The war on plastic, visionary art and fantasy fighting by various authors - book reviews -

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Join McFly star bassist Dougie Poynter’s eco mission, be inspired by a pioneering artist, travel to the Tanzanian wilderness, and take a trip to outer space with a super selection of stunning September children’s books.

Join McFly star bassist Dougie Poynter’s eco mission, be inspired by a pioneering artist, travel to the Tanzanian wilderness, and take a trip to outer space with a super selection of stunning September children’s books.

Age 7 plus:

Plastic Sucks! You Can Make A Difference

Dougie Poynter

Tune in to a better future for our planet by getting drastic with plastic!

McFly bassist and environmental activist Dougie Poynter is urging youngsters to join the ever-growing band of eco warriors who are willing to go the extra mile to save planet Earth by helping the war on the use of plastic.

Plastic Sucks! You Can Make A Difference is an awesome and inspiring guide – written by Poynter who was a key player in the campaign to ban microbeads in the UK – showing children who want to make a difference how they can get involved in the mission to cut out single-use plastic.

Plastic is everywhere and it sucks. It fills up our oceans, endangers our wildlife and never goes away. So it’s time to take action, says Poynter, and to find ways to cut down our plastic use and help protect our environment because together, we really can make a difference.

As a lifelong supporter of environmental causes, Poynter is always on the hunt for ways to reduce and replace plastic and this campaigning book, his first solo authored project, draws on his own experiences in the fight against plastic waste, including the problems he has encountered and the solutions he has found.

The book covers the history of plastic and the pros and cons plastic has had on the planet, from plastic bags to prosthetic limbs. It also introduces us to some key campaigners and eco entrepreneurs, and is full of top tips, pop art infographics, simple facts and pages for your own notes.

‘If we can all do just one small thing to help reduce plastic use and save the planet, we can give ourselves a big pat on the back,’ says Poynter, ‘and spreading the word is one of the most important things we can do.’

The clear and easy steps in Plastic Sucks! You Can Make A Difference show us how we can all make small changes and become champions for our planet, and includes contributions from Will Travers, president of Born Free, James Robson and Andy Bool from the Sea Life Trust, Amanda Keetley, founder of Less Plastic UK, and Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen, founders of the 5 Gyres charity.

Ideal as an essential handbook for young eco warriors who might feel overloaded with information on the plastic crisis but are still determined to help, this is the perfect inspiration for anyone who wants to make changes to save our world.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 8 plus:

A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa

Andrea D’Aquino

Sometimes it’s just the tiniest of details in the world around us that can inspire an artist to create their greatest work.

This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of pioneering Japanese-American artist and sculptor Ruth Asawa whose work is collected in major museums around the world, and who had the ability to turn a simple strand of wire into the most graceful sculpture.

Written and illustrated by Andrea D’Aquino, an artist and author whose previous books include an illustrated edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Once Upon a Piece of Paper, A Life Made by Hand is an enchanting introduction to Asawa’s work and comes with instruction for children to make their own paper dragonfly, and educational tools for parents and teachers.

Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) was an influential and award-winning sculptor, a beloved figure in the San Francisco Bay Area art world, and a devoted activist who advocated tirelessly for arts education.

D’Aquino, brings Asawa’s creative journey to life, detailing the influence of her childhood in a farming family, and her education at Black Mountain College where she pursued an experimental course of education with leading avant-garde artists and thinkers such as Anni and Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg.

The gorgeous collages featured throughout the book reveal the ways in which Asawa went about her sculptural creations, including drawing forms in the dirt with her bare feet. She saw beauty in the ordinary… the webs of spiders, wings of insects, and drops of water found in the garden on the farm where she spent her childhood.

‘Though a respected name in the world of fine art, Asawa is still rather unknown even to the very engaged admirers of twentieth-century art,’ says D’Aquino. ‘The sheer beauty and bold, accessible nature of her art deserves a wider audience.’

She adds that the book focuses on her growth as ‘an original and visionary artist,’ and aims to ‘capture the spirit of her creativity itself.’

