Witchcraft wonders, terrific trees and a stick boy by various authors – book reviews –

Join a runaway schoolgirl with a bewitching destiny, discover some of the world’s most amazing trees, share fun-filled tales with a 2D boy living in a 3D world, take a journey through some incredible inventions, and say hello to an elephant on his big day out in a super selection of spring children’s books.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 21st April 2022, 12:30 pm
Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna and Tomislav Tomic
Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna and Tomislav Tomic

Age 9 plus:

Hedgewitch

Skye McKenna and Tomislav Tomic

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If you’re looking for an adventure with a truly magical atmosphere, join a runaway schoolgirl who discovers that her hidden destiny lies in the wonders of witchcraft.

Already hailed as a modern classic, the dazzling debut series Hedgewitch – fabulously illustrated by Tomislav Tomic – comes from the super-creative mind of Skye McKenna who grew up surrounded by red dust in a mining town in the Australian outback but then travelled to England and fell in love with the British countryside.

Now living in Scotland, and working in heritage, she recently curated the Magic & Mystery exhibition for Barley Hall, York, introducing visitors to real and legendary wizards and alchemists. And it is her love of magic and adventure which inspired this captivating series about a family of witches who protect Britain from the denizens of Faerie, creatures who are all too real and far more frightening than the story books suggest.

Cassie Morgan has run away. After seven years spent waiting for her mother to return and reading forbidden story books about Faerie, she flees her dreary boarding school and sets out to find her. But the world outside her school is full of hidden magic and children have been going missing. Lost and alone, she falls prey to a pack of child-nabbing goblins but escapes with the help of talking cat Montague and a flying broom to the enchanted village of Hedgely.

There she discovers that she comes from a family of witches and will begin her training in the practical skills of witchcraft with the Hedgewitch who, over the Hedge, watches the vast forest that marks the border between England and Faerie. Within the woods lurk imps, wyrms, wisps and goblins, and there has always been a Hedgewitch to guard the border against the fairy folk. Will Cassie discover the truth about her mother and what will it take to save her new home?

McKenna is a born storyteller, creating an enchanting, magical world that is as alluring as it is viscerally and thrillingly real. Hedgely is a place where the characters spring to glorious life, where the natural world takes centre stage and where readers young and old will long to return to time and time again!

(Welbeck Flame, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus:

Around the World in 80 Musical Instruments

Nancy Dickmann and Sue Downing

Trees, music and a world of knowledge! Enjoy two fabulously illustrated companion books which celebrate the huge variety of instruments played across the globe, and some of the amazing trees that play a vital role in maintaining the Earth’s health. In Around the World in 80 Musical Instruments, written by music teacher Nancy Dickmann and imaginatively illustrated by Sue Downing, youngsters discover (amongst many other amazing musical facts!) how you play a theremin without touching it and turn a cave’s stalactites into an organ. Grouped into percussion instruments, wind, and string, as well as the weird and wonderful that defy categorisation, readers learn how they are all related to each other in ‘families’ and observe the musical family tree as a fold-out poster. Meet traditional instruments from various cultures, such as the gamelan and mbira, as well as the creations of modern artists and musicians, including the Wintergatan Marble Machine and the eerie-sounding Earth harp. Readers will even discover a band that plays exclusively on instruments fashioned from fresh vegetables, and makes the offcuts into soup to serve to the audience. A book that hits all the right notes!

Around the World in 80 Trees

Ben Lerwill and Kaja Kajfez

And in Around the World in 80 Trees, written by award-winning travel writer Ben Lerwill and lavishly illustrated by Croatian artist Kaja Kajfez, youngsters gaze up at towering redwoods, marvel at monkey puzzles and find out which tree has fish swimming round its roots. As the book takes the reader on a journey around the world, it reveals trees that give us beautiful flowers, delicious food and life-saving medicines, bizarre trees with blood-red sap, trees with ancient legends, trees with fruit that can be used as soap or even burned as candles, and trees that help us journey to the farthest reaches of our world. Where can you find Methuselah, the oldest tree in the world, why is the baobab’s trunk so fat and can trees really warn each other that something is about to eat them? Focus spreads explore subjects such as the life cycle of trees, why trees are vital to the Earth’s health, and their importance to us, whilst a stunning central gatefold opens out to reveal all 80 trees and how they communicate with each other. Bursting with blossom, rustling leaves, the biggest trees, the smallest trees and everything in between, this is a fantastic visual and verbal celebration of our wonderful trees.

