Book review: Helping hands, dirty dogs and friendly monsters

Come rain or shine this summer, there are some sparkling children’s books to keep boredom at bay.

Thursday, 30th July 2015, 10:00 am
Helping hands, dirty dogs and friendly monsters
Helping hands, dirty dogs and friendly monsters

From a bunch of fearsome but friendly monsters and a smelly dog with the bath-time blues to a family of Japanese-style Borrowers and two siblings on the run, there is a book for children small and tall!

Age 2 plus:

Tamara Small and the Monsters’ Ball by Giles Paley-Phillips and Gabriele Antonini

Award-winning author Giles Paley-Phillips certainly knows a thing or two about what kids love.

His rhyming picture books and nonsense poetry capture the curiosity and exuberant spirit of childhood and here he demonstrates – with his trademark wit and humour – that monsters don’t have to be scary.

This clever, colourful picture book, republished with a fresh, new look, is ideal for toddlers who are easily spooked. Full of rhyme and reason, it delivers a monster feast of fun and helps little ones to get their fears into perspective.

On a windy night Tamara is lying awake in bed when she hears a noise outside her room. Suddenly she is whisked away by a hairy arm and taken to the village hall. Luckily it’s just the neighbourhood monsters inviting her to their ball and after a night of dancing, she is sent back home with a lovely slice of slime cake!

With big, bold pictures by Gabriele Antonini, a truly delightful rhyming text and a message that is the perfect remedy for night time fears, Tamara Small and the Monsters’ Ball is an enchanting bedtime classic.

(Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner

Louie’s got the bath-time blues and he’s tired of coming up roses…

Greenaway Medal winner Catherine Rayner works her special magic on Louie the dog who is desperately tracking down his own Special Smell after being dunked in a tub of scented water.

Unhappy with his new clinging aroma of roses and apple blossom, Louie is doggedly determined to sniff out his old odour and the hunt leads him to lots of smelly things along the way. There’s a stinky fox, some interesting dustbins, a pongy pond and a marvellously muddy puddle to roll in. Will he succeed in getting his smell back and, more importantly, will he be able to keep it this time?

Smelly Louie and his wonderfully whiffy adventures are full of Rayner’s addictive humour and amazingly textured artwork.

The perfect bedtime read for all little bathing belles…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Babies and toddlers:

Mouse in the House

Gillian McClure

What child (and their parents!) can resist a cast of cute creatures?

Talented author and illustrator Gillian McClure works more of her animal magic in this warm and reassuring story about a baby’s mystery mouse.

Is there a mouse living in this house? The bird has seen it, the squirrel has heard it, the dog has smelled it and the cat has touched it with her velvety paw! But this is no ordinary mouse… just wait and see.

Packed with beautiful, bold, eye-catching illustrations that are guaranteed to enchant babies and toddlers, this gorgeous little tale has an irresistible squeak in its tail!

(Plaister Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 11 plus:

My Name’s Not Friday by Jon Walter

Former photo journalist Jon Walter returns with a moving and absorbing exploration of the horrors of war and slavery.

In the wake of his terrific debut novel, Close to the Wind, Walters brings us this stunning, eye-opening story featuring the unsettling experiences of a black, teenage slave during the American Civil War.

‘This boy has bought me. This white boy who don’t even look as old as I am. He owns me body and soul, and my worth has been set at six hundred dollars.’ Samuel is an educated boy, he was taught by a priest and was never supposed to be a slave. He’s a good boy too, thoughtful and kind, the type of boy who’d take the blame for something he didn’t do, if it meant he could save his brother. But they don’t call him Samuel any more and the sound of guns is getting ever closer...

Beautiful written, emotionally powerful and packed with adventure and excitement, this is an extraordinary tale of endurance and hope, belief and loyalty, and the strength of the human spirit, all set against the terrifying backdrop of war.

A tale of dark journeys illuminated by determination, resilience and hope…

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The King’s Shadow by Philip Womack

And there are journeys of a different sort in the second thrilling book in Philip Womack’s acclaimed fantasy trilogy The Darkening Path.

These high-octane stories take Robert Browning’s poem Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came as the starting point and then develop into haunting adventures exploring love, courage, fear and friendship.

‘You are the chosen ones from the other land who will come to seek their siblings and with the hunting horn and the sun sword tear the king’s shadow and overthrow the Broken King.’ Simon and Flora have reached the land of the Broken King in search of their siblings. But here, nothing is quite what it seems. Who can Simon and Flora trust? What does Pike, their mysterious companion, stand to gain?

As rumours of war and revolution swirl around them, and as the sinister Knight of the Swan dogs their every move, the pair must confront their terrifying final task. And if they can free their siblings, will they then be able to open the way between the worlds and return home?

Using the age-old traditions of good and evil, cause and consequence, trial and retribution, Womack works up an exhilarating, magical story exploring powerful themes and full of unforgettable and spectacular visual imagery.

(Troika Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Dog Ears by Anne Booth

Anne Booth is guaranteed to win everyone’s heart with this captivating and moving story about a troubled schoolgirl who is struggling to stop her family falling apart.

Dog Ears, a heartwarming tale of friendships and family bonds, is also a gentle and revealing exploration of the unseen pressures on young carers who take on enormous responsibilities for their parents.

