Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Longer Novels - more demanding

The Demon’s Watch
Written by Conrad Mason
David Fickling (eB)   £12.99
ISBN 978-0857560292
At the heart of the Middle Islands humans live peacefully among elves, goblins, trolls and fairies. Drunken brawls may erupt in taverns, entertainment may be savage, dubious deals are done, but generally major problems are avoided. Tabitha, inexperienced and young but daring and courageous when trouble strikes, is determined to restore order and desperate to prove herself.. Meanwhile at the Legless Tavern, overworked and undervalued, half-goblin boy, Joseph Grubb, finds a mysterious package threatening his life and that of the whole port. Menace encroaches and tension escalates as both a pirate mob and the powerful League of Light, dedicated to rooting out non-humans, wrestle for control. Then a vengeful witch returns, brewing retribution for her banishment in a spectacularly catastrophic fashion. An excellent debut fantasy novel which will entrance readers in its humour, setting and essential humanity, but which is original, witty and wise Full of pace and unexpected twists it will engage younger readers.
Tina Massey

Invisible Assassin: The Malichea Quest,
Written by Jim Eldridge
Bloomsbury (eB)   £6.99
ISBN: 978-1408817193
Jake is working as a Junior Communications Officer in a government department. His life becomes very complicated when he stumbles across the discovery of a hidden book which appears to hold an important secret about the future of the world.   The plot unfolds to reveal that there are more books, forming a whole library of hidden knowledge.  Each book is guarded by a person or an organisation, and it’s a dangerous task as Jake’s book and story bring danger and at least two deaths. This is an exciting spy story which reads like a James Bond thriller.  Jake starts as an unlikely hero but rises to the occasion to outwit his enemies. The plot moves quickly, with intriguing twists and turns, and keeps the reader guessing throughout.  The characters are real and the style is direct and accessible. A very readable adventure story!
Liz Dubber

Talina in the Tower
Written by Michelle Lovric
Orion (eB)   £9.99
ISBN 978-1444003383
Michelle Lovric’s latest Venetian tale is a dazzling mix of magical creatures and fantastical deeds.  Resourceful, and sometimes wilful, children frequently feature in her children’s novels, and Talina is no exception. Taken by her guardian to live in a remote Venetian tower when her parents mysteriously disappear, Talina must muster all her guile in order to defeat a wolf-like breed of Ravageurs who are filled with “baddened magic” and have epicurean appetites.  Befriended by a colony of cats and aided by her friend Professor Marin’s clever concoctions, Talina journeys to the isle of the Ravageurs to rescue her parents and save Venice from impending peril.  The narrative moves along at a cracking pace and is brimming with inventive detail. A hallmark of Michelle’s Venetian tales is the anecdotal & historical information about Venice which the reader gathers on the way, with further informative detail in a useful appendix. At the heart of this absorbing adventure lies a tale of justice and compassion in the face of cruelty.  The richly embellished language with its comic touches and anthropomorphic characters makes this a highly satisfying read.
Elaine Chant

The Paradise Trap
Written by Catherine Jinks
Quercus (eB)   £6.99
ISBN: 978-0857386731
The Paradise Trap perfectly illustrates how your dream holiday can turn into your worst nightmare. Marcus is horrified when his Mum, Holly, buys a caravan at Diamond Beach to relive her childhood holidays. However, the area has changed considerably, and not for the better, also the caravan is dilapidated and smelly. When they bump into Coco, Holly’s childhood friend, and her rather eccentric family, Marcus thinks things may not be so bad after all. That is before he and Coco’s son Eddison find a cellar beneath Marcus’ caravan, a cellar with many doors leading either to everyone’s dream holiday, or their worst nightmare.  I really enjoyed this original story. There is no contrived plot device to get rid of the parents, who are fully involved in the adventure, adding quirky behaviour; embarrassment for the children, but laughs for the reader. Their expertise complements the children’s ingenuity to overcome the many obstacles to their escape. The story moves along at a thrilling pace, with short exciting chapters making it fun and easy to read. Any book where the villain is an evil child-eating Siren and the hero is a genius gamer, has to be worth reading.
Jane Hall

Agent 21: Reloaded
Written by Chris Ryan
Red Fox (eB) £5.99
ISBN: 978-1849410083
A former SAS officer, Ryan is now an established writer of both children’s and adult fiction which draws on his real-life experiences. In this sequel to Agent 21, we catch up with Zak Darke, 14 years old and an orphan, recruited to a secret government agency to infiltrate situations unsuitable for adult operatives. Presumed dead by his remaining family after his previous mission, we find that Zak is alive, and about to be deployed once more. His task this time is to plant an explosive device on an African ship that will be carrying diamonds used by the terrorist organisation, Black Wolf, to launder dirty money. As you would expect, there are plenty of twists, turns, surprises and gadgets to keep the reader engaged with this page-turner. There are unexpected allies and resurrected villains in the mix as well. The USP of all Chris Ryan’s action novels is, of course, that Ryan has really been there and done that. No wonder, then, that the book is filled with technical and operational detail. So if you want to learn about AK47s, the bends and STARS (Surface to Air Recovery Systems) extractions, you’ve come to the right place.                                                   Stella Maden

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
Edited by Chris Van Allsburg
Andersen   £14.99
ISBN: 978-1849394086
Fifteen years ago a mysterious author named Harris Burdick handed in a collection of beguiling pictures to a children’s publisher and then disappeared completely. That is what Chris Van Allsburg would like us to believe. Although his style is so distinctive, it is hard not to conclude that the hand behind the illustrations for the Burdick sketches was also the perpetrator of that fabulous picture book, Polar Express. In this edition of the Burdick mystery, Allsburg has compiled fourteen stories from major names in the writing world, like Jon Scieszka, Lois Lowry and Stephen King. Each of the tales was inspired by one of the pictures and the brief evocative words that accompany them. There is no end to the way in which these can be interpreted but such classics as ‘Uninvited Guests’, ‘The Seven Chairs’ and ‘The House on Maple Street’, in the hands of these authors, deal with the loneliness and unease which often pervades modern life and leave us wondering, like the HB enigma, what exactly is real in this world.
Richard Monte