Inspirational, cleverly created, and informative, this is the perfect gift for young art lovers, and a delightful addition to any school library.

(Princeton Architectural Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Fighting Fantasy: Assassins of Allansia

Ian Livingstone

The groundbreaking Fighting Fantasy role-playing gamebooks, which thrilled a generation of young adventure-seekers in the Eighties and Nineties, have been making a welcome comeback thanks to Scholastic Books.

Many of those readers from thirty or more years ago are now parents and enjoying introducing this iconic series to their own kids and watching a new generation become the superheroes of outrageous tales of monsters, demons and magical worlds.

The books – created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone – are brimming with adventure, initiative and imagination and provide an original twist on traditional fiction by letting the reader take control of the story’s leading player and make choices that will affect the outcome of the story.

With their striking covers and atmospheric illustrations, each title provides old-fashioned fantasy and heroics with a thrilling twist, and hours of fun and constructive thinking.

Assassins of Allansia is the latest book in the series and comes from the pen of Ian Livingstone, one of the founding fathers of the UK games industry. Together with Steve Jackson, he co-founded the iconic Games Workshop in 1975, launching Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer in Europe.

In time-honoured style, the hero is the young reader who has accepted a wager to live on a small, uninhabited and inhospitable island. But after taking up the challenge to survive on Snake Island, which lies off the coast of Allansia, a nightmare unfolds when a bounty is placed on your head.

From being the hunter, you become the hunted. Now you must find the Assassins before they find you. But who are they? Where are they? Everybody you meet could be an assassin. Trust no one. And may your stamina never fail!

Livingstone brings his own special brand of heart-stopping action, terrifying monsters and page-turning plotting to this new thrilling Fighting Fantasy adventure.

Expect the unexpected!

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Trailblazers: Jane Goodall

Anita Ganeri

Illustrated by Luisa Uribe, George Urmos and Keiron Ward

In 1960, a young scientist set off into the Tanzanian wilderness to study chimpanzees, the first step to becoming the world’s leading expert on these amazing animals.

Discover the story of Jane Goodall’s inspirational career and what led this animal-loving woman to dedicate her life to primatology and conservation, and share some of her groundbreaking discoveries in this fascinating book.

Trailblazers: Jane Goodall is the new title in a fun and factual biography series inspired by the lives of pioneers both past and present. Packed with little-known trivia, fascinating facts and lively illustrations, these books celebrate the lives of forerunners in every sphere, from science and sport and business to activism, politics and the arts.

So how did Jane Goodall become the world’s leading chimpanzee expert? Having dreamed of studying animals in their natural habitat since she was little, she jumped at the first opportunity to set sail for Africa and observe primates – even though many people were against the idea of a young woman living among wild creatures, so far from home.

Without a university degree or any specialist training, Goodall went on to invent new methods of research and made stunning discoveries about primate behaviour, turning her into one of the 20th century’s most remarkable pioneers in the world of animals.

With a gallery of interactive illustrations and a lively text full of facts, and the spirit of adventure and discovery, this is the perfect book to make learning fun!

(Stripes, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Star Friends: Hidden Charm

Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming

Mystery, magic, adventure and danger… the perfect mix for young readers getting to grips with reading alone!

Linda Chapman, author of over 200 books for children, has her finger firmly on the pulse of little girls and animal lovers in the fifth book of her wonderfully warm, exciting and tender Star Friends series which has won the hearts of thousands of youngsters.

Maia and her three pals are Star Friends – girls who can use magic to keep the world in harmony, looking after the environment, healing things and people, but most importantly conquering evil. And when they meet the Star Animals, a whole world of magical adventure unfolds.

In their eighth adventure, the Star Friends are enjoying the holidays, but it’s not all fun and games as they try to discover who summoned the Shades that caused chaos in Westcombe. During their investigations, they notice that the village is strangely quiet – even the popular café is empty. Could the two be connected? The girls need to pull together to solve this mystery before it spirals out of control.