Latest statistics show that there are over 166,000 young carers in England, with many more thought to be under the radar of professionals. Ten to 14-year-olds make up 41 per cent of these young carers but some are aged just five.

The story revolves around Anna whose whole school appears to have gone mad. Anna and her friends can’t believe that pop star Frankie Santoro is coming to their school to judge a singing competition. Who’d have believed it, they’re going to be famous! But beneath her happy exterior, Anna is struggling.

Her dad is working abroad and all her mum’s time is taken up with worrying about baby Jack who was born prematurely and is constantly ill, leaving Anna to keep things together. The only person she can talk to isn’t even a person… it’s her dog Timmy.

With so much to do, Anna is sure she’s going to let everyone down and starts to dream of running away, with best friend Timmy at her side. But she would never do anything crazy like that… or would she? Anna has spent all her time worrying about everyone else. Perhaps now they need to worry about Anna.

Young carers will find much to identify with in this beautiful, reassuring story, and there is plenty of food for thought too for youngsters who have not had to cope with such difficulties at home.

(Catnip, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Secrets of the Wild Wood by Tonke Dragt

And get ready for more super swashbuckling action with a pack of adventurous young knights and daring damsels!

In September, Pushkin Children’s Books are publishing The Secrets of the Wild Wood by Tonke Dragt, the long-awaited sequel to the Dutch classic and Children’s Book of the Year Award winner, The Letter for the King.

Dragt was born in 1930 in Indonesia but during the Second World War, aged just 12, she was imprisoned in a Japanese camp where she wrote her first book using begged and borrowed paper.

After the war, she and her family moved to the Netherlands where she became an art teacher and published her first book in 1961. A year later, she wrote her most famous story, The Letter for the King, which has sold over one million copies and been translated into 16 languages.

This gripping, spellbinding sequel sees our hero Tiuri facing his greatest test, surrounded by darkness in a world where good and evil wear the same face and the wrong move could cost his life, but where help comes from the unlikeliest of places.

One of the King’s knights has gone missing. Sent to explore the mysterious Wild Wood, which no one dares visit and some say is enchanted, he has vanished in the snow.

Tiuri – now Sir Tiuri after carrying out his last perilous mission – is despatched to find him. With his best friend and squire Piak, he must journey into the heart of a terrifying, secret forest realm where danger is all around and every path leads you astray. It is a place of lost, overgrown cities and ancient curses, of robbers, princesses and strange Men in Green, of old friends and treacherous new enemies and a secret plot that threatens to bring down the entire kingdom.

This remarkable fantasy series, rich in colour, action and verbal virtuosity, was first published in 1963 and has been translated seamlessly from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson. Between the pages are all the essential and traditional ingredients of a timeless and heroic tale with its motifs of friendship, love, courage, loyalty, chivalry… and vile villainy.

Too good to miss!

(Pushkin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui

Another classic foreign book coming our way is this extraordinary story about a family of ‘Little People’ and the Japanese family who care for them across generations.

Described as a ‘Japanese Borrowers’ and set during the Second World War, The Secret of the Blue Glass is a little-told story of the Japanese war experience as well as a universal tale of family, friendship and childhood.

Born in Tokyo in 1924, author Tomiko Inui published many books over her long career, winning prizes along the way. The Secret of the Blue Glass is the first of her books to be translated into English. She died in 2002.

In a dusty library, in the quietest corner of a house in a Tokyo suburb, live the Little People… Fern and Balbo, Robin and Iris. Just a few inches high, sleeping in cigarette boxes and crafting shoes from old book jackets, they need only one thing from their Humans – a nightly glass of milk, served in a sparkling Blue Glass goblet, by a trusted young member of the Human family. But when the Second World War comes to Japan, bringing a dangerous new kind of patriotism, both Humans and their beloved Little People face a world they could never before have imagined.

It will take great love, bravery, and a rather loyal pigeon, to bring their unique families back together once more...

The Secret of the Blue Glass is a tender and beautifully written story full of adventure, hardship and cultural revelations.

(Pushkin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Since its first appearance nearly 50 years ago, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler has gained a place in the hearts of generations of readers – and has rightly become one of the most celebrated and beloved children’s books of all time.

It is the work of E. L. Konigsburg , an American writer and illustrator of children’s books and young adult fiction, who died two years ago and left behind a wonderful legacy of young reading.

And now her million-selling, award-winning classic novel is available again in the UK to enable a new generation of children to enjoy the adventures of a little girl and her brother who run away… to live in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

New York City girl Claudia, a mere month shy of being a 12-year-old, has resolved to run away from home with her younger brother Jamie. She knows that she could never pull off the classic spur-of-the-moment departure without a destination (inevitably involving having to eat outside with the insects, and cupcakes melting in the sun). So she plans everything to perfection, including their destination – the grand, elegant, beautiful, all-encompassing Metropolitan Museum of Art.

However, no sooner have Claudia and Jamie settled into their new home than they are caught up in the mystery of an angel statue bought by the museum for the bargain price of 225 dollars. Could it be a yet undiscovered work by Michelangelo, worth millions? Claudia is determined to find out, and her quest leads her to the remarkable, secretive Mrs Frankweiler, who sold the statue to the museum… and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

Absurdly funny, exciting, highly original and wonderfully rich in its detail, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler is up there with the best in the canon of great 20th century children’s literature.

(Pushkin, paperback, £7.99)