Crow Girl
Written by Kate Cann
Barrington Stoke (R)   £6.99
ISBN: 978-1781121214
Lily is a victim in school, bullied by the girls and ignored by the boys. One evening she escapes into the woods and feeds some crows. This event is the beginning of her new life! Her Grandma changes the physical Lily, but the crows change her mentally. Lily begins to tame the crows so that they follow her and come when she calls. Using their natural behaviour, they become her allies. Her life is transformed by her relationship with the crows; she achieves the boyfriend of her dreams and the bullies are routed. This is a classic tale of a bullied loner who turns the tables on her tormentors. At the end of the story, there is the feeling that Lily is relishing her revenge and the reader is left with the niggling feeling that the bullied is turning into a bully herself, and enjoying it! This is a good discussion point for readers about the causes and nature of bullying and what the response should be. This is quite a short story-labelled “dyslexic friendly”- that entices the reader on, in order to find out what happens. It ends rather abruptly, so for any real resolution, the reader would need to read the two sequels Crow Girl Returns and Crow Girl Rises.
Pat Thompson

Crow Girl Rises
Written by Kate Cann
Barrington Stoke (R)   £6.99
ISBN: 978-1842999936
One of the Barrington Stoke specialist books for young people with dyslexia, this book is also a short, punchy read for any teen. Picking up where its predecessor, Crow Girl left off, this book follows the next stage of Lily Stansfield’s transformation from bullied outsider to self-confident protector of others. Using her bond with the local crows, who she has befriended, Lily puts paid to the bullying ways of the Parkway Girls once and for all. Along the way, she earns the adoration of the girls she protects, discovers a talent for costume making, and acquires a boyfriend who admires her cleverness and difference to others. Lily doesn’t change herself in order to fit in, she simply makes the most of the person she is to find creative outlets and like-minded people. Cann delivers a pacey and compelling read in very few pages, and in direct, straightforward language. She also puts over very successfully the message that if young people play to their strengths and find their happiness, they can transform their lives.
Stella Maden

The Seeing
Written by Diana Hendry
Bodley Head (eB)   £10.99
ISBN: 978-0370332130
This is a fabulous book, set in 1953, just eight years after the end of WW2. The prologue sets an intriguing scene, whose relevance is only revealed at the very climax of the story. The tale itself opens with a meeting at school, and a subsequent friendship, between Lizzie and the strange Natalie and her odd young brother Philip. Natalie lost her father during the war and this event has set in train a bizarre series of events where she and her brother, who has apparently got second sight, claim to see into peoples’ hearts and to discover if they are undercover Nazis waiting to spring into action. Despite her doubts, Lizzie is almost hypnotised by Natalie. Philip begins to make new friends including an artist, who Natalie has “identified” and she goes her own way to “eliminate the enemy”, with tragic consequences. It is a story on many levels, about friendship with a dominant and manipulative person and about a child, for Natalie is still a child, who was so traumatised, when quite young, by the loss of a parent in war, that she devises her own way of getting revenge, using her own brother’s dubious powers.  It’s brilliant!
Pat Thompson

Body Blow
Peter Cocks
Walker Books (eB)   £6.99
ISBN 978-1406327281
Eddie Savage, 18, is recovering from the gunshot wounds and trauma of his first foray as a criminal intelligence agent. Bored in hiding in Stoke-on-Trent, he readily takes on another undercover job in Spain disguised as Pedro Garcia, a Spaniard who will be of use to the infamous Kelly gang. Eddie/Pedro has been rapidly trained in the Spanish language and deadly combat. Though his looks have been expertly altered, Eddie risks discovery as it was he who put former gang-leader, Tommy Kelly, behind bars (in the first title of the series, Long Reach). Tommy’s brother, Frank, even madder and less predictable, now runs the operation. The rapid pace, real locations and explosive violence propel the reader on while quite complex characters and underworld routines make for credibility.
Tina Massey

Grisha Book 1: The Gathering Dark
Written by Leigh Bardugo
Indigo (eB)   £8.99
ISBN: 978-1780621104
This is the first of The Grisha Trilogy and we are introduced to two orphans, Alina and Mal, somewhere in Russia.  Alina discovers a power that takes her into the world of the Grisha, the kingdom’s magical elite. The Darkling is the leader of the Grisha and Alina is attracted to him but knows she must discover how to unlock her power if she is to save her country and help Mal. The characters are very strong and the story is fast with lots of intrigue and excitement. This will really appeal to teenage fantasy fans that will be looking forward to the sequel.
Ingrid Fox

Burn Mark
Written by Laura Powell
Bloomsbury (eB)   £6.99
ISBN 978-140881522 9
The ‘burn mark’ is the dark bloodspot marking a witch. Glory, a young trainee witch of a once-powerful coven, strives to keep her ability secret as a violent criminal family try to pressure her into marriage so that they can use her to dominate the whole of east London. Meanwhile Lucas, son of the Inquisition’s Witchfinder General, proud to be a twelfth generation Witchfinder, is appalled to discover his own burn mark. Lucas and Glory join forces to combat threats from gang members engrossed in gang warfare, their own families and finally a secret cult of witch haters. The two allies must learn how to control their gifts, whilst trying to infiltrate the gangs and to avoid capture and torture. A most unusual novel which sets 20th Century London criminals, a modern day Inquisition,  and the problems of adulthood and  being different into complex patterning. At its heart is a concern for people and compassion for others. Surprisingly credible, a thoughtful and authentic read.
Tina Massey