(Welbeck, hardback, £14.99 each)

Age 8 plus:

Stick Boy and the Rise of the Robots

Paul Coomey

If you read the first brilliant book in Paul Coomey’s debut series, you’ll certainly be ready to stick with the second! Stick Boy – which features the fun-filled tales of a 2D boy in a 3D world – tickled the funny bones of a host of youngsters and now there’s a wacky new adventure to enjoy. Perfectly created for youngsters who prefer their reading to come with lots of eye-catching illustrations, all-round talented Irish writer and illustrator Coomey’s series is a visual and verbal treat that delivers words of wisdom and giggles galore on every page. It’s tough fitting in when you're born to stick out! When crooked Baron Ben gives the residents of Little Town an exciting new gadget that lets them explore virtual worlds, they can’t wait to try it out. Before long everyone is plugged into their techy treats. Everyone that is, except Stick Boy. Left to his own devices and suspicious of Baron Ben’s generous gift, Stick is on the case. And when his investigations lead him to a secret underground lair full of robots preparing to take over the town, it’s up to Stick Boy to save the day! Fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates, and all reluctant readers, will adore this high-energy celebration of fun, friendship, family… and robots!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8:

A Robot Squashed My Teacher

Pooja Puri and Allen Fatimaharan

Top team Esha and Broccoli return with an amazing new invention… so what could possibly go wrong? Everything it seems! Welcome back to the wild, wacky and wonderful world of genius inventor extraordinaire Esha Verma, the hilarious creation of author Pooja Puri and her brilliant illustrator team mate Allen Fatimaharan. In this all-action, laugh-out-loud sequel to A Dinosaur Ate My Sister, which introduced readers to Esha, her snotty apprentice Broccoli and his secretly cunning pet tortoise, the trio are dreaming of winning the legendary Brain Trophy… the ultimate inventing prize. This year’s entry is the RoarEasy – a gadget that lets the user speak to animals. But when Esha’s arch-nemesis, fellow inventor Ernie, lands her in detention, the RoarEasy malfunctions and suddenly Monsieur Crépeau is transformed into a pigeon. Luckily for Esha, she knows exactly what she needs to repair her invention and where to find it… it’s locked away in the mysterious Central Research Laboratories. She, Broccoli, Archibald and Monsieur Crépeau will have to go undercover and break into the labs before the competition to return Monsieur Crépeau to his human form. But with Ernie following them, determined to foil their plans, they’re going to need all the help they can find to get out of this wacky pickle! Puri and Fatimaharan work their special magic on this madcap adventure which features an eclectic assortment of giant robots, killer plants, shrinking machines, robo-spiders, clouds that make you float and terrifying twisters. Add on pigeons, some slight disagreements and some creepy creepers and you have another chapter of accidents that no mischief-maker would want to miss!

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

Age 7 plus:

Earth, Sea and Stars: Inspiring Tales of the Natural World

Isabel Otter and Ana Sender

Enjoy tales to amaze, inform and inspire in a beautiful anthology of twenty stories about the natural world, each one drawn from a rich variety of cultures. With stories poignantly retold by writer and nature lover Isabel Otter, and packed full with the breathtaking artwork of Ana Sender, Earth, Sea and Stars takes readers on journeys all around Earth. From the Ancient Chinese countryside and the sky-high trees in Tahiti to the dense forests of Norway, youngsters can travel across the wide savannah, into the deep forest, over mighty mountains, under the ocean depths and into the skies above. Join a group of bold, adventurous characters as they sail to the moon, create the first fire, find the summer, grow orchards of friendship, meet the creatures who walk alongside us and explore the different ways we can cherish and nurture the planet we live on. Across cultures and continents, children are encouraged to understand and appreciate the ancient wisdom that lies inside the stories and how the universal landscape of these tales unites us as one global community. The perfect story book for little nature lovers with a resonant message they can treasure.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £14.99)

