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Welcome to our round-up of books, specially chosen to enhance our topics and give pupils the very best in wider reading. (You'll also find the books listed under their relevant topic.)

Diary of a Wombat

Diary of a wombat

Title: Diary of a Wombat (BB)
Author: Jackie French
Illustrator: Bruce Whatley
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Price: £5.99

This delightful board book combines beautiful, humorous illustrations with slyly funny text.

A perfect read for children aged three plus (but don’t let older children miss out), to make children (and grown-ups) laugh out loud. The board book is ideal for tiny hands, and introduces the Australian wombat to children who may not have come across the animal. Illustrator Bruce Whatley manages to capture 101 wombat expressions with simple but telling painterly images. The horror on the faces of the family that the wombat chooses as his pets will be familiar to every family who has ever had a less-than-perfect pet. Simple text in an apt typeface conveys the characters beautifully, with some nice little asides that add interest to the design. You could use the book as the basis for all types of class discussion or for children writing diaries in the voice of various animals – or simply for fun.

The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales

The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales

Title: The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales (PB)
Author: Dawn Casey
Illustrator: Anne Wilson
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Price: £14.99 each

This book contains seven ancient stories all about Earth from cultures around the world – Australia, Bali, Kazakhstan, Wales, Nigeria, the American Southwest and India. The colours of the countries are reflected in the illustrations: earthy tones for Australia (see illustration, above), grass green and reds for Wales. Children will love the illustrative details, such as the buckets or flowers as folios. Following the stories, there are activities to make and do, from creating a songline painting to building a willow den.

Window

window

Title: Window (PB)
Author: Jeannie Baker
Publisher: Walker Books
Price: £4.99 each

This 32-page wordless picture book shows photographs of collages made by the author for exhibition. Ideal for inspiring children to make their own collage work around an Australian theme, the book also has a strong environmental message with collages made from grass, tree bark, earth and fabric. Looking through the window we see the story of a boy from his birth to becoming a father – and how the world around him changes. Australian animals feature and neat little details on the inside of the window – such as birthday cards and fast food wrappers – build the story beautifully. This has a thousand uses in the classroom – ask children to tell the story they see in the individual collages, to create their own Australian story linked to the platypus, or simply to say what they can see.

Kangaroos have Joeys

Kangaroos have Joeys

Title: Kangaroos have Joeys (BB)
Author: Stella Blackstone
Illustrator: Philippa-Alys Browne
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Price: £8.99 each

This 32-page board book is chunky enough for Early Years children to get a grip on and still be long lasting. Each page features a mother and baby set in a patterned border. The unpatronising caption text is large and clear on white space. The book includes some unusual animals, such as pigeons, moles and goats, and uses the correct baby names. The final spread gives thumbnail pictures of the whole book and includes some additional background text for the reader. There’s plenty to talk about in the detailed images and it would be a great inspiration prior to making potato prints or any kind of pattern-making.

Stories from the Billabong

Stories from the Billabong

Title: Stories from the Billabong (BB)
Author: James Vance Marshall
Illustrator: Francis Firebrace
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £8.99 each

Ten Aboriginal oral stories are the basis of this 64-page collection, retold by James Vance Marshall. It would be fun to compare the platypus story in this book to How the platypus got his shape, and it’s ideal for teachers focusing on traditional tales. There’s a useful glossary and a short, factual page to accompany each story.

The final spread shows a variety of Aboriginal symbols and explains their meanings. The illustrations are subtle and textured, in the Aboriginal style. The kangaroo illustration, used on the cover as well as inside, is particularly tactile, with visible brush marks that will make children want to run their hands over it.

Who are you Baby Kangaroo?

Who are you Baby Kangaroo

Title: Who are you Baby Kangaroo? (PB)
Author: Stella Blackstone
Illustrator: Clare Beaton
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Price: £5.99 each

This is available as a paperback or board book. The colours and textures of this story are delicious. From the detail of the inside front cover, which is decorated with felt cut-outs of hummingbirds and bees, young children will be drawn into the story about a curious puppy as well as enjoying the fantastic stitched images, decorated with brightly coloured tiny beads, that make up the illustrations. The final spread includes more information about all the animals that the puppy meets on his journey, as an at-a-glance reference for the reader or teacher.

The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales

The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales

Title: The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales (HB)
Author: Naomi Adler
Illustrator: Amanda Hall
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Price: £9.99 each

Perfect for reading aloud to KS2 children, or for children to read alone, this 80-page book comes with two Storytime CDs, where Naomi Adler retells the stories. There are nine stories in total, and the last page gives a brief overview of where the stories come from. ‘The Greedy Frog’ is the Australian contribution, enhanced by Dreamtime-style illustrations showing the kangaroo, wombat and emu.

Children will love the fantastic image of the giant frog that spans a double page spread, set against a backdrop of mountains that are smaller than his stomach.

You Can Cook

You Can Cook

Title: You Can Cook (HB)
Author: Annabel Karmel
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley
Price: £12.99

This mouth-watering book gathers more than 40 simple and nutritious recipes, perfect for children to attempt under adult guidance.

The introductory pages examine the equipment you need, what makes a healthy diet and an assortment of deliciously presented fruit and vegetables.

Recipes are organised as breakfast dishes, light snacks, main meals and desserts. Techniques such as chopping and dicing, zesting and whisking are explained – as are cooking methods and ways of adding extra flavour with, for example, garlic and herbs. For every recipe, there are clear instructions and photos set out sequentially, culminating in an enticing image of the finished dish. A ‘You will need’ panel accompanies each recipe while the preparation and cooking times and the number of servings are indicated at the top of the page. The book is perfect for encouraging children’s cooking skills and developing their interest in healthy eating.