Written by Mary Hooper 
Bloomsbury (eB)   £6.99  
ISBN: 987-0747599210
This is another wonderful story from a writer of great historical fiction.  The Victorian heroine of this story, an orphan called Velvet, is rescued from her exhausting job in a steam laundry to become a lady’s maid for the well known clairvoyant Madame Savoya. Velvet cannot believe her luck and she easily adapts to her new life, completely believing that Madame’s amazing powers are quite genuine. As time goes by Velvet becomes aware that there are a great number of fake mediums operating in London and she begins to wonder if Madame might also be a fraud, extorting money from the rich and vulnerable to maintain her expensive lifestyle. Thank goodness Velvet has a good friend who is a policeman! Although Madame Savoya is a fictional character it is well known that the Victorians were very interested in spiritualism and many prominent people, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, regularly attended séances. The author has woven a great deal of accurate historical details into Velvet’s story, but thankfully this does not weigh the story down.
Jan Lennon

Shorter Novels - less demanding

Two-Minute Christmas Stories
Retold by Elena Pasquali
Illustrated by Nicola Smee
Lion   £7.99
ISBN: 978-0745963297
A message of peace and goodwill at Christmastide runs through every page of this appealing book. As the title suggests it is a collection of ten short Christmas stories, gently retold, which includes the Nativity story taken from the Gospels as well as tales and legends displaying a variety of Christmas traditions from around the world. The large text and the playful illustrations on every page make this the ideal book for the young reader to dip into.
Sinead & Martin Kromer

The Snow Bear
Written by Holly Webb
Stripes   £7.99
ISBN: 978-1847152558
It is a few days before Christmas but Sara feels lonely and left out, staying with Grandad as Mum is expecting. To cheer her up Grandad builds her an igloo in the garden with a snow bear to guard her. Whilst it is still dark she wakes up in a magical world with a polar bear cub as companion. What has happened and how will she get back to Grandad? Another tender and gentle story for young readers from the pen of a best-selling author.
Sinead & Martin Kromer

The Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Dog Goes for Gold!
Written by Jeremy Strong
Illustrated by Rowan Clifford
Puffin (eB)   £5.99
ISBN: 978-0141339962
Another addition to the plethora of books with a sporting theme and by the end of the year there will be enough of them to fill an Olympic Library. But maximising commercial opportunities does not make a story poor, and Jeremy Strong has created a lively and enduring duo in 10 year old Trevor and his dog Streaker. They have that special child-pet relationship that will resonate with those of us lucky enough to have been brought up with animals in the family (and before people start picturing that unappealing cousin or pestering sibling, I do mean real animals, not metaphorical ones). The Animal Games are coming to town, and Trevor wants Streaker to shine. He has high hopes for the Doggie Frisbee competition, but Streaker does not have the soul of a dedicated athlete as he would rather play than train. It is a humorous story with a surprisingly complicated plot: it has a bully, a criminal hypnotist, and even a bit of (unrequited) love interest in the form of Tina, Trevor’s close and ever-hopeful friend.
Ingrid Fox

Guinea Pigs Online
Written by Amanda Swift and Jennifer Gray
Quercus (eB)   £4.99
ISBN: 978-0857389909
Coco and Fuzzy are two contented guinea pigs until Fuzzy ends up in the hands of Scarlet Cleaver, a restaurant owner who seems to be collecting guinea pigs at an alarming rate.  When Coco learns the awful truth – that Fuzzy and the others are on the menu for the Queen’s visit, she knows she must take action. With the help of techno-wiz Terry and other guinea pig friends, she faces the challenge. This action-packed tale will have broad appeal. 
Marianne Adey

Alien Invaders 7: Junket - The Flying Menace
Written by David Sinden, Guy Macdonald and Matthew Morgan (a.k.a. Max Silver)
Illustrated by Nikalas Catlow
Red Fox (eB)   £4.99
ISBN: 978-1849412360
Everything about this book will appeal. It has a vibrant, garish cover showing Cosmo, our hero, defeating an enormous alien robot and inside there are similar black and white sketches to illustrate the story. Cosmo Santos is an earthling agent who is on a mission in space and must save the galaxy from Kaos and the metallicon agents. The chapters are short, the font is large, and the plot is action packed.  Inside the cover there are glossy gaming cards to cut out and keep, or swap, giving information about the aliens.  The book is also supported by a “top secret” website with competitions, games and videos.
Ingrid Fox

Shadows under the Sea
Written by Sally Grindley
Bloomsbury (eB)   £4.99 
ISBN: 978-1408819449
This is Sally Grindley’s second book about Joe and Aesha who accompany their parents to exotic locations to help protect endangered species. In this book they travel to the Philippines where the children’s father has been invited to photograph seahorses in their natural environment to help raise awareness that these beautiful creatures are under threat. The Seahorse project is working in the area trying to persuade the local human population to protect the seahorses and their coral reef home. While on the island Joe becomes friendly with Dario, a local boy, and together they try to thwart a gang carrying out illegal blast fishing. There is a lot of information woven into this story and young readers will learn a lot about seahorses, life in the Philippines and the many uses of seaweed. The point is also made that in the poorer parts of the world people often carry on with illegal fishing practices simply because they need to feed their families. There is plenty to think about in this book and it would appear that there are more titles to come in this series, which is being produced in conjunction with the London Zoo.
Jan Lennon