Chapman’s imaginative stories – ideally pitched for building reading confidence – transport children into the wonderful Star World through her gentle narrative and enchanting characters while Lucy Fleming provides the appealing and contemporary illustrations which capture all the dramas and challenges as the friends battle to overcome evil using their magical powers.

With captivating animal characters, enchanting adventures and a lively group of Star Friends to get to know and like, there is fun, love and adventure on every page as well as important messages about wildlife and the environment.

A spellbinding series that inspires a love of reading…

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Once Upon a Star

James Carter and Mar Hernández

And here’s a story that makes a BIG impression…

Once upon a star, There were no stars to shine, No Sun to rise, No Sun to set, No day no night, Nor any time, There was no Earth, Nor universe.

The Big Bang theory comes in for some stellar treatment in this super space-travelling picture book from prize-winning poet and educational writer James Carter, and star illustrator Mar Hernández.

In a unique blend of compelling verse, exciting space discovery and graphic illustration, Once Upon a Star takes young readers on a colourful and exciting trip through space and time as they discover the origins of the universe and how our solar system was formed.

Every day our universe is expanding as scientists and researchers learn more and more about outer space. But where did it all begin and where do we come from? Find the answers through words and pictures as the worlds of poetry and non-fiction collide to create a unique picture book about our Sun.

Turn the pages and delight at Hernández’s striking and dynamic illustrations as Carter’s simple but informative verse portrays the mighty boom that led to a Big Bang and the giant rocks that formed eight unique planets.

A lyrical and lovely out-of-this-world picture book for all young space explorers!

(Caterpillar Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Little Penguin Rescue

Rachel Delahaye

Head off on a magical trip to Antarctica and see a snow-covered landscape full of amazing creatures like foxes, fishing birds, seals, orcas… and lots and lots of penguins!

Little Penguin Rescue is the third book in a beautiful series of gentle stories for younger children by former journalist Rachel Delahaye. Readers follow feisty Fliss on her action-packed adventures to save wild animals in danger. Each story comes with gorgeous black and white illustrations and contains a subtle educational element, teaching children about the species of animal and the environment featured in the book.

Each adventure in the series is be set in a distant location around the world, transporting readers to amazing new places. Here we go into the far reaches of the South Pole for icy adventures with the animal-loving schoolgirl.

In the middle of a snowball fight, aspiring vet Fliss is whisked away to the Antarctic! Surrounded by penguins, Fliss marvels at the sight of these beautiful animals huddling together to keep warm. Then a snowstorm blows in, separating a chick and its injured mother from the group.

Fliss is determined to return her feathery friends to their colony, but the icy waters are full of dangerous creatures and Fliss isn’t used to the harsh environment. It’s going to take a lot of quick thinking, and waddling, to reunite them…

Little Penguin Rescue combines a lively, heartwarming adventure with easily recognisable real-life issues, like the environment, all told from a child’s perspective, resulting in a captivating story perfectly pitched for youngsters just starting chapter book reading… and anyone who is wild about animals!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Space Train

Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford

Imagine a space train so fast that it makes stars look like streaks in the sky!

Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford take flight in a super picture book brimming with big ideas, futuristic fun, a space-mad boy called Jakob, a granny who can’t sit still, and a robot chicken called Derek.

This stunning intergalactic adventure comes packed with knockabout escapades, captivating flaps to lift and a gallery of big, bright, out-of-this world illustrations.

Jakob, who lives in a space station light years from Earth, has found the long-lost Space Train hidden away in Hangar 19, but it’s old, battered and broken and looks like it can never be mended. Granny reveals that the Space Train once criss-crossed the universe on tracks of stardust visiting two thousand, seven hundred and forty seven space stations. With the help of Granny, her Toolbot and Derek the robot chicken, can Jakob fix the train and head off into space to find new friends?

Little ones will love joining Jakob on his space voyage beyond the peek-through pages and hidden flaps. Powell-Tuck imbues her tale with the spirit of fun and adventure, a big helping of imagination and plenty of giggles while Mountford’s rich and intricately detailed illustrations invite us to step through the book’s cut-out cover and into a thrill-packed ride.