Grow Your Own

grow your own

Title: Grow Your Own (PB)
Author: Esther Hall
Publisher: Macmillan
Price: £5.99 each

Sydney and his mum live in a bustling city. Everything around is dull, their routines monotonous and the food they eat unappetising. Sydney knows nothing about fresh fruit and vegetables – he’s only ever tasted the insipid mushroom pieces that decorate his pizzas. One summer holiday, he goes to stay with Granny in the countryside. She sets him to work helping out with the vegetable patch. As they weed, dig and plant, day in and day out, Granny explains the benefits of healthy eating. Sydney is impressed: the runner beans certainly help him to run faster, the strawberries put colour into his cheeks and the carrots taste delicious! When it’s time to return to the city, Granny comes up with a brilliant idea to keep him – and his mum – healthy and active.

The strongly geometric pictures, largely composed of circles, squares and rectangles, are appealing in their simplicity and full of interest, depicting an assortment of fruit and vegetables for the reader to identify.

Chickens Can’t See in the Dark

chickens can't see in the dark

Title: Chickens Can’t See in the Dark (PB)
Author: Kristyna Litten
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price: £10.99 each

Little Pippa has one ambition – to see in the dark. So, when Mr Benedict tells his pupils that chickens don’t have night vision, she sets out to prove him wrong. She consults wise Mr Owl to see what he has to say on the matter, but he laughs her away. Then she discovers a compilation of old hens’ tales in the library, one of which states that carrots help you to see in the dark. She collects a wheelbarrow load of carrots and turns them into every carroty dish imaginable. Excited, the other chickens congregate at her doorstep, drawn there by the wonderful cooking smells. A banquet unfolds, to which all join in. As the day turns to night – and the moon shines brightly on the festive gathering – what conclusion does Pippa reach?

This is an enchanting story, with an open ending that lends itself to lively discussion. The text is full of puns and all things chickeny, the font is as scratchy as a chicken’s footprint and the illustrations delightful, depicting an assortment of plump, individualised chickens, white, brown and speckled, wearing glasses and dainty shoes.

The Princess and the Peas

The Princess and the Peas

Title: The Princess and the Peas (HB)
Author: Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Price: £10.99 each

A boisterous energy fills every page of this wacky cautionary tale. Lily-Rose, pretty and charming in every way, lives a blissful life… until the day that Dad puts some peas on her plate. Horrified, she leaves the table in a tantrum. Dad continues to coax her during the following days, cooking all sorts of scrumptious pea-based recipes. But they make her ill, so finally he admits defeat and calls in the doctor, who diagnoses her symptoms to be those of a princess, drawing parallels with the famous case of the princess and the pea, and packs her off to the nearby palace where there’s not a pea to be found. Once there, Lily-Rose’s excitement at being royalty is short lived as she discovers just what it means to have a pea-free life.

The cheerful rhyming text contributes much to the story’s hilarity and perfectly matches the jolly illustrations of frenzied characters as they dash across the pages from one setting to the next. The incorporation of Andersen’s classic tale as a story within the story – and central to the storyline – adds further humour and a level of sophistication that will delight young readers.

World Food Alphabet

world food alphabet

Title: World Food Alphabet (HB)
Author: Chris Caldicott
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £11.99 each

Arranged alphabetically, here’s a fascinating compendium of foods and food-related matters from around the world. From apricots to zucchini, and all sorts of other foodstuffs along the way, the book provides information on important aspects of everyday food production and preparation, cooking and eating in cultures as far flung as Thailand, Morocco and the Caribbean. There are even entries for markets, journeys and ice – all of which are important aspects of the food process. The photographs are fresh and engaging, filled with people of all ages going about their chores, cultivating their produce or simply enjoying their meal. Truly celebratory, the book is full of interesting facts and stunning photos.

Alienography

Alienography

Title: Alienography (PB)
Author: Chris Riddell
Publisher: Macmillan
Price: £14.99

Brilliantly creative, this wacky book on how to spot an alien is hard to beat for sheer exuberance in both text and pictures.

It starts with surreal descriptions of all sorts of fantastical intergalactic invaders – from the horticultural horrors known as Terrifids, who are terrified of cats’ pee, to the Flurrghs, who can turn peace-loving people into earmuffs. Along the way, we also learn about the goldfish-bowl emperors who force their subjects to tidy their bedrooms and the cosmopotami, who are obsessed with handing out parking offences. Yet, as the text makes clear, not all aliens are from evil empires: some are just plain good, bad or ugly. The book also offers emergency tips on escaping the invaders, enticing them towards a bistro so you don’t end up as a quick snack and who to call for professional help.

The text combines playful allusions to everyday culture with elaborate descriptions of the characters. It is perfectly matched by the weird and wonderful illustrations in which a cross-hatch style, attention to detail and brilliant colouring combine to create a host of boisterous, elongated figures with expressive facial features. The novelty elements – pull-out postcards, booklets and a card game – are further proof of the book’s inventiveness.

Bob and the Moontree Mystery

Bob and the Moontree Mystery

Title: Bob and the Moontree Mystery (HB)
Author: Simon Bartram
Publisher: Templar
Price: £12.99 each

Here’s the latest adventure involving the unflappable Moon expert, Bob, who always gets things so wrong. While tidying up the dark side of the Moon, Bob notices a strange beany-seedy thing jumping from crater to crater. Imagine his surprise when the beany-seedy thing turns into a gigantic tree that soon sprouts golden, pod-like berries. Instinctively, he knows he must do everything to protect this special tree, a task that becomes ever more urgent when the tourists arrive and then disaster – in the form of a moonquake – strikes. But Bob is puzzled. How did this strange pod-bearing tree come about – and why the moonquake? Is this all an unsolvable mystery, as he comes to believe? The boldly coloured pictures add zest and energy to every page while their detail provides clues as to just how flawed Bob’s assessment of events is. The comic storyline, alliterative text and endearing characters are sure to delight children of all ages.

