Wise wizards, a mighty mouse and strange space - book review

The Wizards and the Whale by Anthinula Tori and Jean Tori
The Wizards and the Whale by Anthinula Tori and Jean Tori

Discover a picture book overflowing with colour and magic, meet a mouse on a wartime mission, and enjoy an adventure with an exciting technological twist in a super collection of May children’s books.

Age 5 plus:

The Wizards and the Whale

Anthinula Tori and Jean Tori

Feast your eyes and feed young imaginations with a fabulous new picture book positively overflowing with colour, beauty, magic.. and important messages about our endangered planet.

The Wizards and the Whale is an inspirational story about twelve wizards from different kingdoms and was lovingly put together by a highly talented mother and daughter duo.

Jean Tori, a British-born artist who has been painting professionally for 55 years and lives in Italy, and her daughter Anthinula, a writer and designer, together created this remarkable book, their first art-based children’s book collaboration produced by Jean Tori Design Ltd.

The mother-daughter partnership aims to create high quality, beautiful, collectable books featuring Jean Tori’s stunning artwork, which is rich in both texture and meaning, and combine it with imaginative stories starring characters with strong voices.

Themes of exploration, sharing and friendship in colour-filled, fascinating worlds are explored while the artwork creates a sense of wonder and endless possibilities.

In The Wizards and the Whale, we follow twelve wizards from strange and beautiful lands when they are all invited to the wild island where the mysterious Worldly Wizard awaits them.

Each wizard embarks on an amazing individual journey to reach their important destination, only to discover that the mysterious Worldly Wizard is in fact Willow the Whale, who travels the world listening and collecting knowledge.

She knows that the world needs help. She understands that these wise wizards and their animal friends need to collaborate and work out a plan about how to help the ailing world.

The wizards come up with an idea that they will send out a message to the whole world and their message will be carried by special lamps in the wind so that it reaches everyone.

Jean Tori’s stunningly multi-coloured, graphic and richly detailed artwork fills every page of this exquisite book and the atmospheric story showcases a wide variety of international characters and diverse geographic locations.

The Wizards and the Whale is guaranteed to enchant, inform and inspire youngsters to play their own small part in helping to save the Earth.

(Jean Tori Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Umbrella Mouse

Anna Fargher and Sam Usher

Meet a mouse on a mission in wartime France in a wonderful, action-packed debut novel from Anna Fargher, an exciting new voice in middle-grade fiction.

A timeless tale of courage, resistance and friendship, The Umbrella Mouse is a heart-stopping adventure drawing on the true stories of animals caught up in the harsh realities of conflict, and coincides with the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

It's 1944, and London is under attack. Young mouse Pip Hanway's safe and quiet world is turned upside down when her home, the umbrella shop James Smith & Sons in London’s New Oxford Street, is destroyed by a bomb, killing all her family. Orphaned and alone, she must begin a perilous quest to find a new home in the hills of Italy, the place where her family originated.

But the only way to get there is to rely on the kindness and courage of others so she joins Noah’s Ark, a secret gang of animals fighting with the resistance in France, and operating beneath the feet of the human soldiers.

Pip meets rats, a dog, a very fast carrier pigeon, a hedgehog, a majestic stag, an eagle and many other creatures. But danger and the evils of war are everywhere, even in her own ranks, and as the enemy closes in, Pip must risk everything to save her new friends.

Beautifully illustrated by Sam Usher, Fargher's unique debut takes young readers on an incredible journey through a war that reaches even the smallest of creatures.

With its classic feel and an enchanting, fast-paced story with themes of bravery, teamwork and surviving against the odds, this is an adventure to inspire, entertain and uplift.

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

Age 8 plus:

D-Day Dog

Tom Palmer

And on the same theme of wartime animals, Tom Palmer celebrates man's best friend in an all-action adventure inspired by real-life events.

D-Day Dog is a moving tribute to the heroic paratroopers of the Second World War and their parachuting canine companions. It is published in the year that marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, serving as an important reminder of the nation's history and the bravery of our soldiers.

