Train adventures, comic capers and a Unipiggle by various authors - book reviews -

Highland Falcon Thief
Highland Falcon Thief

Climb aboard a royal steam train for fun and mystery, share laughs with a madcap joker, meet a princess and her strange, smelly pet, and go batty about bats in a sparkling array of new children’s books.

Climb aboard a royal steam train for fun and mystery, share laughs with a madcap joker, meet a princess and her strange, smelly pet, and go batty about bats in a sparkling array of new children’s books.

Age 9 plus:

The Highland Falcon Thief (Adventures on Trains)

M.G. Leonard, Sam Sedgman and Elisa Paganelli

It’s not quite murder on the Orient Express… but this steam dream adventure has drama aplenty, and is just the ticket for young train buffs!

The Highland Falcon Thief is the first all-action journey in Adventures on Trains, a brilliant new middle-grade series from mystery-writing duo M.G. Leonard, prize-winning author of the Battle of the Beetles trilogy, and Sam Sedgman, a writer and lifelong train enthusiast, with Elisa Paganelli’s brilliant illustrations providing the extra bells and whistles.

So climb aboard a royal train and join 11-year-old Harrison Beck as he solves the case of a jewel thief on a non-stop rail adventure full of falsehoods, puzzles, suspects, and lots of fascinating clues to solve.

Budding young artist Harrison (Hal) Beck is very reluctantly joining his travel-writer Uncle Nat for the last journey of the royal train, the Highland Falcon, but his mum is pregnant, the baby is going to be born soon, and it feels like he’s being sent out of the way.

To make matters worse, a journey all the way to Scotland and back on the slowest train in the world with his ‘weird’ uncle doesn’t sound much fun to Hal but as the train makes its way north, he finds a new friend in Marlene ‘Lenny’ Singh, the train-mad, stowaway daughter of the train’s Sikh driver.

With Hal’s interest in steam trains now fired up by both his uncle and Lenny, and with the celebrity and royal passengers providing added interest, the trip to Scotland suddenly seems a lot more appealing.

And when a priceless brooch belonging to the wife of a business tycoon goes missing – just the first of a series of big value thefts – suspicions and accusations run high among the passengers. Hal decides to investigate and uncovers a few surprises along the way, but can he solve the mystery of the jewel thief and catch the culprit before they reach the end of the line?

This thrilling, fun-filled new series is on the fast track to success as readers hear whispers in the dining car, find notes in the library, and follow the pictures in Hal’s sketchbook as they help the two young detectives solve a baffling mystery.

With a cast of sparkling characters, a train-load of fascinating facts, a very special dog, and a full-steam-ahead adventure, Leonard and Sedgman are certainly pulling out all the stops as they take youngsters on one of the wildest and most wonderful reading journeys they will make this year.

The train is now waiting for all young adventurers!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 10 plus:

She is Fierce: Brave, Bold and Beautiful Poems by Women

Ana Sampson

Just a year after the centenary celebrations of women’s suffrage, anthologist Ana Sampson brings us a breathtaking collection of poetry which is guaranteed to inspire a new generation of budding feminists.

Cleverly collated and brimming with the resonant voices of women poets from the past and present, and from all corners of the globe, these 150 powerful and impressively diverse poems are yet more proof that female poets speak loudly and eloquently, and are at the heart of literary life.

At a time when women’s equality is by no means done and dusted, Sampson highlights not just the beauty of women’s poetry but the fierce, brave and bold flame that burns brightly in their words as they take their rightful place in what for too long was regarded as the ‘male’ arena of literature.

Over the centuries, many women have written poems but didn’t dare publish them, and others, like George Eliot and the Bronte sisters, published their work under male pseudonyms.

It was also felt that women should stick to certain subjects like family, friendship, dutiful religion, and the prettier corners of nature but in the poems gathered here by Sampson, we find meditations on every possible subject, including science, the universe, politics, protest, body image, myths, mental health, war and displacement.

From classic, well-loved poets like Emily Dickinson, Dorothy Parker and Maya Angelou to innovative and the bold modern voices of poets like Hollie McNish, Jackie Kay and Emergency Poet Deborah Alma, this stunning gift book is packed full of women who deserve to be heard time and time again.