The Clumsies Make a Mess of the School                             
Written by Sorrel Anderson
Illustrated by Nicola Slater
Harper Collins (eB)    £4.99
ISBN: 978-0007438679
Although it sounds great fun to have talking mice and a small elephant living in your office, Howard Armitage would disagree.  The Clumsies; eating-obsessed Mickey Thompson, his friend Purvis, along with Ortrud the elephant, try hard to keep mild-mannered Howard out of trouble with bullying boss Mr. Bullerton.  Unfortunately for Howard, their help causes nothing but chaos. In this story, the fifth of the series, Mr. Bullerton decides to be guest of honour at the local school’s sports day and sends Howard along to make the arrangements.  However, with the ‘help’ of the Clumsies, by the time Mr. Bullerton arrives, the school is partially flooded, the children’s lunches have all been eaten and Howard finds himself taking part in all of the races.  In this madcap tale each page is a joy with amusing illustrations effectively mixed in with photographs. There is an interesting use of typefaces for specific words - adding emphasis and often becoming part of the illustration.
Jane Hall

The Sprite Sisters: The Boy with Hawk-like Eyes
Written by Sheridan Winn
Sheridan Winn (eB)   £7.99
ISBN: 978-0957164802
Each of the Sprite sisters has a magical power related to one of the four elements – earth, water, fire or air. The girls’ magic must be kept secret and used only for good.  In this book, the sixth in the series, Ariel harnesses her power of Air to learn to fly and uses it to save her family threatened by an invasion from insect-like creatures.  This is a book for those who enjoy mystery, fantasy and adventure.  The story is pacy and the characters – 21st century Famous Fivers.
Ingrid Fox

Shrinking Violet
Written by Lou Kuenxler
Scholastic   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1407130040
Violet has just achieved her life’s ambition because, at last, she is tall enough to ride the Plunger!! However, just as she reaches the head of the queue, she shrinks to fish finger size! Sadly, the family don’t actually see this happen and are totally mystified about where she has gone. After some frightening encounters with an earthworm, a rat and a rubbish bin, Violet finally returns to her normal size. As she is quite unable to control either the shrinking or the re-growing, this is a skill that Violet would definitely prefer NOT to have! However, when her Granny is accused of stealing from the other residents in her care home, Violet desperately wants to find out the secret of how to control her shrinking, so that she can uncover the real thief; and finally, she does! This is a really good, fast moving story, very funny at times, but with moments of pathos. It is full of memorable characters, good, bad and all shades in between and it certainly has a very satisfactory ending.
Pat Thompson

Dark Lord: A Fiend in Need
Written by Jamie Thomson
Illustrated by: Freya Hartas
Orchard (eB)   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1408315125
A Fiend in Need is the second in the devilishly funny Dark Lord series. The first book ended with the Dark Lord (now in the body of Dirk, a 13-year-old boy) trying to return to “the Darklands”, but the spell went wrong, sending his Goth friend Sooz there instead. This book opens with Sooz settling into her new role as Dark Queen, redecorating the Dark Tower to her taste, freeing the prisoners from the “Slave Pits of Neverending Toil” and making peace with the Dark Lord’s enemies. Meanwhile, back on earth Dirk is still trying to get home, whilst being under constant attack from his sworn enemy, the White Witch. Author Jamie Thompson has created a hugely entertaining series, where the ‘bad-guys’ are the ‘good-guys’ and vice versa. Anti-hero Dirk’s attempts to be ‘human’ are hilarious, as are the characters’ names e.g. the Ogre Lord, “Gallons Blubberbelly”. The schemes to try to get Dirk home are highly imaginative, not to mention extremely dangerous.  The action is non-stop, fully engaging the reader with the predicaments of the characters. Look out for the cleverly-comic illustrations. A Fiend in Need is laugh out loud funny throughout.
Jane Hall

The World of Norm: May contain nuts
      Written and illustrated by Jonathan Meres
      Orchard (eB)     £5.99
      ISBN: 978-1408313039
      The World of Norm: May cause Irritation
      Written and illustrated by Jonathan Meres
      Orchard (PB) £5.99
      ISBN: 978-1408313046
Norm thinks the world is against him! In the first two of this hilarious new series, nearly 13 year old Norm gets up to all sorts of scrapes and scams, but usually falls flat on his face.  Even his 7 year old brother can out-scam him!  Norm uses his best friend and naïve perfect cousin to his advantage, but comes a cropper against the devious girl next door.  Meres is a multi-talented author, script writer, stand-up comic and actor.  His Norm books are very entertaining and infectious for their pace and wit.  Text, fonts, and illustrations are creatively deployed on every page.  Even the most reluctant reader will be drawn to the world of Norm.
Dave Chant

What Holly Did
Written by Joan Lingard
Catnip   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1846471568
Joan Lingard triumphs again with this sequel to her story “What to do about Holly”. Holly’s parents have separated, with Mum living in Glasgow and Dad living in Edinburgh. Mum, together with her scary boyfriend, are far from responsible and reliable and so Holly has come to live with dependable Dad, but that doesn’t stop her worrying about her Mum. This is a heart-rending story about a young girl suffering separation and loneliness whilst longing for security and stability.
Sinead & Martin Kromer

Kensuke’s Kingdom
Written by Michael Morpurgo
Egmont (R)   £5.99  
ISBN: 978-1405264259
The stage and screen adaptations of War Horse may have brought Michael Morpurgo to a global audience, but this story of a boy shipwrecked at sea and washed up on a Pacific island still ranks as one of his best books. The complex relationship between the young lad and Kensuke has been compared to Crusoe and Friday in Defoe’s masterpiece. Kensuke (pronounced Kensky) teaches the boy how to survive so that he too becomes part of a paradise with its orang-utans, gibbons, palm trees, shells and caves. But where did the old man come from and why is he so afraid of leaving the island? Also, if the boy cannot abandon the thought of ever finding his parents again is he condemned to a life waiting for a ship to rescue him? Perhaps the message of the book is best summed up in Kensuke’s words “Life must not be spent always hoping, always waiting. Life is for living.”
Richard Monte