Jack can't wait for the school trip to the D-Day landing beaches. It's his chance to learn more about the war heroes he has always admired... brave men like his father who is a reserve soldier.

But when his dad is called up to action and things at home spiral out of control, everything Jack believes about war is thrown into question.

Finding comfort only in the presence of his loyal dog, Finn, Jack is drawn into the heart-wrenching true story of one particular D-Day paratrooper, Emile Corteil. On 6 June 1944, Emile parachuted into France with his dog, Glen... and Jack is determined to discover their fate.

Palmer, who writes about both football and history, delivers important lessons to young readers about the D-Day landings and the dangerous work and sacrifices of the brave paratroopers and their parachuting dogs.

But this is also a beautiful, engaging story focusing on the courage of soldiers now as well as in the past, the age-old bonds between humans and dogs, and the loving ties of family and friendship.

Ideal reading for children at both home and school.

(Barrington Stoke Conkers, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Odd Science: Spectacular Space

James Olstein

Science doesn’t have to be boring… in fact, it can be quirky, excitingly strange and super cool!

And no one knows that better than author and illustrator James Olstein who has put together another amazing picture book full of facts, wonders and some of the most in incredible aspects of science.

Odd Science: Spectacular Space, the third book in this exciting and imaginative series, is filled with weird and wacky facts that are simply out of this world.

Read about the first flower grown in space, wonder at the tallest mountain in the solar system and tell your friends that Saturn could float in water.

Discover that it's impossible for someone to cry in space because of the lack of gravity, and that the largest photo ever taken was by NASA at 1.5 billion pixels. Learn about the planet that is shrinking every year, wonder at the lakes of water drifting through the Universe, and find out about the WiFi hotspot on the Moon!

There are facts about tortoises orbiting the Moon, facts about Martian rocks here on Earth, and facts about lightning bolts one and a half times as long as our galaxy!

Olstein brings to life all these odd facts in a retro-inspired, quirky style. His designs aren’t meant to be taken literally but children will giggle when they see Einstein surfing on a gravitational wave and pizza floating through space!

Prepare to laugh, marvel and learn as you discover that science can be fun, funny and fascinating!

(Pavilion Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Level Up

Tom Nicoll and Anjan Sarkar

Imagine being trapped inside your favourite video game!

Popular children’s author Tom Nicoll is back with a brilliant new high-octane adventure with an exciting technological twist.

Young gamers will be downing their consoles to follow the escapades of daredevil video-game obsessed Flo who discovers virtual reality isn’t as much fun when it’s not so virtual.

When Flo’s engineer mum creates a device that will make her image appear in her video games, Flo can’t wait to use it. Ignoring her mum’s warnings that it’s not ready, Flo accidentally transports herself into the game, along with her not-so-keen-on-videogames-and-wishing-he’d-stayed-home best friend Max. Immersed in the world of Star Smasher, they not only have to face armies of soldiers, but also the very real possibility that there may not be a way out…

There are laughs, mishaps and all-out action on every page of this exhilarating story which has all the much-loved hallmarks of Nicoll’s eye for comedy and energetic storytelling.

Anjan Sarkar brings to life fearless Flo and long-suffering Max, her partner in virtual adventure, and all the weird and wonderful characters they meet along the way.

The perfect book to get reluctant readers on game with the joys of real-time reading!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Star Friends: Moonlight Mischief

Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming

Mystery, magic, adventure and danger… the perfect mix for young readers getting to grips with reading alone!

Linda Chapman, author of over 200 books for children, has her finger firmly on the pulse of little girls and animal lovers in the seventh book of her wonderfully warm, exciting and tender Star Friends series which has won the hearts of thousands of youngsters.

Sita and her pals are Star Friends – girls who can use magic to keep the world in harmony, looking after the environment, healing things and people, but most importantly conquering evil. And when they meet the Star Animals, a whole world of magical adventure unfolds.

