Book reviews: Animal magic, awesome science and a medieval romp

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals
My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals

Anarchic hamsters, the world’s wildest creatures, some egg-cracking experiments and a very naughty knight are just some of the stars of an exciting new selection of children’s books as September draws in.

Age 4 plus:

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals

What’s the next best thing to meeting a bunch of cheeky chimps face to face, or seeing the life that buzzes inside a bee hive?

The answer, of course, is to turn the pages of the latest magnificent encyclopedia from Dorling Kindersley… a fabulous feast of wild and wonderful discovery deep inside the awe-inspiring animal kingdom.

Since 1974, Dorling Kindersley has been publishing outstanding quality, illustrated reference books for both adults and children and this fantastic new encyclopedia provides pages of facts, fun, graphics and stunning photography, all perfectly created for little learners who want to know about fabulous creatures from land, sea and air.

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals, the follow up to the hugely successful My Encyclopedia of Very Important Things published last year, provides answers to those very important questions from your inquisitive little animal lovers.

Written in an informal and fully accessible style, this sumptuously produced and informative book combines beautiful full-colour photography with enchanting illustrations and an educational mine of enjoyable discoveries, interesting information and fascinating facts.

From rare poisonous birds and hopping frogs to fearsome sharks and guide dogs, we get up close to Earth’s most awesome animals and learn how they live and eat, how long they sleep, how fast they can move, what they do to protect themselves from predators and how they keep warm in wintertime.

Dive into the ocean to see the terrifying Portuguese man-of-war, known as a floating stinging machine, dig under the soil to find a long-snouted aardvark or fly high above the Earth to catch sight of the golden eagle, a master of the skies.

The information in the book, which supports the KS1 National Curriculum, is split into four sections… an introduction to animals, fun facts about unusual creatures, animal behaviour and more wonders from the animal world.

With a beautiful ribbon marker to keep track of your journey into the wild, this is an ideal gift for children and an inspirational look at wildlife for animal lovers of any age!

(DK Children, hardback, £14.99)

Age 9 plus:

Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists by Adam and Lisa Murphy

Enjoy learning about the history of science… straight from the corpse’s mouth!

Join ingenious TV chat show host Adam Murphy in another extraordinary Corpse Talk adventure as he digs up the dry bones of history to meet some of the most amazing and exceedingly clever scientists ever.

This brilliant comic-strip book – packed with science, comedy and fascinating facts – comes from the increasingly successful The Phoenix Presents series, published by David Fickling in partnership with The Phoenix comic.

The astonishing non-fiction comic series Corpse Talk was created by Adam and Lisa Murphy, and stars the versatile cartoon character Adam Murphy who gets the answers to tricky questions about the world and its history by bringing the ‘dead famous’ to life.

In this new comic book extravaganza, he interviews dead famous scientists like Archimedes, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein who changed the world, in a hilarious and mind-expanding chat show. How did a taste of tortoise inspire Darwin’s discoveries? What led Einstein to unlock the secrets of spacetime? What’s the deal with Marie Curie’s deadly diaries?

There are over 120 pages of cheeky humour, discoveries and surprises to enjoy in this educational and yet hugely entertaining book which has been rather aptly compared to ‘having science history injected into your brain.’

Clever, comical, informative and brilliantly illustrated, this wonderful book achieves what many youngsters thought almost impossible… it makes science laugh-out-loud fun!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus:

Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-Speriments! by Jane Clarke and James Brown

Science doesn’t have to be boring... in fact, it can be awesome!

This inventive and entertaining new fiction series, which makes learning an adventure full of knockabout fun, comes from Five Quills, a small independent publisher with big ideas on books for younger readers.

Five Quills is on a mission to fill its books with lively illustrations and carefully written stories, making them perfect for reading aloud and sharing with both new and experienced readers.

And this all-action story, starring terrible twins Al and Lottie, is positively brimming with concepts, imagination, and science-based experiments, all guaranteed to set young readers’ brains in motion.

Al’s Awesome Experiments is written by Jane Clarke, the talented author of over 80 books for young children who has mastered the science of fun-filled storytelling, while James Brown’s charismatic illustrations add extra comedy and energy to this inspirational new series.

Be prepared to laugh out loud but also share a few poignant moments as Al and Lottie set about making a time travel machine so they can go back to meet their father who died a few years ago, leaving their mum sad and overworked.