Raven Mysteries 6: Diamonds and Doom
Written by Marcus Sedgwick  
Illustrated by Pete Williamson
Orion Books   £9.99  
ISBN: 978-1842556986
The story starts with an extract from “Solstice’s completely secret and totally private diary” and from this we learn that Edgar the Raven has gone missing and, totally horrifyingly, Castle Otherhand is up for sale as the family has run out of money. Thankfully, Edgar does return, but saving the castle is not easy and Solstice’s attempt to find the fabulous lost treasure by casting a spell doesn’t actually seem to help at all. In fact, Solstice’s spell has a series of hilarious consequences such as a snowstorm appearing in the gallery above the small hall, all the stairs from the first floor to the ground floor turning to raspberry jelly and all sorts of strange creatures appearing inside and outside the castle. It seems Marcus Sedgwick’s imagination knows no bounds! Obviously fans of this series will love this book, but even if you haven’t read the earlier stories, this is still a hugely enjoyable read and Pete Williamson’s wonderfully gothic black and white illustrations add yet another dimension to the fun. I am sure that any reader new to the series will want to go back and read all the earlier books having laughed their way through this one.
Jan Lennon

Picture Books Winter 2012-2013

Fly, Chick, Fly
Written by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen Press   £10.99  
ISBN: 978-1849393447
This is an endearing picture book from a winning author/illustrator collaboration.  Three barn owls are born in a nest in a big oak tree, but the youngest refuses to leave the safety of the tree to learn to fly. The big wide world looks simply too scary!  Eventually she is persuaded, and the following year finds her raising her own young in a big beech tree in the same woods. This lovely book is full of engaging and enriching text, together with pastel illustrations that are both atmospheric and sympathetic to the silent flight of the barn owl.  The text has rhythm, pattern and eloquent allusions to the natural world around.  The story is simple but effective and well-balanced, with elements of tension and a happy resolution.  The illustrations are softly drawn and evocative without being sentimental, and flood the pages with gentle colour, conjuring the twilight world of the owl family. This is a beautiful book, ideal for reading aloud or as a bedtime story for very young children.
Liz Dubber

Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket
Written by Tatyana Feeney
Oxford University Press   £11.99  
ISBN: 978-0192757920
It’s an oft told tale of when the comfort blanket or toy needs washing much to the distress of its small owner.  In this case, the blanket is blue and the owner is a small bunny.  Feeney’s illustrations are simple, but effective, line drawings with splashes of blue for the blanket.  The first half of the text is repetitive and rhythmic.  After the dreaded washing Bunny takes his new, clean blanket through all the activities that got it dirty in the first place and soon it is back to being just the way he likes it.  The language is simple enough that it could be returned to in later years when the child is ready to read it for themselves, but the book’s initial attraction will be as a cosy shared read about a common childhood situation.
Annalise Taylor

The Hueys in the New Jumper
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Harper Collins (eB)   £10.99  
ISBN: 978-0007420650
A large format book and large text introduces the Hueys.  These are bean-like creatures which tend to look identical and behave in identical ways.  Then Rupert knits himself “a nice new jumper” and brings shock and confusion to the Huey community. But the Hueys obviously need conformity because soon they all have jumpers.  Identical ones! I hope the readers start arguing about this one. Is it about conformity, trendsetting or limited knitting skills?  And how did the Hueys get to the endpapers where they all wear wildly different hats?  The discussion starts here!
Pat Thomson

Not on a School Night!
Written and illustrated by Rebecca Patterson
Macmillan   £5.99
ISBN: 978-0230747685
Two young brothers share a bunk bed and a sense of mischief.  They really don’t want to go to sleep.  Every night from Monday to Thursday they think up noisy games to play after bed-time, until Mummy and Daddy have to intervene.  But Friday is different – as it’s not a school night.  They enjoy tea in their den, staying up late, and watching TV until they fall asleep briefly, until Saturday morning - yet another lively time! The cheerful cartoon style pictures make this a bright and lively read.  The boys are shown with a host of toys, leaping about their room, playing and jumping and having a great time.  The images are full of life and almost seem to bounce off the page.   The language is simple and repetitive and should engage the youngest child.  The pictures also offer plenty to talk about beyond the limited language of the text. 
Liz Dubber 
Copycat Bear!
Written by illustrated by Ellie Sandall 
Hodder   £11.99  
ISBN: 978-1444901573 
Mango, the bird, had an enormous friend. He was a blue bear who loved to copy everything Mango did.  When Mango hopped daintily along the ground, Blue wobbled right after him.  When Mango flew into a tree, Blue climbed up too, shaking all the new twigs out of Mango’s nest.  Flying off by herself seemed a good idea at first but then Mango had second thoughts.  Large stylish illustrations and a satisfying tale of accommodation within friendship make this book the perfect choice to share with a young audience.
Marianne Adey

The Littlest Bear
Written by Gillian Shields                                     
Illustrated by Polona Lovsin
Macmillan   £5.99
ISBN: 978-0230754454
This is a charming if sentimental story about a small polar bear and his mother living in the snows of the north.  The illustrations are fairly one-dimensional, but nevertheless the story reads well.  The littlest bear is told by his mother not to go too far in case of meeting the wild white wolf.  Of course, little bear forgets the warning and wanders off, only to encounter a small white wolf, child of the wild white wolf, who in turn has been warned against the dangers of the wild white bear.   Fortunately the two realise they need not be afraid of each other, and become playmates, much to the surprise of their mothers.  It is a simple story which defies the rules of nature and hardly offers a realistic view of life in the frozen north. But it does provide a comforting story suitable for bed-time for the youngest children and has the capacity to provoke discussion about animals, the northern landscape and even the northern lights which feature on a couple of mystical dream sequence pages. 
Liz Dubber