When the residents of Westcombe enter the Best Kept Village competition, they appear to have a helping hand – someone has tidied the village overnight! No one knows who has mowed the lawns and painted the fences but the town is looking neater than ever.

Then pets and toys start to go missing. The villagers are upset and worried, and the Star Friends suspect that dark magic is involved. They are going to have to use all of their skills to solve this latest mystery...

Chapman’s imaginative story – ideally pitched for building reading confidence – transports children into the wonderful Star World through her gentle narrative and enchanting characters while Lucy Fleming provides the appealing and contemporary illustrations for a story packed with dramas and challenges as the friends battle to overcome evil using their magical powers.

With captivating animal characters, enchanting adventures and a lively group of Star Friends to get to know and like, there is fun, love and adventure on every page as well as important messages about wildlife and the environment.

A spellbinding series that inspires a love of reading…

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Shine: Lily's Secret Audition

Holly Webb and Monique Dong

Raise the curtain and let the show begin!

Welcome to the Shine School for the Performing Arts and the latest book in a sparkling, revamped series of dance, drama, dreams and friendship stories from favourite children’s author Holly Webb.

Dance and drama classes are hugely popular among young children and for many, full-time stage school is the ultimate dream. So step into the limelight and share the captivating ups and downs of stage school and friendships with a talented cast of girls you will love to meet.

Lily has never felt like she deserves to be at The Shine School for the Performing Arts. She’s sure she only got a place because of her famous actress mum. Then she finds out about an exciting new TV adaptation of her favourite book, Little Women, and everything clicks – this is her chance to prove herself! Will she be able to convince everyone else that this is the perfect part for her?

This glittering, perfectly-pitched series, featuring stage, performance and friendship dramas, is being reissued with gorgeous new covers and redesigned pages, including fabulous new contemporary illustrations by Monique Dong.

Tears, triumphs and plenty of tantrums!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

I'm Not Grumpy

Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

Kindness pays dividends for a grumpy mouse who discovers that friendship really is the sweetest thing!

The super-talented team of Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler work their magic on the moving and exquisitely told and illustrated story of a little lost badger and his unexpected helper.

Mouse is the grumpiest and grouchiest mouse for miles around and today he is in a particularly grumpy mood. He woke up to find that the door to his oak tree was blocked by a big furry bottom! 'That's just what I need,' he grumbled, climbing out if the window to see what was going on.

He discovers that the furry bottom belongs to a tearful little badger who has lost her mummy and desperately needs his help. Soon lots of other woodland creatures have joined the hunt but will they find mummy badger before night falls, and will Mouse lose his reputation as Mr Grumpy?

There are lots of heartwarming messages in this tale about the happiness that comes from making friends and the value of kindness and friendship, whether it is given or received.

Little ones learn that choosing to be helpful and kind can transform the way people see us and is the best way to make and keep the friendships that are such an important part of living.

Written with warmth and insight by Smallman, and filled with Pedler’s bold, enchanting illustrations, this book is ideal for helping children to recognise and understand their own mood swings.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Slow Samson

Bethany Christou

All the family will love this heartwarming story from an exciting new talent starring a lovable sloth who is so slow that he always arrives at parties late and misses all the fun.

Slow Samson, a clever and thoughtful debut picture book from Bethany Christou, a children's illustrator and author from Hertfordshire, was highly commended for the Macmillan Prize in 2016, as well as being shortlisted for New Designer of the Year.

Everyone likes Samson the sloth, and he gets lots of invitations to parties. The problem is that he's far too slow to ever get there on time. When Samson finally makes it to the celebration, the cake has always been eaten and the party games are finished. Luckily Samson's resourceful friends have a plan, but can you ever really speed up a sloth?

Christou has a gift for both writing and illustrating, and the story of a lovable but slow sloth will touch the hearts of children and adults.

With its richly detailed and emotive illustrations, and warm and wise messages about accepting people for who they are and looking after your friends, this book is destined to be a surefire family favourite.

(Templar Publishing, paperback, £6.99)