind of their daily lives.

From making new friendships and making history, Ainsworth’s storytelling celebration of a group of unforgettable women resonates loudly with today’s generation of aspiring female footballers.

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Mark Anchovy: Pizza Power

William Goldsmith

No youngster will want to miss a slice of the action when they get their hands on the third tasty tale of an adventure-loving pizza delivery boy who serves up a big portion of danger in his dual role as a private detective. Mark Anchovy is a brilliant middle-grade series from talented writer and illustrator William Goldsmith and it comes packed with comedy, capers, tall orders, mouth-watering mysteries… and food glorious food! Pizza delivery boy Colin Kingsley, aka Mark Anchovy, is on a new case for the Golden Spatula League, the greatest of all detective agencies and it only recruits children. He’s got a lot on his plate this time and it’s not just fishy pizza. He’s in Japan and his mission is to track down Lord Bobo, an English game show host who is missing. Worryingly, a bloodthirsty butler is after him and, more worryingly, he has a new apprentice to train… his sister, Alicia. Has the world’s busiest pizza detective bitten off more than he can chew? Goldsmith’s fully illustrated adventure dishes up madcap action, super sleuthing, a Japanese shower of laughs, and more puns than a school text book on English grammar! Ideal for pizza and adrenalin addicts, and anybody aiming to follow in the footsteps of Agatha Christie, Mark Anchovy is a delicious favourite on the middle-grade reading menu.

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Vi Spy: Never Say Whatever Again

Maz Evans

I spy with my little eye… a daring (but D-minus!) girl tasked with saving the world! Welcome back to the fertile imagination of Maz Evans, author of the bestselling Who Let the Gods Out? books, and her hilarious super-sleuthing adventure series which stars a pint-sized super spy and a supporting cast of characters who cannot fail to win the hearts of readers young and old. Valentine (Vi) Day’s mum, Easter Day, is an ex- spy and is divorcing her dad, Robert Ford, who has now retired as one of the world’s most evil men. Divorce is tough for any kid but with her parents distracted, the real super-villains are having a field day. To save her family – and the planet – from evil domination, Vi has turned spy. But Vi is failing at top spy school Rimmington Hall even though the school motto is ‘Failure is Not an Option.’ To make matters worse, nearly-stepbrother Russell Sprout is an A* student. And worst of all, Vi’s shadowy nemesis Umbra is still at large. Can Vi unveil the arch-villain before she gets expelled and her parents ground her for ever? She’ll need the help of old friends and new, including nine-year-old super-hacker Missy Fit, and BFF Tamina who aims to save the world in a different way. Expect giggles and gasps galore as youngsters take a running jump into this full-on, comedy-laden story which includes memorable moments and gripping twists whilst gently tackling emotive issues like parental divorce and friendship problems.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

How to Be a Hero: A Gathering of Giants

Cat Weldon and Katie Kear

An unlikely hero and an ungodly case to solve… in a comically convoluted ancient world? It can only be the final EPIC chapter of Cat Weldon’s hilarious series set in the strange and thrilling world of Norse Gods and Valkyries. This funny, fast-paced fantasy trilogy – superbly illustrated throughout by Katie Kear – explores how to be a friend and what it means to be a hero whilst delivering one long madcap adventure full of giggles galore. Unlikely hero Whetstone and banished Valkyrie Lotta are in hiding. Their quest to find the magic harp strings before Loki, the trickster God, can use them to bring chaos to the Nine Worlds has come to a dead end. And with the evil Valkyrie Glinting-Fire wreaking havoc on earth, nowhere is safe… especially when Lotta can’t control her strange new powers. So when they overhear that Whetstone’s mother, and the second harp string, are imprisoned in the land of the Frost Giants, Whetstone decides that in order to beat Loki, he’s going to have to act like a ‘proper’ hero and leave behind the thief he used to be. But with an army of giants, traitorous trolls, brainwashed Valkyries and dangerous long-lost secrets, how can Whetstone and Lotta hope to win when they can’t figure out how to be a hero and themselves at the same time? Reluctant readers, slapstick comedy fans, and young adventurers will be in heavenly Valhalla as they share the last round of adventures with lovable Lotta and discover not just what it means to be a hero but also how weird and wonderful the Norse Gods really are!

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

Age 5 plus:

Above and Below: Dusk till Dawn

Harriet Evans and Nie Jones

Discover the wonders of nature at night in a spectacular lift-the-flap book full of colour, learning and fun. Young imaginations will be filled with enchantment and curiosity as they travel through the pages of this innovative and entertaining book from inventive publisher 360 Degrees. A non-fiction imprint of the Little Tiger Group, 360 Degrees offers a stimulating approach to presenting facts and Above and Below: Dusk till Dawn is another colourful, interactive creation full of split-page flaps to lift and amazing facts to discover. Journey from the woods at dusk to the lofty Himalayan Mountains and the sweltering deserts, and learn all about the natural world which thrives after the sun goes down. With its gently informative format, the book is full of fascinating facts about the animals and plants which exist in all kinds of climates and habitats, while the split pages allow readers to explore each landscape in a uniquely immersive way. See which night-time wildlife can be found in the open and which stay hidden within their shadowy habitats. Full of Harriet Evans’ bite-sized facts and all brought to vivid life by the enchanting, muted tones of Nie Jones’ beautiful illustrations, this is an exciting and child-friendly way to let youngsters see the world of wildlife at night, and the perfect book for bedtime reading.