Hairy Hettie
Written by Polly Lawson
Illustrated by Jo Allan
Kelpies   £5.99  
ISBN: 978-0863158711
Hettie is so incredibly hairy that birds, butterflies and even a squirrel and a mountain hare recognise her warm thick fur coat as a rare and special place to snooze and even make a home throughout the winter. By spring, poor Hettie is decidedly itchy and feeling more than a little tired of being used as a hairy hotel.  Granny, Kirsty and Callum come to the rescue, but how do the guests fare?  This is a delightful picture book which the children loved because they were sympathetic to Hettie but also worried about the other creatures surviving the winter.  It led to some interesting discussions!
Gill Roberts

Let’s find Mimi - At home 
Written and illustrated by Katherine Lodge
Hodder   £10.99  
ISBN: 978-0340999721
This is a delightful picture book designed to encourage play and talk.  The story is confined to a simple rhyming description of Mimi’s day at home whilst waking, getting dressed, having breakfast, and doing various activities with members of her family, until bed time arrives. Whilst there is interest in these episodes, the book is designed principally as a puzzle, with each page showing a host of tiny mice each engaged in the same activity. The challenge is to find Mimi in each illustration. Many children will enjoy scouring each page looking for Mimi. The pictures are full of detail, so there are enormous opportunities for imaginative play and conversation about the various members of Mimi’s family shown on each page. 
Liz Dubber

Written and illustrated by Jane Cabrera
Orchard, £10.99,
ISBN: 978-1408313879
The hero of this tale is Fetch, a little black dog who is rescued from being a stray by Rosa, and in return proves the most useful of companions - fetching and carrying things for anyone who needs help. With its bold and colourful illustrations depicting toy-like characters, Fetch is an ideal read for younger children who like dogs and enjoy indulging in some of the charming clichés surrounding our four-legged friends. The simple, repeated action of the dog’s fetching is in step with this age group’s desire for repetition and the reward at the end comes when Fetch reveals a litter of puppies to Rosa who cries “This is the BEST thing you’ve ever fetched!”
Rowan Stanfield

Red Riding Hood and the Sweet Little Wolf
Written by Rachael Mortimer
Illustrated by Liz Pichon
Hodder   £10.99
ISBN: 978-1444900668
Everybody knows that wolves like to eat juicy little girls, but not this wolf! She just loves all things pretty, especially anything pink and fluffy, and she loves stories, much to the despair of her parents who are traditional ‘big bad wolves’. This is a re-telling of the traditional tale of Little Red Riding Hood, but it is a brilliant story that children will enjoy, without any knowledge of the original. The cover illustration tells the reader that this is no ordinary wolf and the illustrations inside are brilliant, bright, cheerful and attractive. This is a wonderful book to read and children will love it.
Pat Thompson

Harry and the Jaggedy Daggers
Written and illustrated by Jan Fearnley
Egmont   £6.99  
ISBN: 978-1405261692
After Harry, the Harbour Mouse, loses his boat to the Jaggedy Daggers in a storm, he improvises a blue and white teacup to ferry around his cargo and passengers much to the amusement of the river rats. However, when another storm strikes, it is only Harry's ingenious little boat that can save the day and prevent the Jaggedy Daggers from claiming more victims. This is a charming story brought to vibrant life by amusing and detailed illustrations that reward curiosity and careful study, as well as providing lots of opportunity for interaction and sharing. The book includes an ingenious foldout map of Bottlenose Bay which will fascinate young readers and offers a tantalising glimpse of potential future stories.
Benjamin Scott

The Pirates Next Door
Written and illustrated by Jonny Duddle
Templar   £6.99
ISBN 978-1848773929
Jonny Duddle won both the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize and Best Picture Book for this fresh, funny, inventive and wry rhyming tale. Matilda lives in Dull-On-Sea, where nothing ever happens, few children live, and life is dull. Then, a new family moves in next door; the Jolley-Rogers with their son, Jim, who is barefoot, and has an eye patch, a wooden legged dog and a pirate ship with treasure chests and barrels full of grog. Matilda loves the life, colour and kindness the pirate family bring. But the townsfolk are appalled, phone lines are hot, gossip grows and a petition demands their departure. This book is tremendous fun; fast-moving, engaging, thought- provoking, and much concerned with how we live and how we judge others. Lively, detailed illustrations amuse and, unusually, reveal as much as the words.  A very lovable book for reading aloud. Superb!
Tina Massey

Written by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Michael Foreman
Walker   £11.99
ISBN: 978-1406335224
Young Raffi lives with a big brother who can do everything! Poor Raffi wishes that there was just one thing that he was good at, but he can’t think of anything at all. One night, when he can’t sleep, he hears a strange voice that belongs to Blue, a blue cat, who takes him on a wonderful journey through the night sky. During this journey Raffi finds his own particular skill. This is a lovely, gentle story about Raffi and Blue. The language is varied and very poetic. The illustrations are a delight. Children will immediately relate to Blue and Raffi and become involved in their adventure.
Pat Thompson

Written and illustrated by Paul Geraghty 
Andersen (R)   £5.99 
ISBN: 978-1849393881
I'm sure that most people who've ever owned a cat have had that feeling that their pet's constant sleeping is a sneaky cover for a secret double life.  It seems to his family that all the affectionately named Slobcat ever does is sleep.  While the words convey the ponderings of a little girl on the inactivity of her cat, the pictures tell a contrasting story, showing what he really gets up to when no-one's looking.  These covert activities include stealing fish from the fishmonger's, saving kittens from drowning, hanging out with mice and other small creatures and chasing off invaders from the garden.  Paul Geraghty's characterful depictions of Slobcat's adventures bring to life this charming tale that will appeal to cat lovers everywhere.