The energetic twins are always one step away from trouble… eight-year-old Al is fascinated by science. He spends his time experimenting to test his theories and create his favourite inventions while his twin sister Lottie is crazy about biology and the natural world. Their antics often have unexpected – and very messy – consequences!

Al’s latest plan is to invent a time machine to take his family back to meet their Great Grandpa Boffin. He would also like to go back to a time when their dad was alive and mum was much happier. But first, Al needs to work out the strongest shape for his time machine capsule, with the help of Lottie and their very naughty dog Einstein. The experiments around force involve using all the eggs in the fridge (that were meant for dinner!) and the result is a very sticky situation for their neighbours! Can they finish the experiment before mum finds out or are they going to end up with egg on their faces?

Al is an inspirational young scientist who never gives up and curious kids will love trying out their own eggstra experiments at the back of the book. But best to put a grown-up in charge as egg-sperimenting can get seriously messy!

Al’s Awesome Science is ideal for children who are becoming confident readers and ready to move on to chapter books. With step-by-step experiments to try at home, all taken from Al’s own notebook, this is an entertaining and accessible introduction to scientific principles.

The fine art of making science a sport!

(Five Quills, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes: Unicorns and Rainbows by Rebecca Jones

Making your own cards is much more fun than buying them… and here’s everything you need to get started in one cute and creative colouring book.

Published by Nosy Crow in association with the National Trust, this entertaining and cleverly designed colouring book includes unique cards and envelopes which quickly and easily tear out. Use your own crayons to colour in the design then add the colourful stickers provided and personalise your creation.

Unicorns and Rainbows is just the latest title in the much-loved Colouring Cards and Envelopes series which has sold over 130,000 copies. The 24 gorgeous pen-and-ink designs include magical unicorns, adorable kittens, charming rainbows and gliding swans, and are perfect for all ages to decorate and send to family and friends.

Take inspiration from real life or get experimental… try unusual colours and different materials to make each card unique. With enough blank space inside for a message, envelopes to customise and 24 colourful stickers to seal your card, each book is the complete card-making package for creative children.

With helpful and easy-to-understand instructions, and good quality card paper for your creations, hours of fun are guaranteed in one big, beautiful book!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

Winnie and Wilbur: The Naughty Knight by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

It may still be summer but the witching hour is here!

Welcome back to the magic and mayhem of everyone’s favourite witch and her mischievous black cat. The adventures and misadventures of bewitching Winnie the Witch and the long-suffering Wilbur have been providing spellbinding, bite-size stories for young readers for an incredible thirty years now.

The amazingly inventive Valerie Thomas pens the dynamic duo’s mad, bad and dangerously hilarious escapades, and all the action is brought to life by Korky Paul’s distinctive, wildly energetic and brilliantly detailed illustrations.

The secret of the books’ success is that scatterbrained Winnie is not as simple as she seems and she always manages to conjure up some subtle life lessons amidst all the zany antics.

In their new adventure, Wilbur – aided by Winnie’s magic – takes a starring role in a medieval romp which sees a naughty knight on the loose, and all the thrills and spectacles of castle life.

When Winnie and Wilbur fly over a castle, they can’t help swooping down to take a closer look. When the castle turns out to be nothing more than a ruin, Winnie realises that they are ‘hundreds of years too late’ and so gives a wave of her wand to send them back to medieval times.

In not time, the ruin becomes a fully functioning fortress and the two of them are there, in suitable attire, on a day of much archery, jousting and feasting. Winnie disguises herself as a medieval lady-in-waiting while Wilbur is a dashing knight in armour but when they come across a naughty knight making mincemeat of his rivals in the tournament and losing his temper in the banqueting hall, a little magic is required to put him in his place and give everyone else the entertaining day they have come to the castle to enjoy...

This short, punchy and action-packed story is perfect for young readers who are ready to tackle the challenge of longer books but still enjoy following the action through bold and vibrant illustrations.

With medieval magic and mayhem at every turn of the page, this classic Winnie and Wilbur adventure is guaranteed to cast a spell!

(Oxford University Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

I Want to Go First by Richard Byrne

Shout, shake and growl… the extraordinarily creative author and illustrator Richard Byrne is back to perform his conjuring tricks and he is looking for a few assistants!

In his delightfully playful, interactive and innovative new picture book, Byrne introduces us to a cheeky and enterprising little elephant who needs readers’ help to prove that sometimes brains count more than brawn.