Space, black holes and stuff

space black holes and stuff

Title: Space, black holes and stuff (PB)
Author: Glenn Murphy
Publisher: Macmillan in association with the Science Museum
Price: £5.99 each

There’s a mass of detailed yet accessible, sometimes humorous, information in this extensive 250-page book of continuous text. Divided into chapters, it takes a question and answer format, with questions asked by an imaginary inquisitive younger person. Each chapter begins with a large theme, which is then dissected through questions that clarify and follow on from the previous discussion. There are chapters on astronomy versus astrology, stars and planets, the solar system and space travel. Interspersed throughout the pages are black and white photos, diagrams, charts, fact boxes and even games including word searches, a Sudoku puzzle and a setting activity. The text is engrossing and conversational in style, with the many interrogative interruptions and interjections presented in slang and the simple speech patterns of a child.

One Small Step

one small step

Title: One Small Step (HB)
Author: Jerry Stone
Publisher: Templar
Price: £14.99 each

Presented through old photos and Moon-landing memorabilia, this book provides a fascinating account of the Apollo mission. It takes the form of a scrapbook put together by 12-year-old Mike from all the bits and pieces his grandpa collected when working at the Mission Control Center in Houston. From these scraps – newspaper clippings, official documents, coins, badges, pennants and even a menu – Mike assembles a complete record of events leading up to and beyond the first Moon landing in July 1969.

The scrapbook format works well and allows for numerous images per page, some of which are superimposed and removable, set at odd angles and tucked between other illustrative materials. Small booklets that open up into several pages of text, and gatefolds providing timelines, add further levels of interest. Yet for all the extra information, the book has an enticing uncluttered feel and the text, broken up into small chunks, is well written and engaging.

The Comic Strip History of Space

The Comic Strip History of Space

Title: The Comic Strip History of Space (PB)
Author: Sally Kindberg and Tracey Turner
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Price: £6.99 each

This hugely appealing small-format book is bursting with curious facts and humour, set out with amazing clarity. Ambitious in scope, it covers a range of topics, from the Big Bang theory and the formation of our solar system and planet Earth to the history of beliefs and space exploration. The lives and discoveries of scientific geniuses, among them Kepler, Galileo and Einstein, are also examined, as are plans for future developments in astronomy and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Each topic is set

out on a double-page spread through a series of frames that constantly vary in size and detail, so adding much to the liveliness of the pages. The cartoon-style illustrations are funny and informative, reinforced by the lucid text and witty speech bubbles.

Friendly Matches

friendly matches 

Title: Friendly Matches (PB)
Author: Allan Ahlberg
Illustrator: Fritz Wegner
Publisher: Puffin
Price: £4.99

Now a classic, this hugely enjoyable solo collection of 29 poems centres on the theme of football, written from an assortment of child-friendly perspectives.

Funny and sad, triumphant and mournful, the poems are diverse in both structure and mood. A pep talk by a manager to his young team rubs shoulders with a lullaby for a referee’s baby and a list poem giving instructions on ways to shoot the winning goal.

Also among the offerings are a variation of ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’, a pastiche on a Famous Five adventure and a choral poem on behalf of a victorious girls’ team. The poems are in rhyming forms and free verse, as couplets and quatrains, conversations and monologues. There’s even a sonnet, a ballad and a pastoral poem, too. Perfect for reading aloud and performing, the collection is hard to match for sheer vitality and breadth. Adding further enjoyment are Fritz Wegner’s small and expressive drawings that brilliantly capture the heart of the poems.

The What on Earth? Wallbook of Sport

The What on Earth   Wallbook of Sport

Title: The What on Earth? Wallbook of Sport (PB)
Author: Christopher Lloyd, Andy Forshaw and Brian Oliver
Publisher: What on Earth Publishing
Price: £17.50 each

Did you know that the swimming stroke of crawl was introduced to London by two Native American swimmers in 1844? Or that cricket and baseball evolved from ‘stoolball’, a game played by milkmaids? These are just some of the curious facts in this impressive, large-format concertina type book of sport and sporting records, which opens into a colourful frieze on one side and, on the other, newspaper pages. The frieze, set within a timeline from ancient times to the present, combines chunks of text and illustrations on many sporting disciplines from climbing, fishing and sailing to running, rowing, tennis and swimming. The newspaper articles are on the modern Olympics, from 1896 to the present, and follow the conventions of news reports,with features such as text set in columns, by-lines, headings, varying fonts, photos and drawings. The publication can be read as a book or used as a wallchart, in which case it needs to be made accessible from a short distance since the type size is quite small.

Ambrose Goes for Gold

Ambrose goes for gold

Title: Ambrose Goes for Gold (PB)
Author: Tor Freeman
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Price: £5.99 each

Ambrose has woken early and excited to a wonderful sunny morning. For the first time, he’s competing in the Great Insect Games. He’s been practising for ages and is ready to take part in every event. He tries his hand at long jump, but he can’t beat the grasshopper, he then has a go at skating but he can’t compete with the pond skater, he runs the 100cm race but the tiger beetle zooms past him. He sits down to rest, tired and dejected, nibbles at a twig – and discovers what he really excels at. It’s a gentle story beautifully told, with an uplifting moral that everyone is good at something. The text is brimming with action verbs, and the pictures of all sorts of smiling, jolly insects – in harmoniously coloured pastels on cream-coloured paper – are enchanting.