Rowan Stanfield
Little Lion
Written by Lesley Beake
Illustrated by Erika Pal
Frances Lincoln   £11.99
ISBN: 978-1847801890
Dad comes home from work one day with a pet for the family.  “Brought you a dog” he says, but the children know this is not a dog. It’s a lion, even if Dad can’t see it. They settle the lion-dog into the family and try to hide its lion-like behaviour. However, hiding it from the curiosity of the school bully proves hard, especially as Big Jonno is determined to make life difficult for them. Until one day, the lion-dog escapes and a bully gets his just deserts. Based on stories of the Bushmen from the Northern Cape in South Africa, the book has a slightly surreal quality to it but the story is fun and enhanced by Pal’s gloriously rich illustrations. The fact that the children see a lion where the adult sees a dog creates humour that will appeal to child readers. The story has a positive anti-bullying message and the ending has a neat twist that offers the reader further opportunities for the adult and child to talk.
Annie Everall

The Queen’s Knickers
Written and illustrated by Nicholas Allan
Red Fox (R)   £5.99
ISBN: 978-0099413141
Re-released to coincide with the Queen’s Royal Jubilee year, this humourous classic is still as witty and appealing as when it was first published eleven years ago. Playing on children’s’ inevitable puerile humour, it details all the different underwear that the Queen sports for various occasions - black pants for state funerals, union jack ones for foreign visits, and a special pair with a parachute in for travelling. All of which are guaranteed to raise a chuckle from both parent and child, as well as making HRH seem a whole lot more accessible that she does on the average television broadcast. Allan’s simple watercolours are packed with character and his rosy-cheeked people bring the light-hearted prose to life.
Rowan Stanfield

Melric the Magician Who Lost His Magic
Written and illustrated by David McKee
Andersen   £10.99 
ISBN: 978-1849394390
This is exactly what we have come to expect from David McKee, a good story well-told and illustrated in his own well-loved and instantly recognisable style. Melric, the king’s magician, uses his magic to do everything for everyone and nobody else in the kingdom ever has to do a thing.  When one morning Melric wakes up to find that his magic has gone and none of his spells will work, the people have to try to get by without magic, but they struggle with even the simplest tasks and there is mayhem everywhere. So, the magician sets off on a journey to seek help. This is a lovely book to share with young children as there is so much to look at in the detailed pictures on every page and all of us, including Melric, have to know that magic should only to be used on very special occasions.
Jan Lennon

Written by Allan Ahlberg 
Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg
Walker Books   £12.99 
ISBN: 978-1406330052
This novelty book starts off with an amusing retelling of the well known story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears and then Mr Ahlberg’s wonderful imagination completely takes over and he reinvents the story several times. In the next story Goldilocks encounters 33 bears, not just the usual three, and after that she meets three Blim who live in a spaceship in the woods. The stories themselves are entertaining and delightfully wacky and the book is greatly enhanced by Jessica Ahlberg’s colourful illustrations and also by all the flaps and tags just waiting for small fingers to investigate. There is even a small removable book, which contains yet another version of the story, waiting to be discovered part way through. This is not just a book, it is a whole interactive experience that children will love and it may very well even encourage them to imagine yet more adventures for Goldilocks, or even Little Red Riding Hood, for themselves.
Jan Lennon

The Fishing Trip
Written and illustrated by Béatrice Rodriguez
Gecko   £8.99  
ISBN: 978-1877579240
This wordless picture book has plenty of scope for the reader to provide the story. Hen, nursing an egg, is informed by her partner, Fox, that there is no food in the house.  Consigning the egg to his care, she goes bravely forth to fish for supper and successfully battles against the sea, a bird of prey and a sea monster, but returns with supper.  On her return, she sees the broken egg and a frying pan!  But all is well, Fox is cuddling their offspring which has safely hatched and a celebratory supper can be enjoyed.  I would also recommend this for older pupils studying writing.  In the face of a ménage à trois with a crab, a partner who sends his nursing partner out to get the food and the arrival of a newborn , even the most dismissive teenager would find it hard to resist giving you their opinion. 
Pat Thomson

Written by Istvan Banyai
Puffin   £9.99  
ISBN:  978-0140556940
Like Zoom before it, this is a picture book for older readers. Each page contains a colourful and detailed drawn image and each relates closely to the previous image by being located in the same scene, but dramatically zoomed out.  So we see that what starts as an archaeologist studying hieroglyphics, ends as a picture in a book on a train journey.  It all seems slightly impossible but that’s not really the point.  The value is in treating each pair of pictures together and challenging our assumptions as we move through the book. There is no text in this book, but it is a great way to play with visual imagery and help our children to develop a critical eye.  The images are different enough to surprise us as we move through the pages, and provide plenty of material for discussion.  Leave this out for children to pick up and see what happens and what conversations follow!
Liz Dubber

Excuses, Excuses
Written by Anushka Ravishankar
Illustrated by Gabrielle Manglou
Tara   £10.99
ISBN: 978-9380340128
A very contemporary book with a surreal and strange feel about it, Excuses, Excuses is a storytelling poem that follows a young boy, Neel, through a series of naughty escapades for which he has more and more outlandish excuses. Neel is depicted photographically throughout, posing in black and white amongst odd and abstract illustrations and collage. You almost need to digest the imagery on its own before tackling the words; the two together are quite intense. For all its quirkiness, the book is a great introduction to different poetical forms, utilising as it does several different rhyming conventions and meters across the different days of the story. The average child reader will no doubt identify with Neel, and be able to have a giggle at some of his excuses, while for the parent it provides a useful tool for approaching bad behaviour in a non-aggressive way.
Rowan Stanfield