Elphie is lining up with the other elephants to start the long march to the watering hole at the back of the book but as the littlest elephant, he has to go last. What mischievous Elphie really wants is to go first so he asks the reader to help him move up the queue by scaring off the other elephants with some subtle but effective sound effects. And he almost manages it until the biggest elephant cottons on to his tricks and they move back into the correct order.

What they hadn’t reckoned on was discovering that the watering hole is already occupied by a very, very big and very, very selfish elephant. Only Elphie’s quick thinking saves the day and on the long march home, the other elephants decide that this time the cleverest elephant should go first. Could that be Elphie?

Byrne’s colourful parade of elephants, a comically quirky plot and all the fun of taking part in the story ensure your own little ones will be hissing, growling, roaring, shaking and wobbling the book to help Elphie get to the front of the queue, and guarantee that this adorable adventure will be an odds-on family favourite.

Animal magic with a terrific twist in the tail!

(Oxford University Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Clumpety Bump by Phil Allcock and Richard Watson

Lazy horse Clumpety Bump doesn’t like helping caring Wally Wobblebottom deliver gifts for friends… he’d rather eat, drink and generally take it easy.

So what will happen when his owner runs out of patience and takes the tractor instead?

Author Phil Allcock and illustrator Richard Watson deliver their own wonderful wordplay and visual magic in this funny, lively and playful picture book brimming with addictive rhyme and madcap antics.

It comes from the burgeoning stable of Maverick Arts Publishing which was launched in 2009 by Steve Bicknell and has been gaining momentum over the last few years with beautiful picture books and a classy collection of early readers.

Maverick believes that with everyone leading such busy lifestyles, it is important for children to spend the time with adults sharing and engaging over a picture book, and Clumpety Bump is an entertaining new addition.

Clumpety Bump is a lazy horse. In fact, he’s a very lazy horse. He just wants to plod slowly and munch on his favourite food… apples. His owner, Wally Wobblebottom, who likes to help people and take presents for them, needs Clumpety Bump to trot, jump and gallop, but Clumpety just can’t be bothered. Fed up with his lazy horse, Wally decides to do his deliveries on his tractor instead but the plan hits an obstacle… a big muddy puddle. Will Clumpety come to the rescue?

Children will love joining in Allcock’s wordplay, learning about the importance of hard work and helpfulness, and following Watson’s colourful gallery of vibrant illustrations.

Hilarious horseplay for the under-fives!

(Maverick, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Hamster Sitter Wanted by Tracy Gunaratnam and Hannah Marks

Family love is put to the test when an unruly bunch of hamsters turn adventures into misadventures!

Hamster Sitter Wanted is another adorable picture book from children’s publisher Maverick and sees author Tracy Gunaratnam and illustrator Hannah Marks leading their little readers on a merry dance through mayhem and madness.

Intrepid hamsters Marco and Polo simply love adventures, whether that’s heading to Mars in a rocket, doing a spot of skydiving or climbing the world’s highest mountain. But disaster strikes when Aunt Fluff leaves them in charge of Marco’s anarchic little cousins who like nothing better than causing chaos. Are Marco and Polo’s adventures destined to grind to a halt or can Ms Bottomus, their very large hamster sitter, finally squash the little terrors into submission?

Children will enjoy all the mischief-making of Marco’s misbehaving cousins and there is plenty of extra fun just waiting to be discovered in Hannah Marks’ remarkably detailed, colourful and fun-packed illustrations.

Entertaining anarchy for little animal lovers!

(Maverick, paperback, £7.99)

Age 12 months plus:

Up and Down: A Walk in the Countryside by Ros Beardshaw

It’s never too early to teach children the joys of the countryside, and this delightful board book provides their first step into the great outdoors!

Up and Down is the fourth and final title in an inventive and enchanting series of concept books, including ABC, 123 and Colours, which have been created especially for the National Trust by multi-award-winning independent publisher Nosy Crow.

This chunky, colourful and inspirational new book has the theme of ‘opposites’ at its heart and takes very young readers on a winter walk through the countryside, going up and down, left and right, from big to small, from cold to warm, and from dark to light.

Ros Beardshaw’s warm and appealing illustrations are guaranteed to win over both parents and children, and the book’s countryside themes are the perfect way to bring little ones close up to nature.

A breath of fresh air for babies and toddlers!

(Nosy Crow, board book, £6.99)