Bowl Like the Devil

Bowl Like the Devil

Title: Bowl Like the Devil (PB)
Author: Bob Cattell
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £5.99 each

Highly original, this is a tense and gripping story with a Faustian theme. Tyrone hasn’t yet made the school cricket team, unlike his best friend Christiano, although he dreams of becoming the fastest bowler in the world. Out practising one day, he notices a strange little man at the edge of the nets. His name is Old Nick. He offers Tyrone mysterious, strangely sinister advice, after which Tyrone manages to bowl a really fast ball. The more advice he gets, the better Tyrone plays, but who is Old Nick and what does he want in return? Soon Tyrone discovers that he’s prepared to sell his soul to reach his ambition even if that means losing the friendship of Christiano, and worse. In this page-turner of a book, it matters little if the reader is unfamiliar with the rules of cricket for the tightly woven plot and memorable characters ensure that the story takes over.

Go! Go! Chichico!

Go Go Chichico

Title: Go! Go! Chichico! (PB)
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Price: £5.99 each

Chichico is mad about football. A boy from the slums, he’s naturally gifted and plays barefoot on the beach. One day, he’s spotted by a talent scout and signed up for a trial run with the most prestigious football team in Brazil. His friends rally round – and Davi even finds a way, misguidedly, of finding him some boots to wear in the trial. The big day arrives, and Chichico plays his best. Can he make his mark, unused as he is to wearing boots? And, anyway, how did Davi manage to come by them? A tale of football and friendship, the story is warm and satisfying, tapping into young children’s dreams and aspirations.

Perfect for emergent readers, it has straightforward sentence constructions, lots of dialogue and illustrations on every page. The font is in a hand-written type style, set against buff-coloured paper to prevent glare, the line length is unjustified and the paragraphs have a line space between them – all features that also help the reluctant and dyslexic reader.

The Snow Merchant

the snow merchant

Title: The Snow Merchant (HB)
Author: Sam Gayton
Publisher: Andersen Press
Price: £5.99

The author weaves a magical universe around the phenomenon of snow in this beautifully crafted story. Lettie Peppercorn, whose mother vanished years ago, leads a lonely life at the White Horse Inn.

One stormy night, she opens the door to a stranger with a cold and devious manner, dragging a mysterious mahogany suitcase behind him. Seeking refuge, he claims to be an alchemist, his suitcase full of his latest invention – snow – which heralds untold wealth to its owner. Bewilderingly, he presses the snow upon her, so triggering an extraordinary adventure that takes her across the seas in the company of her friend the wind and a gentle, strange-looking boy.

The otherworldly setting is brimming with atmosphere and enchantment, reinforcing the inventive plot and sharply delineated characters. As Lettie finds friendship, family and love, we come to understand the meaning of snow. This is an extraordinary tale, both fantastical and profound, with a plot that twists and turns towards a wonderful conclusion.

Hidden in the Snow

Hidden in the snow

Title: Hidden in the Snow (HB)
Author: Barbara Taylor
Publisher: QED Publishing
Price: £4.99 each

Discover how animals survive in snowy regions with this highly informative and beautifully presented nonchronological report. Characteristics, life cycles and survival techniques of species as diverse as harp seals and Arctic wolves, mountain sheep and polar bears, puffins and orcas are examined here through stunning photographs and an engaging text.

Each double-page spread, set out as a chapter, contains an introductory paragraph, a secondary paragraph focusing on a particular species, labels, captions and fact boxes. There is also a glossary, an index and a page of notes for parents and teachers.

Just Right for Christmas

 Just Right

Title: Just Right for Chrismas (PB)
Author: Birdie Black
Illustrator: Rosalind Beardshaw
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Price: £6.99 each

Hard to match for Christmas cheer is this thoroughly upbeat story. On Christmas Eve, the king buys a roll of bright red cloth on a market stall. It is perfect for making a long cloak for his daughter. His sewing maids discard the unwanted fabric remnants, leaving them on the back doorstep. Then along comes Jenny the kitchen maid, who scoops them up, for they are just right for making a jacket. She, in turn, does away with the leftover scraps… just as Bertie Badger enters the scene and finds a use for them.

The story continues in this manner, the scraps becoming smaller and the animals who recycle them ever tinier! By the end of the story, celebrations abound. The illustrations are wonderful, the snowy landscapes the perfect background for the rich colouring of the cheerful figures and deep reds of the fabric and finished garments.

The Snow Queen

The snow queen

Title: The Snow Queen (HB)
Author: Sarah Lowes
Illustrator: Miss Clara
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Price: £6.99 each

Presented as a small-format chapter book for independent readers, this is a spellbinding retelling of, and introduction to, Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale. In the poorest part of town live a boy and a girl called Kay and Gerda. One night in the depths of winter, Kay watches as a snowflake turns into the Snow Queen. She blows Kay a kiss, throws splinters of ice into his heart and then lures him away to her frozen palace in the north, where there is no colour, laughter or warmth. Gerda, anxious and missing her friend, sets out to find him, encountering an enchantress, a raven, a bandit girl and a wolf – and all sorts of obstacles – along the way.

The story is elegantly told, perfect for reading aloud, and the pages exquisitely embellished with highly stylised, multi-layered images adding a dreamlike quality that almost tips into nightmare.

The Snowy Day

the snowy day

Title: The Snow Day (PB)
Author: Anna Milbourne
Illustrator: Elena Temporin
Publisher: Usborne
Price: £4.99 each

The boundaries between fiction and non-fiction are blurred in this simple story packed with information and attractive illustrations. Three young children set off into a snowy landscape, looking for adventure. Each step along the way brings them into contact with different aspects of snow – from the weather conditions that are necessary to its formation to the shape of snowflakes and the ways of birds, fish and mammals as they cope with wintry conditions. The softly coloured artwork shows enough detail to invite discussion on wrapping up warm, camouflage, animal prints and hibernation.