Age 5 plus:

Once Upon a Big Idea: The Story of Inventions

James Carter and Margaux Carpentier

Take a trip from the Stone Age to our modern world, and explore all manner of fantastic human creations in this exciting and informative book from prize-winning poet and educational writer James Carter, and inspirational illustrator Margaux Carpentier. In an enchanting blend of lively verse, fascinating inventions and bold illustration, Once Upon a Big Idea takes young readers on a colourful journey through a world of invention as they discover a host of big ideas that have come from human brains. From telescopes, clocks and trains and from bridges and boats to medicines and mobile phones, this lyrical book explores a wealth of human creativity. Learn how rocks and stones helped create the pyramids, how modern materials such as concrete and nylon have changed our lives, and how fire gave humans heat and light to cook and illuminate even the darkest nights. Carter’s thoughtful and beautifully written poetry introduces young readers to five concepts which are at the heart of our lives, and with Carpentier’s electrifying artwork to bring his gentle but informative words to life, there could be no better way to introduce children to the concept of invention.

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Wellington’s Big Day Out

Steve Small

Let your little ones learn how to think big in this irresistibly funny and heartwarming picture book from BAFTA-nominated animation director Steve Small. Guaranteed to win the hearts of elephant lovers – and little boys – everywhere, Wellington’s Big Day Out is a wonderfully whimsical tale about the all-too-familiar worries of growing up. When Wellington is given a new jacket exactly like Dad’s for his birthday, at first he’s delighted. But his delight turns to disappointment when he tries it on and it’s far too big. And what if, even worse, Wellington thinks, it’s not that the jacket is too big but that he’s too small? Well, Wellington’s dad has a plan, and on an exciting day out that takes in a ride on the bus, a super-size strawberry sundae, a toot on a tuba and a visit to his grandad, Wellington learns that he’s growing up exactly as fast as he should be… and just like his dad. Small’s colourful gallery of pictures is a joy to behold… both children and parents will feast on this beguiling blend of heart-melting illustrations and a story that reaches out far beyond the pages. Picture book perfection!

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Eyebrows of Doom

Steve Smallman and Miguel Ordóñez

Raise an eyebrow and get ready to giggle because comic genius Steve Smallman is back with a riotous rhyming romp! The Eyebrows of Doom will have youngsters laughing all the way from furst page to last as Smallman has fun with his wizard wordplay and award-winning illustrator Miguel Ordóñez puts a pair of renegade eyebrows at centre stage. ‘In some woods in a cave, a big bear called Dave Was sweeping his floor with a broom, When two clumps of hair leapt into the air and cried ‘We are the Eyebrows of Doom!’ The Eyebrows of Doom are trying to take over the world. Join Dave and his friends as they try to stop them leaping from one unsuspecting animal to the next. And just when it looks as though the eyebrows’ antics have been thwarted… all is not as it seems! Smallman bedazzles us once again with his crazy capers and Ordóñez’s fabulous palette of colours brings extra zest and zip to the kind of hilarious adventures that will have little ones begging for more!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Princesses Wear Trainers

Sam Squiers and Annabel Cutler

Can a princess get away with wearing trainers instead of glass slippers? Well, of course she can when she’s Princess Ellie, the sportiest and bravest girl in the kingdom! Youngsters will be slipping on their own trainers when they meet sports-mad Ellie, whose fast-thinking, fast-running and fast-action saves the day in a truly charming picture book from award-winning Australian sports journalist and author Sam Squiers and talented illustrator Annabel Cutler. Princess Ellie loves playing sports but she has a little problem... nobody seems to think that her sporty interests, including wearing a pair of trainers, are very princess-like! But when disaster strikes the kingdom and a dragon kidnaps the king and queen, Princess Ellie sets out to prove that princesses definitely DO wear trainers and sometimes it definitely pays off! Squiers, who likes telling the incredible stories of female athletes and is a champion of women’s sports, is certainly on goal with this inspirational story which comes packed with Cutler’s gorgeous illustrations in a palette of striking colours.

