Book review: Step into spring with Scholastic children’s books

Tom Gates
Tom Gates
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There’s a warm invitation from the tried and trusted experts at Scholastic to dip into their spring collection of exciting children’s books.

Leading the charge is the talented Liz Pichon with the latest chapter in the brilliantly inventive life of mischievous schoolboy Tom Gates whose madcap adventures are proving the perfect incentive for boys who are reluctant to read.

Tom allows us to peer into the weird, wicked and wonderful world of a nine-year-old boy’s mind and what we find there is addictively hilarious. A cross between a comic and a novel, Pichon’s series takes the form of Tom’s battered homework diary, crammed with his doodles and stories.

In Tom Gates is Absolutely Fantastic (Scholastic, paperback, £6.99), teacher Mr Fullerman announces that class 5F are going on an activity break which should be fun for Tom as it means a trip away from home and, more importantly, away from his grumpy sister Delia.

There will be rock climbing, raft building and kayaking, and a few caramel wafers to go round of course. As long as he doesn’t get stuck in a group with anyone who snores or worse still with Marcus Meldrew, it should be great fun for Tom.

The highs and lows of Tom’s life turn out to be funnier and more extreme than ever...

With its square, chunky format making it visually appealing and easy to handle, Tom Gates is Absolutely Fantastic is set to provide hours of fun, and more than a few chuckles.

Meanwhile, here are more brilliant reads for children of every age:

Age 0 plus:

Baby Can See by Léonie Lagarde

It’s never too early to get babies interested in books and Scholastic’s easy-to-handle and visually exciting new series by Léonie Lagarde is perfect for their first year. Specially designed for new babies and based on research which suggests that bold, high contrast black and white images provide visual stimulation for babies when their eyesight is still developing, these chunky, charming, padded books provide fun noises and words to read to baby. The series covers a range of topics in gorgeous layouts and the soft and yet robust design is perfect for the smallest of babies and appealing to parents as well. The titles include Things That Go, perfect for little boys with its bold illustrations of a tractor, train, fire engine and bicycle, My Toys, In the Water with duck, crocodile, frog and penguin, and Animals. A fabulous first book for babies....

(Scholastic, hardback, £4.99)

Age 2 plus:

Primrose by Alex T.Smith

What little girl can resist the blooming wonderful Princess Primrose? This truly gorgeous picture book from Alex T.Smith is full of cheeky, charming characters and brilliantly anarchic humour. When you’re a princess, you can do whatever you like. Or can you? Life for Princess Primrose is rather dull and boring. She doesn’t want to behave like a proper princess, she wants to have fun. She’s not allowed to climb trees, dig up muddy vegetables or even splash in the fountain. Fortunately, things take a turn for the better when Primrose’s Grandmama comes for a visit and reminds everyone never to say no to a spot of fun. Full of mischief, pugs and muddy puddles, the big, bold adventures of Primrose will be irresistible to all little princesses!

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

An accident-prone dragon who flies into trees and sets his own wing on fire? It can only be the deliciously adorable Zog, the children’s picture book hero who has won the imagination of young readers everywhere, and is now the star of his own special board book edition for the very youngest children. Zog is the tale of a heart-melting dragon with a host of colourful friends. His creators are the very gifted Julia Donaldson, whose story books are never complete without her fun and fabulous rhyming couplets, and renowned illustrator Axel Scheffler who breathes life into this fiery little dragon. Top team Donaldson and Scheffler were the brains behind the highly successful Gruffalo series of books which featured the hilarious escapades of a quick-witted mouse, and now they have turned their talents to zany Zog. Funny, farcical and fiendishly lovable, Zog’s fantastical adventures are taking flight again!

(Scholastic, boardbook, £5.99)

Age 3-5

The Mummy Shop by Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard

Take a trip to The Mummy Shop for a crazy, comical but informative lesson in love for tearaway tots who think mum is too bossy. Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard’s cautionary tale features a cast of wonderful animal characters, some rather special illustrations, and a story that will have real resonance for little ones. Does your mummy tell you off for jumping on your bed? Does she make you eat vegetables when you don’t want to? Then call The Mummy Shop, and they will help you find the perfect new mummy. One hundred percent satisfaction guaranteed! When a little boy grows tired of his mummy, he calls The Mummy Shop for help. But after a number of mishaps and misunderstandings, he starts to think he may have made a big mistake. A laugh-out-loud tale of one boy’s quest to find the perfect mummy... who turns out to be his own!