Christmas Tales Storyworld series

Christmas Tales   Storyworld

Title: Christmas Tales Storyworld series (HB)
Author: John and Caitlín Matthews
Illustrator: Miss Clara
Publisher: Templar Publishing
Price: £6.99 each

Young children can create their very own Christmas story with these attractive cards, perfectly sized for small hands. Twenty-eight in all, each card is laminated, with a detailed and atmospheric illustration on one side and, on the other, a statement about the pictorial content and open questions to trigger ideas about plot, setting and characterisation.

Themes are wide ranging, from ‘the frost king’ and ‘the magic pudding’ to ‘the Christmas star’ and ‘the friendly snowman’. An accompanying booklet offers ideas on using the cards and, for each image, a synopsis and list of key words. This is an excellent way of introducing children to the endless possibilities of storytelling.

Tom Gates Genius Ideas

Tom Gates Genius Ideas

Title: Tom Gates Genius Ideas (PB)
Author: Liz Pichon
Publisher: Scholastic
Price: £6.99

Tom Gates writes in a code of words and drawings, scribbles and doodles to tell his story of everyday life. To his deep embarrassment, Dad starts working out, dressed in bright blue cycling shorts, and teacher Mr Fullerton shows his competitive streak by getting his class to practise endlessly for sports’ day.

At the same time, auditions for the talent show competition are underway, classmate Marcus continues to annoy and sister Delia’s hair turns green.

The first-person account is fastpaced and uproarious, with Tom describing events, experiences and reactions in quick succession, and recording them in his battered old homework diary. In this story – as in the whole award-winning series – pictures and visuals are as important as words and even form part of the sentence structure. It’s surprising how easy it is to decode Tom’s narrative style – and how enjoyable, too! Filled with cheeky wit and laugh-out-loud situations, this is the perfect read for both accomplished and reluctant readers.

Top Secret Code Book

Top Secret Code Book

Title: Top Secret Code Book (PB)
Author: Dan Newman
Publisher: Macmillan
Price: £4.99

Do you know what a circular traffic sign means – and how it differs from a triangular sign? Which famous seventeenth-century writer used shorthand to write his diaries? What is stenography? How does a code wheel work? Learn how to tap out a message in Morse, to create an invisible message and to use your fingers in American Sign Language. This book aimed primarily at Scouts is packed full of information and activities on making and breaking codes. It examines the application of codes in keeping a message secret, communicating over long distances and conveying information in a simple, immediately accessible way, as in the Highway Code. There are examples of codes used historically such as Ancient Greek Polybius’ signalling for use on the battlefield and the butterfly drawings of Scouts founder Baden-Powell, which he used to mark enemy positions. This is an intriguing book, both practical and filled with fun activities.

Knight Puzzles, Unicorn Puzzles and Mermaid Puzzles

knights puzzles

Title: Knight Puzzles, Unicorn Puzzles and Mermaid Puzzles (PB)
Author: Stella Maidment and Daniela Dogliani
Publisher: QED Publishing
Price: £5.99 each

Encourage young children to solve simple puzzles with these three cheerfully coloured stories. In Knight Puzzles, Henry sets off to find the King’s golden shield and comes across a fiery dragon with a terrible roar. In Unicorn Puzzles, Sparkle the unicorn is invited to a magical picnic by her Fairy Godmother and meets an assortment of woodland animals, while in Mermaid Puzzles, Molly mermaid and her friends put on an underwater concert – to King Neptune’s delight. On every page, there are fun games such as sorting, matching and spot the difference, activities to develop visual literacy and open-ended questions on the storyline. The full-page illustrations are bright and appealing with just enough detail to hold the reader’s attention. Answers to puzzles can be found at the back of each book.

Secret Agents v Giant Slugs in the Jungle

Secret Agents v Giant Slugs in the Jungle Mega Mash  Up series

Title: Secret Agents v Giant Slugs in the Jungle (PB)
Author: Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Price: £5.99 each

The reader actively participates in piecing together the story in words and pictures in this highly innovative series of books.

The story begins in the jungle, when a group of tiny slugs fall into a pool of toxic goo and turn into giant slimy creatures with evil ambitions. Bent on taking over the world, they hadn’t reckoned on Gadget Gavin and his ace team of secret agents. There’s just enough madcap storyline and graphics to hook the reader. Every spread has plenty of blank spaces, prompts and instructions to fill in the plot, create illustrations, add dialogue and write captions. One spread has newspaper columns waiting to be filled with pictures that expand the headlines.

For those readers unsure of how to proceed, there’s help at hand in the four pages at the back of the book devoted to an assortment of illustrative prompts – of characters and gadgets – to be copied or used as a source of inspiration. Attractively produced, the book will especially appeal to children who are reluctant to read a full story but eager to use their imagination and participate in the storytelling.

The Ruby Redfort series

Title: The Ruby Redfort series (PB)
Author: Lauren Child
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: £12.99 each

I would recommend this series to anyone who likes mystery books. They are very action-packed, and the fact that the secret agent is a child who can crack really hard codes like a Vigenère code makes you think ‘Wow – that is one clever kid’. The books have lots of interesting twists and you can do things inside the book, for example, you can attempt to crack the codes that Ruby and Clancy (her best friend) use. Lauren Child makes it seem more real as Ruby’s life is always conflicting with her job and she is always falling out with her friends, if she doesn’t turn up when they are supposed to meet and so on.