(Little Steps Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Garden Monster

Paul Deslandes and Lia Visirin

Join two little boys on the hunt for a monster that has invaded their garden in an endearing picture book from Kent debut author Paul Deslandes whose idea for The Garden Monster came from spending endless hours watching his two boys exploring in the garden, talking to creatures and catching bugs. ‘We went into our garden, to see if we could see, A monster that I'd heard about, much bigger than me. But where do we start in finding this beast? Maybe he’s sleeping or enjoying a feast.’ Follow the brothers’ journey through the garden as they find a snail, a butterfly, a magpie, a bee and a host of other tiny creatures… only to find the monster they are seeking lives closer to home than they imagined. With the beautifully evocative illustrations of Romanian-born artist Lia Visirin to bring this inspirational story to life, youngsters will be heading off to the great outdoors to launch their own exciting springtime monster hunt!

(Little Steps Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Friendship Bench

Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus

Get ready to have your heart warmed, your fears eased and your spirits lifted with an exquisitely beautiful picture book from award-winning children’s writer Wendy Meddour and world-renowned artist Daniel Egnéus. The Friendship Bench is story about moving home and making new friends, and speaks gently but resonantly to any youngsters starting school, facing new beginnings or finding new friends. Tilly has just moved to a new house, by the splash and curl of the sea. She loves doing cartwheels in the sand and playing catch with Mummy and Shadow the dog. But when it is time to start her new school, Shadow and Mummy must stay outside. And inside is full of strangers. ‘Why don't you try The Friendship Bench?’ says her teacher when Tilly is playing alone. ‘It helps children find new friends to play with.’ But when Tilly gets there, somebody is already on it… could this lonely little boy be Tilly’s new friend? Meddour’s simple, lyrical and empathetic tale is perfectly imagined and imbued with a welcoming warmth and kindness, while Egnéus ’ richly evocative artwork adds a stunning layer of atmospheric power to the wise messages wrapped up in the words.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

No More Peas

Madeleine Cook and Erika Meza

No peas for Oliver… he’d rather have fries, pizzas, burgers, sausages and ice cream! If your fussy little eaters are turning up their noses (and their plates!) when it comes to eating veggies, then open the pages of this adorable picture book and let them ‘grow’ to love them. Children’s books author Madeleine Cook serves up a delicious helping of carrots and comedy in this wonderfully imagined story brilliantly illustrated by Mexican illustrator Erika Meza. Oliver only wants to eat a plateful of chips or a gooey pizza for dinner so when Daddy keeps dishing up vegetables, Oliver’s cheeks turn red and he shouts: 'No more peas!' Will Oliver ever give vegetables a chance or is Daddy hatching a cunning plan on his vegetable-growing allotment? No More Peas comes packed with knockabout humour and jokes guaranteed to keep little ones entertained, and fascinating facts about growing and preparing different types of vegetables. With Meza’s equally colourful array of illustrations to tempt reluctant eaters, this is the perfect picture book to sow the seeds of a healthy diet… and a more adventurous palate!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Busy Party

Illustrated by Jill Howarth

There’s a party going on and you are invited! Put on your party hat, paint your face… and then push, pull and turn! Little ones will love joining in the celebrations for the amazing 50th book in the popular Busy Books series with this bright and colourful new book which comes with a special, gold-foil cover. These novelty board books let youngsters get hands on with a host of different topics and in this new adventure, they can decorate the house with balloons and bunting, play party games and dance the night away while fireworks fizz and pop. Jill Howarth’s gallery of illustrations bring the scenes to colourful life as children count cakes, try to spot a snail, roar like a tiger, and decide which firework they like best. This bright and colourful board book, with its gentle rhyming text and vibrant illustrations, helps develop motor and language skills and provides plenty to talk about. Add on the fun of finding things on every page and you have a party at your fingertips!

(Campbell Books, board book, £6.99)