Taka-chan and I: A Dog’s Journey to Japan
Written by Betty Jean Lifton  
Photographs by Eikoh Hosoe
Frances Lincoln Ltd   £9.99 
ISBN: 978-1590175026
Betty Jean Lifton tells us this story just as it was told to her by Runcible, a rather amazing Weimaraner dog.  Runcible was digging in the sand near his home one day when he found himself in a tunnel. He carried on through the darkness until he emerged into the daylight once more and discovered he was in Japan. There he met Taka-chan, a little girl who was being held captive by the Black Dragon of the Sea, and in order to secure her freedom Runcible accepted the challenge to find the most loyal person in Japan and lay a white flower at his or her feet. Runcible and Taka-chan set off for Tokyo to begin their search. This story of friendship and loyalty is beautifully presented. The language is clear and simple and Eikoh Hosoe’s stunning, large black and white photos illustrate the two friends’ journey to Tokyo, their adventures in the city and their growing affection for each other. Some readers may find the story hard to believe but Runcible has an answer for that. He says “who is to say what a dream is and what is real?”
Jan Lennon

Every Little Thing
Adapted by Cedella Marley
Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Chronicle Books (eB)   £10.99
ISBN: 978-1452106977
This is an original interpretation of Bob Marley’s song Three Little Birds from the classic album Exodus. Marley’s daughter has taken the refrain Every little thing is gonna be alright and expanded this into a lively, uplifting picture book. The energetic and brightly coloured illustrations provide a fitting accompaniment to the positive message of the song.
Dave Chant

Harold and the Purple Crayon
Written by Crockett Johnson
Harper Collins (R) (eB)   £6.99
ISBN: 978-0007464371
First published over fifty years ago this children’s classic is reprinted here in a larger format and will delight readers of all ages. The illustrations are bright and full of vitality and the story unforgettable. Harold sets out on a night-time adventure with only a purple crayon for company. Whatever he draws comes to life. This is a ‘must have’ and will evoke lovely memories in fans and stir imaginations everywhere.
David Blanch

Two Shy Pandas
Written by Julia Jarman
Illustrated by Susan Varley
Andersen   £10.99
ISBN: 978-1849394093
They say pandas are shy and these two, although next door neighbours and longing to play together, are just too shy to make the first move. Then, it snows and both of them take courage. The gentle winter pictures give us scenes of anyone’s garden play and the story tells of anyone’s desire for a friend. The bamboo grove is a bonus.
Pat Thomson

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
Written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Pavilion (R)   £10.99
ISBN: 978-1843651031
Irresistible tunes and witty words will delight everyone. Abundantly illustrated by an easily recognised artist in a magnificently colourful setting, this book is set to be a true family favourite.
Jenny Blanch

Written and illustrated by Michael Foreman
Andersen   £10.99
ISBN: 978-1849394116
Cat can wander wild and free, but his friend, Bubble, is confined to a goldfish bowl. Cat transfers him to a small bucket to show him the wonderful world and then gets the idea to set Bubble free so he too can be wild and free. But Bubble is not ready to swim away because he values his friendship with Cat more than his freedom. A very gentle story of true friendship told with few words and soft, glowing illustrations! A book to treasure from a great author and a wonderful illustrator.
Sinead and Martin Kromer

Christmas 2012

The Snow Womble
Written by Elisabeth Beresford
Illustrated by Nick Price
Bloomsbury   £6.99
ISBN: 978-1408834244
The much-loved Wombles return in this edition of a familiar story reinvigorated by Nick Price’s new lively and colourful illustrations. Snow falls during the night and Wimbledon Common looks clean and tidy, so several young Wombles decide to stop work and enjoy the snow. But Uncle Bulgaria decides to join in the fun and teach the young Wombles a lesson. Great fun, and free Womble stickers too!
Sinead and Martin Kromer

Jolly Snowman
Written by Emma Goldhawk
Illustrated by Jonathan Lambert
Templar   £12.99
ISBN: 978-1848772236
An appealing glove puppet peeps through the cover to interact with young readers and rhyming couplets invite them to talk about having fun in the snow. Great fun!
Jenny Blanch

The Fox’s Tale
Written by Nick Butterworth
Illustrated by Mick Inkpen
Candle Books (R)   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1859858288
“Hello, I’m a fox. I live out on the hills ... Here’s my story. It’ll make your tail bristle. Listen.” These are the words which begin an enchanting version of the story of the first Christmas. Fox is amazed and overawed by the sight of angels appearing on the hillside and a tiny baby being born in a stable in Bethlehem. Large, bold print, simple vocabulary and clear, merry illustrations will captivate any child, whilst retelling the Christmas story.
Sinead and Martin Kromer

Diary of a Christmas Wombat
Written by Jackie French
Illustrated by Bruce Whatley
HarperCollins (eB)   £6.99
ISBN: 978-0007490714
Subtle and witty, each word in this story has been carefully chosen and placed imaginatively on the page alongside big, colourful pictures. It is a simple, but clever, Australian tale. Mothball the Wombat does very little except eat carrots but he manages to enjoy a marvellous world-wide adventure.
Jenny Blanch

Christmas Surprise
Written by Hilary Robinson
Illustrated by Mandy Stanley
Strauss House   £6.99
ISBN: 978-0957124516
This is a thoughtful story about a class of young children who are invited to a local care home to help the elderly residents get ready for Christmas. Vibrant and colourful pictures are in tune with the words and the children experience that there is much more to this celebration than money can buy.
Jenny Blanch

The Empty Stocking
Written by Richard Curtis
Illustrated by Rebecca Cob
Puffin   £6.99
ISBN: 978-0141336251
Every Christmas children wonder whether they have been good enough to receive lots of presents from Santa. Charlie has definitely not been good enough, but when Santa muddles up her stocking with that of her twin sister she decides that she has to be the best she has ever been. Her kindness is rewarded and everyone is happy on Christmas morning. A delightful Christmas story brought to life by Rebecca Cobb’s quirky, zany illustrations.
Sinead and Martin Kromer