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

The Disgusting Sandwich by Gareth Edwards and Hannah Shaw

Slime, grime, squish marks and smelly green goop... what child can resist the story of a truly disgusting sandwich? One day a little boy drops his sandwich in a sandpit, and suddenly the race is on! All the animals in the bushes have their greedy eyes fixed on it, waiting to pounce. But who will reach this nose-tickling treat first? The hungry badger, the silver squirrel, the greedy fox or a band of slimy slugs? After it’s been squished, squashed and slithered, will Badger finally get his paws on that disgusting sandwich? Or will he find something even yuckier to eat? Little ones will enjoy joining Badger in his desperate race for what used to be a very tasty sandwich in this laugh-aloud picture book with a wickedly funny twist, written with alluring alliteration by BBC TV producer Gareth Edwards and cleverly, quirkily illustrated by Hannah Shaw. Includes some gorgeously gruesome home truths about animal eating habits!

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Beastly Best Bits (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary and Martin Brown

They say you should never look back but that doesn’t apply to history lessons with the incomparable ‘history boys’ Terry Deary and Martin Brown! 2013 is the 20th awesome and awful anniversary of Horrible Histories and to mark this auspicious year, here’s a special book full of madcap moments and foul facts from days gone by. The Beastly Best Bits goes straight to the bone, giving us nothing but the most murderous moments in history. The terrific top team waste no time on the nice bits, getting down to the gore – and no more. Yes, the boring bits are most definitely out and the bloodcurdling bits are totally in as you trot around the world with Deary and Brown, checking out all their favourite yucky bits from 20 years of the series. From the Ancient Egyptians and Vicious Vikings to the Terrifying Tudors and Gorgeous Georgians, this is a history lesson no child will want to miss. History has never been so horrible, and so hilariously entertaining.

(Scholastic, hardback, £12.99)

Pip Street: A Whiskery Mystery by Jo Simmons

Debut children’s author Jo Simmons will have youngsters purring with delight when they take a trip to Pip Street where cats rule OK. Her hilarious new series, perfect for fans of Mr Gum, features anarchic, easy-to-read stories with simple, eye-catching illustrations and a sense of silliness that will appeal to children with a stubborn streak of naughtiness. Bobby Cobbler’s family have only just moved to Pip Street when his beloved cat Conkers goes missing. As a mammoth-sized search begins, Bobby makes friends with the tiny and fizzy Imelda who lives next door. The friends soon discover that a lot of cats from Pip Street are missing. In fact so are the ones from Chip Street and Dip Street. What on earth is going on? Bobby is determined to solve this whiskery mystery and see the safe return of his pet, but little does he realise that the culprit won’t rest until Pip Street is completely catless! As an added bonus, there are activities in the back of the book to keep children entertained for hours including a private detective quiz, a day in the life of Conkers the cat, find the missing cats of Pip Street and a Whiskery Mystery word search.

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

Fawn by Margi McAllister

Fans of Michael Morpurgo will go animal mad for this clever, heart-warming story about hope, friendship and family. Ten-year-old Kirsty Weaver leads a lonely life. She doesn’t spend her time watching TV or playing with friends. Instead she watches the herd of deer in the hills behind her house. Kirsty longs to be as free as the deer, but her home life is exhausting. Her mum has depression, while her dad is struggling to keep his business afloat. When Kirsty finds an abandoned fawn left to die on the hill, she coaxes him into a shed where he’ll be warm and safe. But as Kirsty battles to keep her rescued fawn a secret, she realises she can’t manage on her own. Can she trust Toby, the farmer’s boy, with her secret? Could she even tell him the truth about her family? Perhaps her fawn can help her see that one little girl shouldn’t bear such big burdens alone… Fawn is a rich, imaginative and beautifully written tale which handles tough issues such as depression and the recession with charm and sensitivity. Pitched at a level suitable for younger readers, this wise and emotional story will comfort and reassure whilst still delighting with its animal themed plot.