Immerse yourself in poems from British-Indian writer Nikita Gill, Wendy Cope, Ysra Daley-Ward, Emily Bronte, Carol Ann Duffy, Fleur Adcock, Liz Berry, Imtiaz Dharker, Helen Dunmore, Mary Oliver, Christina Rossetti and Margaret Atwood, and hear the words of suffragettes, schoolgirls, superstars, civil rights activists, aristocratic ladies and kitchen maids.

Sampson, author of many bestselling anthologies such as Poems to Learn by Heart, Green and Pleasant Land and Best-Loved Poems: A Treasury of Verse, includes brief biographies of all the poets making this the perfect package for budding poets and lovers of inspirational verse.

(Macmillan, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Just Annoying!

Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

Do your kids ask over and over ‘Are we there yet?’ on long car journeys?

If the answer is yes, then they are going to love Just Annoying! the second book in the hilarious Just series of short stories from those wonderful ‘wizards of Oz.’

These stories starring the world’s most annoying practical joker are perfectly pitched to entertain young readers with their madcap japes, scrapes and comic capers, all superbly cooked up by top Australian writer and illustrator team, Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton.

In the follow-up to Just Kidding! Children are invited to take the Annoying Test and find out if this is the right book for them.

Do you like to drive people mad by copying everything they say and do?

Do you hog the shower and use up all the hot water?

Do you enjoy asking silly questions that have no real answers?

Do you swing on the washing line whenever you get the chance?

If your child answers yes to all the questions, then parents can pride themselves on having a masterful practical joker on their hands who is guaranteed to love the book!

Full of wild and wacky, highly illustrated, laugh-out-loud fun, this easy-to-read, visually exciting and wonderfully entertaining book is guaranteed to get practical jokers, and even the most reluctant readers, begging for more!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Unipiggle: Unicorn Muddle

Hannah Shaw

Meet a princess who loves breaking the rules and her Royal Unicorn who just happens to be a smelly pig… sorry, a Unipiggle!

Expect fun, adventure and lots of laughs as Hannah Shaw returns with a magical new series for young readers. Well-known for her superb illustrations in the award-winning The Great Hamster Massacre, Hannah welcomes everyone to Twinkleland Kingdom where everyone is 100 per cent perfect… except for the irresistible Princess Pea.

Starring a princess who doesn’t like rules, thinks being perfect is boring, and would rather wear wellies than a frilly frock, expect anarchy and antics all the way!

Princess Peony Peachykins Primrose Polyanna Posh (better known as Pea) loves getting muddy and having adventures and she’s not at all keen on being perfect. But today is the day the princess has to pick her own perfect unicorn at the Royal Unicorn Parade… it will be a noble steed, a stylish mascot and, most importantly to the princess, her new sidekick who will hopefully bring her fun and freedom.

But she hasn’t actually met a real unicorn before and they all seem too vain, snobby and silly to be her loyal companion. And then muddy, podgy, pongy, magic-horned Unipiggle unexpectedly appears and creates a very big muddle. It looks like Princess Pea has met her perfect match... and so begin the adventures of Princess Pea and Unipiggle!

Like a pig in muck, Shaw has fun, games and muddy magic with this wonderfully madcap and imaginative new series which is filled with high-energy, full-colour illustrations, knockabout comedy, a draw your own Unipiggle section… and looks set to be a simply perfect reading hit!

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers about Plastic

Katie Daynes and Marie-Eve Tremblay

What is plastic made of? How does it get into the ocean? Can we live without plastic?

The world makes twice as much plastic as it did twenty years ago, and now planet Earth is facing a huge plastic crisis.

Children are becoming more and more aware of the world’s problem with plastic and so here is the ideal go-to book to help them understand the environmental implications of the crisis and its impact on the world around them.

Learn all about plastic, recycling and how plastic affects the environment and enjoy lifting over sixty flaps to discover fascinating facts and figures. There are also tips on how we can all make a difference to our planet, and Usborne Quicklinks to specially selected websites for video clips and activities.

The lift-the-flap format lets children find answers to all kinds of questions about plastic and teaches them how they can be the power for a better future, and with expert advice from Plastic Oceans UK – a non-profit organisation which works with businesses, scientists, schools and policy-makers to change attitudes and behaviours towards plastic – this is a timely, topical and essential book.

Ideal for home or school…

(Usborne, board book, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Bat Book

Charlotte Milner

Everyone is going batty about bats!

What do bats look like, why do bats hang upside down, why are bats important, and why are bats in decline?

Take an amazing journey through the upside-down world of bats with The Bat Book. Bright, bold, and beautiful illustrations accompany fascinating facts about these furry flying mammals and their importance to the world we live in.