Reviewed by Lucy Wood – aged 11

Taff in the WAAF

Taff in the WAAF

Title: Taff in the WAAF (PB)
Author: Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £7.99 each

This engrossing non-fiction narrative recounts the wartime experience of the mother of its author, Mick Manning. It begins with a scene in which she, her sisters and parents are huddled around the wireless listening to the declaration of World War II. It goes on to describe her experience as a wireless operator and as a listener for the top secret ‘Y’ service intercepting enemy messages. The story is rich and multi-layered, the first-person viewpoint providing a warm and personal account while bringing into the story facts such as the crucial role of Morse code, the BBC and Bletchley Park – the cracking of the German Enigma code and its significance in ending the war.

The story touches on the heroism of the many young women in wartime Britain. Simply told, the story weaves together text, captions, illustrations and reproductions of historical artefacts into a moving and memorable account of women at war.

Codes and Ciphers

Codes and Ciphers

Title: Codes and Ciphers (PB)
Author: Adrian Gilbert
Publisher: QED Publishing
Price: £6.99 each

The secret world of spying is laid bare in this fascinating non-fiction book. It begins by explaining the difference between a code and a cipher and moves on to discuss their application through the ages. It explains how to encipher/decipher. There’s information, for example, on Julius Caesar’s cipher, Morse code, visual codes, one-time pads, secret writing, microdots and specific machines such as Purple used by the Japanese during the World War II and the German Enigma Code. The text is broken into bite-sized chunks and accompanied by large supportive photographs. The book is well set out, with clearly marked chapter headings, subheadings and captions to further accessibility and the retrieval of nonchronological information.

The Sea-thing Child

The Sea thing Child

Title: The Sea-thing Child (PB)
Author: Russell Hoban
Illustrator: Patrick Benson
Publisher: Walker Books
Price: £6.99

A lost sea-thing child is tossed ashore one stormy night. A bedraggled scrap of scales and feathers, he’s sad and lonely – a ‘little heap of fright’ who has lost his bearings and doesn’t know where to turn. So he builds himself a shelter, an igloo made from pebbles and bits of sea-glass, and shuts himself inside.

A fiddler crab awakens him and engages him in timid conversation. Together, they face the fearful world, gaining mutual strength and comfort. One night, the sea-thing child finds the confidence to walk along the beach where the river meets the sea. There, he meets an eel, and later an albatross, both of whom inspire him with curiosity and self-belief.

The story traces the emotional journey from small beginnings to courage and selfhood. It is at once powerful, humorous and surreal, sweeping the reader along in a sea of words rich in resonance and meaning. The meticulously hatched illustrations constantly shift from the golden tones of day to the inky blacks of night, so echoing the sea-thing child’s own emotional turmoil. Now a classic, this profound, poetic story has much to offer at different levels of understanding.

Oceans Alive

Oceans Alive

Title: Oceans Alive (HB)
Author: Angie and Andy Belcher
Publisher: Harper Collins, Big Cat – Ruby/Band 14
Price: £5.30 each

There’s much to learn from this thoughtful and well-structured small-format book. Topics include an investigation of the plants and animals that live in the sea and their interdependence, the importance of coral reefs and why they are endangered, different types of pollution and their effects on sea creatures, overfishing and the scientific discoveries that benefit human health. There are also chapters on how we can all do our bit to look after the sea and its inhabitants, rescuing a killer whale and safeguarding Hooker sea lions from extinction. Particularly effective is a double-page poster using differentiated headings, bullet points and emotive photos to contrast a healthy ocean with a polluted one. A glossary, an index and notes for using the book in a guided reading session complete this impressive title.

The Mousehole Cat

the mousehole cat

Title: The Mousehole Cat (PB)
Author: Antonia Barber
Illustrator: Nicola Bayley
Publisher: Walker Books
Price: £5.99 each

Mowzer the cat lives an idyllic existence in the fishing village of Mousehole, where he has trained his owner, fisherman Tom, to perfection. Tom takes great care of him, cooking up a treat of tasty dishes, among them kedgeree, fish stew and star-gazy pie. One terrible winter, a great storm, personified as the Great Storm-Cat, prowls the seas so prohibiting the fishermen from venturing out. Soon, the village folk go hungry – and Tom feels duty-bound to set out to sea with Mowzer as companion, to face the storm’s wrath. And so it is that the Great Storm-Cat, pouncing and leaping, plays havoc with the defenceless boat, inspiring Mowzer to begin her mesmerising serenade.

Based on a Cornish folktale, the story deftly captures the duality of the sea as both giver and destroyer. Words and images brilliantly contrast the warmth of the fireside kitchen and the abundance of seafood delicacies with the wild landscape of swirling waves and lashing winds as the Great Storm-Cat engulfs Tom’s helpless fishing boat. The illustrations are exquisite, consisting of decorative borders and framed pictures dazzling with detail and jewel-like colours.

Barry the Fish with Fingers and the Hairy Scary Monster

barry and the fish with fingers

Title: Barry the Fish with Fingers and the Hairy Scary Monster(PB)
Author: Sue Hendra
Publisher: Simon and Schuster,
Price: £6.99 each

Barry puts his fingers to good use in this enchanting story of life among friends at the bottom of the ocean. Barry loves to play hide-and-seek with his peers. Since he’s so clever, he’s usually the one who counts aloud while his friends hide. After much searching, Puffy the puffer fish settles on the perfect hiding place, an old shipwreck. But the eerie darkness soon scares him and makes him wish for Barry. Then he brushes up against a hideous, long-haired monster – an encounter that quickly propels him back out into the open sea where his friends anxiously await him. Thereupon, Barry sets off to investigate the monster, which triggers an astonishing, thoroughly satisfying turn of events.

This gentle story of big-hearted Barry is delightful, and its message – the need for kindness and tolerance – is clearly conveyed through a simple text and exuberant pictures in bright lollipop colours that capture the richness of deep-sea life.