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)

Age 10 plus:

The Runaway King by Jennifer A.Nielsen

In the second instalment of her much acclaimed Ascendance Trilogy, Nielsen takes us on a thrilling rollercoaster ride through treason, murder and deadly dangers with The Runaway King. The superb follow-up to The False Prince finds Jaron in his rightful placed as king but quickly discovering that being first in line for the crown sometimes means being first in the line of fire. He is king, but he has no power. He lives in a castle, but has no safe place. He has won the throne – but keeping it will be the game of his life. Jaron used to be a pauper but became a prince, and now he is the prey. With traitors in his castle and enemies at the borders, he is far from safe so he must go undercover on a dangerous quest to find the truth behind his family’s murder. If Jaron wants to safeguard his crown and avenge his family, the hunted must become the hunter… thrilling journey full of action, danger and intrigue. This stand-out fantasy saga, an addictive blend of action, danger and intrigue, is ideal for boys who enjoy stories with plenty of spills and thrills.

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Teen:

All Fall Down by Sally Nicholls

Sally Nichols is one of today’s most exciting young writers and All Fall Down, her powerful and heartbreaking novel of the outbreak of the Black Death in 1349 – still regarded as one of the most terrifying events in history – is real tour-de-force. Isabel lives in the small Yorkshire village of Ingleforn with her father, stepmother and her brothers and sisters when rumours of a new and deadly plague start reaching them. In a matter of months, England is consumed by the Black Death and no one knows either its cause or how to stop it. In Ingleforn, death soon becomes an everyday reality and all anyone can hope for is to get their last rites before they depart this earth. It seems that the world is ending in horror and fear. But there is hope for the survivors of the terrible plague. A new and freer society will rise from the destruction of the feudal system which has enslaved families like Isabel’s for many generations... Nicholls brings to terrible life all the fear, uncertainty and horror that must have accompanied one of the darkest episodes in world history. Rich in atmosphere and dark history, this is a compelling read for teenagers.

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

Could you survive 21st century life without technology? That’s the question Lindsey Leavitt asks in this intriguing and funny teen novel which is aimed so perfectly and perceptively at teenagers today. Leavitt has an eye-opening grasp of the importance of social media on the lives of young people today and her story goes to the heart of the way a teenager ticks. Sixteen-year-old Mallory loves her boyfriend, Jeremy. Or at least she likes him more than she’s ever liked any other boy, and she is sure he feels the same way. Until she happens upon his online Authentic Life game and discovers that he’s cheating on her with his virtual wife ‘BubbleYum.’ Devastated that her first love has a cyber wife and with her online life falling apart, she is convinced that technology is the cause. And then she finds a list, written by her grandma back in 1962 when she was Mallory’s age. All her grandma had to worry about was sewing dresses, planning dinner parties and finding a steady boyfriend. Things were so much simpler in the 1960s. And there’s nothing on the list that Mallory couldn’t do herself. Mallory realises that things were a lot simpler without technology and decides that maybe it’s time to go vintage and find the answers to her modern-day problems. A thought-provoking and cleverly pitched teen drama.

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)

While the Others Sleep by Tom Becker

A cross between A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Orphanage, this terrific and terrifying standalone novel comes from the pen of award-winning author Tom Becker. When Alfie Mandeville’s insomnia threatens to embarrass his wealthy family in 1897, he is sent to Scarbrook House, a sanatorium for wealthy children. Troubled by the eerie atmosphere and strange patients, Alfie’s condition gets worse, not better. He falls under the spell of the charismatic and cruel William Travers, who seems to delight in bullying the other patients. A mysterious sighting by the water tower in the woods stirs up turbulent memories of Alfie’s time in India and as he lies awake one night, he is haunted by visions of a strange creature moving through the darkness at the edge of the patients’ beds. Are his tired eyes hallucinating, or is he starting to lose his mind? When Alfie learns that the creatures are hunting a demon escaped from the depths of hell, and that the only protection against them is to be asleep, suddenly insomnia becomes the most dangerous condition of all... Becker’s hair-raisingly scary and tense psychological thriller is guaranteed to keep you awake long after the witching hour!

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)