(360 Degrees, hardback, £12.99)

Age 5 plus:

Two Terrible Vikings and Grunt the Berserker

Francesca Simon and Steve May

Imagine a world where parents want you to be bad! Hack and Whack, the terrible twins, are the very worst Vikings in their village… and let’s face it, being the WORST at everything isn’t easy. For any mischievous child who wants to give anarchy a go, author Francesca Simon and illustrator Steve May’s vile Viking twin terrors are guaranteed to leave readers doubled up with sniggers and giggles. Set in the snowy fjords of a Viking kingdom, this hilarious series features the two manic misbehaving stars and delivers a delicious twin portion of laughter. In their second outing, Hack and Whack might have a rival for being the very worst in the village when a fierce and stinky berserker moves in next door. Will their brand new school help the twins outwit this villain and his vicious dog, Muddy Butt? And will Twisty Pants, Dirty Ulf and Elsa Gold-Hair help vanquish the foul fiend? Simon – best known for her universally popular Horrid Henry series – employs the best of her trademark whip-smart dialogue and wit, while May’s Dennis the Menace style of anarchic cartoon imagery is perfectly pitched for younger readers. Fast and furious, laugh-out-loud funny and wickedly clever, the Two Terrible Vikings are a dream read for your own little mischief-makers.

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Mike Falls Up

Candy Gourlay and Carles Ballesteros

When picture books are too babyish and middle grade books too hard, just what can a young in-betweenie read? The answer is a highly illustrated, full-colour fiction range from the creative book boffins at Little Tiger Press. With their enchanting stories and highly illustrated glossy pages, these books are ideal for bridging the gap between picture books and chapter books for newly independent young readers. In Mike Falls Up, we meet Mike and his dog Bowow as they enjoy a lazy, hot afternoon in the Chocolate Hills when the ground beneath them cracks open… and Bowow jumps into the hole! Then a note flows up… ‘Birthday. Come now. Just fall up.’ With no time to wonder what it means, Mike jumps in and falls into some most topsy-turvy adventures! Shortlisted Carnegie Medal author Candy Gourlay delivers a joyous story celebrating the power of the unexpected, all brought to vivid life by Spanish illustrator Carles Ballesteros’ gallery of vibrant, colourful and action-filled illustrations. A fun book to read alone or to share with the family.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Octopants: The Missing Pirate Pants

Suzy Senior and Claire Powell

Everything seems to be going swimmingly for a little octopus until he tries to find a pair of underpants for his pal! Youngsters will be laughing all the way from the deep end as they dive into the long-awaited second book in the best-selling Octopants series from rhyming queen Suzy Senior and illustrator extraordinaire Claire Powell. This inspired pairing are back to win more hearts as we join Octopants, Pufferfish and their underwater pals on a pant-tastic adventure filled with pirates, parties and plenty of pants. Pufferfish has lost his pants. Where could those undies be? Ahoy there, Pirate! Step aboard – let’s join the search and see! Senior has a wonderful way with words and her funny, exuberant and clever rhyming romp leaps into glorious life alongside Powell’s vibrant, vivid and superbly colourful illustrations. Add on an eye-catching, shiny purple cover and lots of laughs with the joyful adventures and misadventures of a mixed-up, muddled-up mollusc, and this is underwater heaven for fun-loving youngsters.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Hello, Frog

Isabel Otter and Sophie Ledesma

Leap across lily pads with a bouncy fog in this joyful and colourful journey through nature! Hello, Frog – a beautifully produced touch, feel and reveal board book – features tactile textures, exciting flaps and peek-through holes to encourage little learners to interact with the pages. So join Frog on his jungle journey, and say hello to lots of friendly creatures along the way, as he explores all kinds of wildlife, from a hummingbird and a snake to a monkey and a moth. The bold and bright illustrations of Sophie Ledesma bring the natural world to life while Isabel Otter’s simple but informative text, and the intriguing flaps, allow little learners to recognise other animals and plants too. The ideal fun and stimulating book to share with your toddlers.

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

From birth:

Dear Zoo

Rod Campbell

‘I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet…’ Over the last 40 years, millions of copies of Rod Campbell’s much-loved, lift-the-flap book, Dear Zoo, have been sold worldwide and it is still as popular today as it was when it was introduced to families in 1982. And to celebrate Dear Zoo’s special 40th anniversary, let your little ones dive into this imaginative gold-foiled board book which brings all those favourite zoo animals to spectacular life. Tots will love to open up the pages, lift the flaps and meet all the animals one by one, from the large grey elephant and the stripy zebra to the bouncy kangaroo and a big friendly hippo. But will they ever manage to send the perfect pet? This robust and hard-wearing board book contains a colourful menagerie of popular zoo animals and little ones can learn their names and then discover their different shapes and sizes as they turn the chunky pages and see what’s hiding under the sturdy flaps. Ingeniously simple, gorgeously illustrated and yet wonderfully clever, Dear Zoo is perfect for small hands and the ideal way to introduce children to the wonder and variety of wild animals.

(Macmillan, board book, £6.99)