Shadows under the Sea

Shadows under the Sea

Title: Shadows under the Sea (PB)
Author: Sally Grindley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster,
Price: £4.99 each

Joe and his family are spending part of their summer holidays on an island in the Philippines where his dad’s job is to photograph an endangered species of seahorse. Once there, Joe learns about the importance of coral reefs and mangrove swamps and the destruction of ecosystems by humans motivated by greed. He makes friends with young islander Dario, who encourages him to join in a game of baseball, and comes across two sinister figures, whom he is sure are up to no good.

The book is divided into short chapters perfect for developing reading stamina, and is crammed with snippets of information on fragile ecosystems, local wildlife, endangered species and the dangers of overfishing. More important, it is also an intriguing adventure with many a twist and turn that grips the reader and ensnares Joe in the murky world of dynamite fishing.

Greek myths

Title: Greek Myths (HB)
Author: Sally Pomme Clayton
Illustrator: Jane Ray
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £14.99

This stunning collection of ancient Greek tales is the perfect introduction to the great stories that shape our world. The stories trace the beginnings of life, from the separation of Earth and sky and the birth of the Titans, to the birth of gods and humans, beasts and monsters.

In the first story, we learn how it was that the gods came to rule and inhabit Earth, sea and sky, and to build a temple high up on Mount Parnassus from which to look down upon the world. In another story ‘The Girl of All Gifts’, we meet Pandora, the beautiful young girl who is forged from metal and given the gift of life. She is also bestowed the gift of curiosity – and one last gift, a painted pottery jar, firmly sealed, that she is expressly forbidden to open. We also follow greedy King Midas, who, wishing that everything he touch turns to gold, comes to see the folly of his desire as he discovers that his golden touch is but the beginning of death.

There are also stories about Athena and Poseidon, Pegasus, Atalanta and the golden apples, Orpheus and the Underworld, Arachne, and Perseus and Medusa. Concluding each story is a short note setting it within a larger context, explaining the moral or describing the setting – or, even, the event it inspired.

Both simple and elegant, the stories are written with expression, clarity and an ear for language – and are ideal for reading aloud. The illustrations are breathtaking. Highly stylised and decorative, they combine large flat surfaces of shimmering colour and undulating pattern with beautiful decorative borders in complementary hues.

The Great Big Book of Monsters, Goblins, Dragons and Giants

the great big book of monsters goblins dragons and giants

Title: The Great Big Book of Monsters, Goblins, Dragons and Giants (HB)
Author: John Malam
Publisher: QED Publishing
Price: £9.99

Discover the incredible creatures that inhabit the world of folktales, myths and legends in this fascinating nonfiction compilation on goblins, dragons, monsters and giants. Each section has its own contents page and examines a weird and wonderful assortment of species and the stories that they engender. The section on goblins, for example, encompasses fairies, elves, brownies, changelings and dwarfs and has retellings from Ireland of the Little Folk and their king Finvarra; from Germany of Rumplestiltskin and his magic spinning; and from North America of Rip van Winkle, who fell asleep for 20 years. The section on dragons covers the Anglo-Saxon story of Beowulf and Grendel, a creation myth from Iraq and the legend of St George and the Dragon. There’s also information about Indian, Japanese and Chinese dragons – and much more besides. Fact boxes, photos and lively illustrations add further layers of interest.

A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons by Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III

How to train your dragon

Title: A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons by Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (PB)
Author: Cressida Cowell
Publisher: Hodder
Price: £6.99

In this hilarious story, our Viking hero, now a withered and wrinkly old man, reflects on his twelfth birthday, a day that begins full of expectancy and excitement. He’s hoping for a peaceful sort of a day but what follows is the most dramatic, chaotic and memorable day of his life. His memoirs open on the morning of his birthday as he hangs precariously from a narrow ledge high up on the public library. But since the dastardly Hairy Scary Librarian and his deadly army of driller-dragons patrol the library, why is Hiccup there, risking his life? And so begins a riotous adventure teeming with larger-than-life characters and talking dragons.

Thoroughly madcap, the story twists and turns, with one event spiralling into the next in a thunderous tumult of dragon cries, mayhem and danger. There’s no end to the story’s inventiveness and humour – traits that characterise every one of the books in this wonderfully entertaining series about Hiccup and his crowd.

Breaking the spell

Breaking the Spell

Title: Breaking the spell (HB)
Author: Lari Don
Illustrator: Cate James
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £14.99

A world of magic and mischief opens before us in this enchanting book of tales gathered from the varied landscapes of Scotland. The bittersweet tale of a selkie child, inspired by Scottish coasts and isles, is followed by a story from the borders about Tam Linn, which tells of sorcery and cunning but also of bravery and love. From the Orkneys comes the myth that explains the giants’ role in the creation of the ancient stones known as the Ring of Brodgar. And from Skye originates the legend of two heroes, Skiach and Cuchullin, Scottish and Irish respectively, who learn to live together in mutual respect.

The stories are a joy to read, filled with the cadences and rhythms of spoken language. They’re funny and wise, and filled with an assortment of feisty characters and mysterious creatures, both good and bad. The illustrations, in the earthy colours of the landscape and in a limited palette, are highly effective, and their stark backgrounds and lack of detail are atmospheric and compelling.

Tales from Celtic Lands

Tales from Celtic Lands

Title: Tales from Celtic Lands (PB)
Author: Caitlín Matthews
Illustrator: Olwyn Whelan
Narrator: Niamh Cusack
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £15.99

The diversity of Celtic culture is brought to the fore in this fine collection of folktales, poems and songs from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man and Brittany. The stories are filled with enchantment, fairies and magical beasts, but they also depict people whose lives are rooted in the land and in whom concerns of family, legitimacy and succession loom large.