Climb aboard for an unforgettable space odyssey!

(Little Tiger Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Everybody’s Welcome

Patricia Hegarty and Greg Abbott

As the world faces a period of uncertainty and instability, it seems more important than ever to learn the age-old values of friendship.

So what better than a gorgeous, fun-filled board book to help parents and carers to teach the very youngest children about the ideals of refuge, inclusivity and shared bonds?

Everybody’s Welcome, a warm and joyful rhyming story written by seasoned author Patricia Hegarty, is the brainchild of Thomas Truong, publisher of Caterpillar Books and the son of a refugee and a European migrant.

‘It was made with love for our readers because everybody’s welcome, in or out, as long as they’re willing to share the home we are building together,’ he says, and this cuddly little book certainly tells a big-hearted tale.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could build a home that opened its doors to everyone… tall or short, fat or thin, rich or poor? Well, perhaps if everybody pitches in to help, one little mouse can achieve that dream and give a much-needed home to Froggy the frog, some homeless rabbits, a lonely big Brown Bear and a host of other creatures.

Hegarty’s jaunty and lovingly composed rhymes put sharing and togetherness centre stage while illustrator Greg Abbott brings the action to life with a gallery of cute and cuddly animal pals. Quirky page cutaways add extra interest for young readers and with its important messages about caring, sharing and kindness, this is the ideal book for parents and nursery or school groups.

Friends united on every page!

(Caterpillar Books, board book, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

We Are Together

Britta Teckentrup

‘On our own we’re special,

And we can chase our dream.

But when we join up, hand in hand,

Together we’re a team.’

Award-winning illustrator and author Britta Teckentrup celebrates the power of love and friendship in an enchanting picture book brimming with love, discovery and peep-through surprises.

Vibrant artwork featuring a diverse cast of children combines with a gentle, rhyming text and peek-through pages as we follow a journey of self-discovery and togetherness which teaches the importance of sharing and co-operation.

Through simple rhyming text and a gradually widening cast of characters, Teckentrup explores the benefits of togetherness. The beautiful collage techniques bring humans, animals and the natural world together in a balance that delivers an unforgettable book and increases youngsters’ awareness of the wider global family.

Teckentrup is a prominent voice in books that promote inclusion and the overwhelming message of unity in this visual and verbal extravaganza will inspire and delight both children and parents.

(Caterpillar Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party

Poppy Bishop and Laura Brenlla

Surely no tea party could ever be normal in Alice’s Wonderland… so why is she insisting that there is strictly no silliness?

Author Poppy Bishop and illustrator Laura Brenlla turn the tables (literally, in this madcap adventure!) as the Mad Hatter and his chums become the hilarious party-poopers at Alice’s gathering at Grassy Bank in Up-the-Rabbit-Hole, Oxford.

Little ones will be laughing all the way to the Queen of Hearts’ tarts in this lift-the-flap and peep-through romp which begins with a curious fold-out invitation to a Wonderland tea party promising ‘no growing, shrinking, or silliness of any kind.’

Alice wants her tea party to be perfect, not silly like the Mad Hatter’s. ‘Please bring something sweet to eat. Don’t bring anything silly!’ But wait a minute, the White Rabbit has brought only clocks to eat, the Dodo is carrying an upside down cake and the Cheshire Cat has a disappearing pie? And why is everyone upside down? Will Alice succeed in hosting a perfectly ordinary tea party or will her array of strange guests have ideas of their own?

Bishop provides the witty text, and the cast of well-known and loved characters are all captured in a beautifully vintage illustration style from Brenlla.

With large lift-the-flaps, fold-out spreads and clever peep-throughs revealing some rib-tickling surprises, this entertaining and interactive story gets curiouser and curiouser with every turn of the page.

Young readers will delight in finding all the rich detail and amusing asides, including watching the Cheshire cat sneak in and out of sight along the way, in this enchanting twist on a much-loved classic.