From the way they fly, to how they communicate with each other, how they hunt, and why they sleep upside-down, each of the world’s 1,300 types of bat is unique and utterly fascinating. Bats are also incredibly important to the environment. As well as gobbling up pests and spreading seeds through the forests, they also pollinate over 500 different species of plants throughout the world, including some of our favourite fruits such as mangoes and bananas.

Following in the footsteps of The Bee Book and The Sea Book, award-winning author and illustrator Charlotte Milner continues her mission to highlight important ecological issues faced by our planet to children, this time focusing on the world’s only flying mammals.

Did you know that there are two main groups of bats, or that the bat is the only mammal that can fly? Discover why they are declining, and what we can do to help.

Children will be fascinated by the beautiful illustrations and learn plenty of bat facts on every page, including types of bat, where bats hang out, how they find food in the dark, and lots more.

This charming celebration of bats – which includes tips on how to support bats with activities such as growing a bat-friendly garden – shows youngsters just how extraordinary, and clever, these animals are and is an important reminder that it is up to us to care for our planet and its precious creatures.

(DK Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 4 plus:

Talking is Not My Thing

Rose Robbins

Most children have experienced the highs and lows of growing up with brothers and sisters… but what if one of your siblings is autistic?

Author and illustrator Rose Robbins, who has an autistic brother and teaches autistic young people, delivers some sweet and subtle messages about family life with a ‘differently abled’ child in Talking is Not My Thing, a moving and beautifully created picture book in which an autistic girl tells her story through a mixture of thought and speech bubbles.

It is published by London-based Scallywag Press, a children’s book company which was founded in 2018 and aims to bring entertaining and memorable books to a worldwide audience.

Full of bold, bright and lively artwork, this beautiful, sensitively created book is the follow-up to Me and My Sister in which we viewed the autistic girl through the eyes of her brother and their (sometimes difficult) day together eating meals, going to school and playing.

Here we discover that the little girl finds plenty of ways to communicate and have fun with her brother. Although she can’t talk, the girl understands everything and has plenty to say, and lots of ideas. Through body language, drawing pictures, making gestures or using flash cards, she is able to contribute to their life together. Her brother and granny are able to understand her, whether she needs help or is helping them.

This poignant and moving story – enhanced by Robbins’ light touch and use of humour – explores what it is like to be autistic, and how family members understand the challenges around autism.

A revealing and gentle story with an upbeat and uplifting message for both children and parents…

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Lion Lessons

Jon Agee

Unleash the lion in your own little cubs with this gloriously witty picture book from American author and illustrator Jon Agee, a master of visual storytelling and deadpan humour.

Brimming with leonine comedy and read-aloud-and-share appeal, this fiercely funny and roaringly entertaining picture book teaches youngsters that learning to be a great lion can have the most unexpected outcomes.

‘It’s not easy getting your Lion Diploma.’ In fact, there are seven steps to becoming a proper lion, including Looking Fierce, Roaring, Prowling Around, and Pouncing. Our little hero does his best to learn the required skills during his training with a master instructor (who just happens to be a real lion!) and at first he doesn’t score highly. But when it comes to rescuing an endangered neighbourhood cat, he finally gets the hang of being a scary lion.

Agee, whose books have won starred reviews and medals galore, uses bold, eye-catching illustrations with a wealth of rich detail and expressive genius as youngsters turn the pages and enjoy watching the little boy go from zero to hero.

With its short, punchy sentences, cross-generational wit and an addictive sense of fun that imbues every page and every picture, this is Agee at his quirkiest and playful best!

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Pug Hug

Zehra Hicks

Hugs all round for this enchanting tale about a cute little pug who needs a big, loving cuddle!

Award-winning author and illustrator Zehra Hicks tugs at everyone’s heartstrings with a beautiful picture book which puts affection, belonging, and the human need for friendship in full focus.

Pug is desperate for a hug. But however hard he tries to hug the other animals, he can’t get a hug from anyone. Cat doesn’t like hugs, Rabbit is too busy munching carrots and hamster is just too fast to catch! Maybe Croc will give Pug a hug… or does he have other ideas?!

Hicks, whose book All Mine! was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal, delivers fun, endearing messages and a big helping of the sweetest pug love in this gorgeous extravaganza of beguiling words and multi-coloured, heart-melting illustrations.

(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)