So it is, in ‘The Slave Woman’s Son’, that Niall, cheated of his birthright, must prove himself to be the rightful heir to the throne, and that N’oun Doaré finds fortune and kingship after showing obedience to the thin, starveling mare in ‘The Boy who Didn’t Know’. The stories are peopled with strong female characters, whether they be human like the brave lass in ‘The Black Bull of Norroway’ or blessed with supernatural powers like Bride in ‘The Cailleach of the Snows’, who manages to rebalance the seasons by restoring springtime.

As enchanting as the text are the irregularly shaped, often elongated, pictures embellishing the pages, in which figures, abstract patterns and delicate colouring are harmoniously balanced. Adding further storytelling magic are the accompanying CDs of the stories, tucked into the inside covers of the book, and narrated by Niamh Cusack.

The River Singers

the river singers

Title: The River Singers (HB)
Author: Tom Moorhouse
Illustrator: Simon Mendez
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price: £10.99

It’s hard to match this gripping and beautiful debut novel for quality of writing and the sheer thrill of adventure.

A mother water vole introduces her pups to life beyond the burrow. Warning them of the dangers of the outside world, she leads them to the Great River. There, she explains its significance to water voles in general – or River Singers as she calls them – and tells of its conflicting moods and its role as giver of life but also destroyer. Shortly after, she dies, killed by an unknown predator.

The eldest pup, Sylvan, now fears that he and his siblings will also fall prey. As he agonises over whether to abandon their home, he hears the sounds of the river turning into a song deep within him, echoing his mother’s words and urging him to flee. Obeying the river’s call, he gathers his siblings together and leads them into the unknown. Their quest for a new life is one of danger and loss, but also of courage, endurance and lasting friendship.

The author’s narrative skill and intimate subject knowledge create a truly riveting story about life on the riverbank. The balance between anthropomorphism and natural behaviour is held in a delicate, believable equilibrium.

The animals feel and speak, eloquently at times, as humans yet their habits and habitats describe a meticulously observed reality, reflecting the author’s background as a conservation ecologist. This book, with its intense lyricism, wonderful characters and breathtaking plot, is in the tradition of the best animal stories, and is sure to endure. Elegant black and white illustrations gracingmost pages add further enjoyment.

Hansel and Gretel

hansel and gretel

Title: Hansel and Gretel (PB)
Author: Michael Morpurgo
strong>Illusrator: Emma Chichester Clark
Publisher: Walker Books
Price: £6.99 each

Words and pictures capture the essence of the forest as the embodiment of fear in this magical retelling of the Grimms’ tale. A wicked old witch with the gift of shapechanging longs, above all, to be young again so that she can find love. One day, she peeps into the cottage of Gabriel and Lisette and their children Hansel and Gretel. She falls head over heels in love with Gabriel and begins to plot Lisette’s demise. She changes into a beautiful young woman called Belladonna, casts a spell on Lisette and usurps her place.

The story is told at a leisurely pace, gathering details and characters along the way and weaving them into the fabric of the story. Rich and alliterative, it is perfect for reading aloud. The illustrations are exquisite, echoing the moods of the story. Hansel and Gretel’s feelings of joy and youthful optimism are captured through jewel-toned colours and decorative patterns, their sense of abandonment through a reduced palette of murky grey-greens and a worm’s eye view of towering trees.

Little Evie in the Wild Wood

Little Evie in the Wild Wood

Title: Little Evie in the Wild Wood (HB)
Author: Jackie Morris
strong>Illustrator: Frances Lincoln
Publisher: Walker Books
Price: £12.99 each

Woodlands are a place of beauty, peace and harmony in this story that has distant echoes of Red Riding Hood. Little Evie ventures out into the woods one day, following the path her mama once showed her. In her hands is a basket of jam tarts. The trees protect her on her way, creating a tunnel through which sunlight gently filters. She treads on earth that is soft and damp and rustles with the sound of leaves. She encounters butterflies dancing, insects humming and the wind singing gently. Out of nowhere, the wood-pigeons call in warning, but the sun bathes her in light, reassuring her that all is well. She hears a low growl – but the sun once again reassures her and kisses her face.

Gentle and onomatopoeic, the story reads like a poem that plays upon the senses. The author, also a renowned illustrator, brings to the story a feel for language that is lyrical, measured and bursting with imagery. Catherine Hyde’s illustrations mirror the story’s gentleness in their soft shapes and delicate colours.

Into the Forest

Into the Forest

Title: Into the Forest (HB)
Author: Anthony Browne
Publisher: Walker Books
Price: £5.99 each

There’s much to discuss in this story in which the unsettling atmosphere of a forest and its fairytale inhabitants are used to explore a child’s anxiety. The narrator, a young boy, awakens one morning to find that Dad has left home. Mum appears withdrawn, unwilling to meet his gaze and unable to say when Dad will return. The next day, she asks him to take a cake to Grandma, who is poorly. He sets out, taking a shortcut through the forest. There, among the sinister trees with weird images carved into their trunks, he encounters several strange characters.

The pictures convey meaning beyond the words. Vibrant colours portray the narrator, his family and home, in sharp contrast to the monochrome tones of the forest. Throughout, visual clues reference specific fairytales that play out in the forest. A beanstalk and a giant’s club identify the boy he meets as Jack. Similarly, from the scattered clues – three bears, a gingerbread house, a spindle, a red cloak – we recognise the other fairytale characters who haunt the landscape. Every detail is significant, open to interpretation. This is an extraordinary book, which will enhance children’s visual literacy and encourage them to bring their own knowledge of fairytales to the story.

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