(Little Tiger Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Tibble and Grandpa

Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus

Love between the young and older generations shines brightly in a beautifully expressed and moving story from one of the picture book world’s top teams.

Author Wendy Meddour has received an Arts Council grant to enable her to fulfil a project entitled Vulnerable Children and the Power of Picture Books, and Tibble and Grandpa is the last of three books which has included Lubna and Pebble, another winning partnership with Swedish illustrator Daniel Egnéus.

Using her powerful affinity with a child’s eye view of the world, Meddour brings us a warm, powerful and deeply emotional story about love, loss, and family bonds as a little boy slowly breaks down his grandfather’s barrier of grief after the death of a beloved granny.

Tibble loves talking to his Grandpa but Grandpa has stopped listening to him and is only interested in doing some gardening. Mum says to just give him time but impatient little Tibble wants to talk to Grandpa now so he tries to get Grandpa interested in his favourite game… choosing their Top Threes! And that’s when something amazing happens… Grandpa starts talking again, taking Tibble out again, and telling the child that he was his Granny’s Top Star!

Meddour’s insightful and tear-jerking tale is given extra poignancy by Egnéus’ stunning artwork which captures all the charm and gentleness of the exquisite unfolding of Tibble’s innocent but effective efforts to help Grandpa grieve and make him smile again.

A heartwarming story and the perfect book to help children explore the difficult subject of bereavement…

(Oxford University Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Jazz Dog

Marie Voigt

Talented author and illustrator Marie Voigt hits all the right notes in a beautiful picture book which aims to heal destructive divisions in society.

Jazz Dog – a clever and compelling story celebrating friendship and togetherness – has music at its heart as jazz-loving cats and ‘rocker’ dogs learn that the sweetest harmonies come from sharing the limelight.

In a divided world where dogs only play powerful Rock Dog music and cats only play the smoothest Cat Jazz, one little dog is determined to buck the trend and follow the music in his heart. He dreams of cats and dogs playing together some day even though everybody laughs at him. But who is destined to have the last laugh when the little dog starts jamming with the cats?

Voigt uses her original narrative voice to convey resonant messages through a delightful, thoughtful story that sings out to young readers the importance of following your dreams and standing up for what you know is right.

Using beautifully layered and atmospheric artwork in a palette of distinctively muted shades, Voigt plays out her timely and ultimately uplifting story with a warm heart and a wise head.

A musical extravaganza for a divided world…

(Oxford University Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Winnie and Wilbur: The Bug Safari

Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

The adventures of Winnie the Witch and her black cat have provided spellbinding, bite-size stories for 32 years and the two madcap stars take centre stage again in this multi-coloured, bug-hunting, super-size picture book.

Written by the ever-inventive Valerie Thomas and brilliantly illustrated in Korky Paul’s distinctive and charismatic style, Winnie and Wilbur’s escapades are always mad, bad and dangerously hilarious, and their new adventure comes in a colourful story written especially for the family’s youngest members.

When Winnie waves her magic wand and turns both herself and her long-suffering black cat Wilbur into the tiniest, tiny creatures, they discover what life is like in miniature! For a start, the bugs in their garden suddenly seem very big indeed, and that’s just the start of an exciting safari. But when excitement turns to survival, mini Winnie and tiny Wilbur would rather be their right size again. There’s just one small problem, teeny, weeny Winnie can’t wave her whopping wand…

Bugs, mini beasts, and creepy-crawlies are endlessly fascinating to children and they certainly come under the spotlight in Winnie and Wilbur’s latest all-action adventure.

With giggles, anarchy and drama from the start, this story has all the hallmarks of a classic Winnie and Wilbur outing, but scatterbrained Winnie is not as simple as she seems and always conjures up some fascinating discoveries and life lessons amidst all the frantic fun and chaotic capers.

With Paul’s highly detailed and playful illustrations, and Thomas’ madcap story, this wickedly funny Winnie adventure is guaranteed to cast a spell!

(OUP, hardback, £11.99)