Book reviews: Stunning steampunk, an inventive village and fairy unicorns with Usborne

Stunning steampunk, an inventive village and fairy unicorns with Usborne
Stunning steampunk, an inventive village and fairy unicorns with Usborne

The sun is shining on a sparkling new selection of books from favourite children’s publisher Usborne.

Travel back in time to a fantastical world in the second epic book from Cogheart creator Peter Bunzl, make your own paper village without a pair of scissors or even a single blob of glue, and get stuck into a super array of sticker books, thrilling adventures and early readers.

Age 9 plus

Moonlocket by Peter Bunzl

When Cogheart, Peter Bunzl’s extraordinary debut novel, hit the shelves last year, it won wide critical acclaim… and the hearts and minds of thousands of youngsters.

With its charismatic cast of humans and mechanimals, non-stop action, pulsating mystery, heart-stopping danger and some mind-boggling fantasy, the powerful Victorian steampunk thriller was the perfect adventure story, taking readers on an amazing journey to a world far beyond their wildest dreams.

And now this inventive author and BAFTA-award-winning animator is back with Moonlocket, the magnificent sequel which plunges us back into the perilous lives of inventor’s daughter Lily Hartman, her cantankerous pet clockwork fox Malkin and best friend Robert, the local clockmaker’s son.

The seeds of the stories grew from a non-fiction book called Living Dolls by Gaby Wood, a popular history of automatons, and Bunzl reveals that these fictional Frankenstein-style tales of early androids – full of lies, mysteries and what-ifs – were the key to building Lily and Robert’s world.

When criminal mastermind and infamous escapologist Jack Door, better known as the Jack of Diamonds, breaks out from Pentonville Prison in London, he sets out for the town of Brackenbridge to find his missing treasure, the Moonlocket… but that’s not the only thing he wants.

And when Lily and Robert unwittingly find themselves caught up in Jack Door’s search, they discover that dark secrets in Robert’s past hold the secret to finding the Moonlocket.

Determined to solve the mystery, Lily, Robert and Malkin set out for London but Robert is in serious danger because Jack is playing a cruel game. Lily and Malkin must stay one step ahead before Jack plays his final, deadly, card...

Moonlocket is a spellbinding sequel, a rollercoaster journey full of catastrophe, buried secrets breathtaking courage and intrigue.

Bunzl has proved himself an outstanding and visionary writer in the creation of this truly remarkable and intricately detailed world, a place peopled by humans, mechanicals, hybrids, heroes and villains, and so finely and uniquely imagined that it leaves young readers transported.

The ability to draw readers into a spellbinding landscape, offering us fun, adventure, science and even another language at the turn of every page, has been the cornerstone of the Cogheart books.

These remarkable, atmospheric stories are standout modern classics, exhilarating epics set amidst the seedy streets and sewers of Victorian England and featuring incredible automata, soaring airships and dastardly plots.

Middle grade fiction at its very best…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Press-Out Paper Village by Fiona Watt and Francesca Di Chiara

Forget building castles in the air… and instead make a model village out of paper!

The inventive book boffins at Usborne have certainly engineered their way into the hearts of creative youngsters with this amazing cardboard village which comes complete with a post office, a tea room, a school and a pair of quaint cottages.

Just add a few trees and lots of people to play with, and youngsters can enjoy their very own model village. And to make it even more appealing, it has been cleverly designed so that there is no need for scissors or glue. Simply press out the sturdy pieces and follow the step-by-step instructions to slot the pieces together.

There are plenty of hints and tips to help children and parents as they build the village and meet the people who live there. Use the stands to make the people upright and you can tear out each page along the specially-made perforations before starting to make the individual models.

As well as the fun of making your village, there is the added bonus of hours of imaginative play as youngsters bring to life the buildings and their occupants time and time again.

Simple to make, and with easy-to-follow instructions, this press-out village is child’s play to assemble. Each page is made with sturdy, durable card paper and the colourful selection of characters and recognisable buildings will inspire children to create their own adventures.

A whole world of creative play on every page…

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog: Best Friends Forever by Claire Barker and Ross Collins

Welcome to Starcross Hall… home to a very special dog.

In fact, Knitbone Pepper is so amazingly different to other dogs that he isn’t dead easy to spot. The thing is… the big, bouncing hound is a ghost dog and he’s haunting the house!

Naughty, loving Knitbone and a gaggle of other ghostly pets known as the Beloveds are the wonderfully inventive creations of author Claire Barker and illustrator Ross Collins in an enchanting series that is irresistible to all young animal lovers and children who have lost a pet.

In the first book in the series, now available in paperback, we discover the warm, wonderful and whimsical world of Knitbone, the pet dog who has turned into a friendly ghost dog to bring joy and adventure to his beloved owner Winnie Pepper.

But Knitbone has a problem. Winnie and her eccentric parents may be forced to move from the crumbling Starcross Hall and leave Knitbone behind but the ghost dog smells a rat. Can the Spirits of Starcross, a gigglesome gang of ghostly animals, help Winnie save her home?

Ross Collins’ enchanting and expressive illustrations add extra life and energy to a brilliantly conceived and warm-hearted series which comes packed with laughs, licks and woofs!

Gentle ghost stories that are fun, not frightening…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Fairy Unicorns: Cloud Castle by Zanna Davidson and Nuno Alexandre Vieira

Usborne have a thrilling selection of fresh and exciting books in their Young Reading Series 3, written specially for newly fluent readers.

These books introduce children to original, illustrated fiction with easy reading texts and inspirational illustrations for youngsters who are getting ready for longer stories.

The new series features a magical world of unicorns, castles, an underwater palace, towering cliffs, an enchanted forest… and a little girl called Zoe who gets caught up in a wonderful adventure.

Zoe is staying with her Great-Aunt May for the summer holidays in her tumbledown cottage and there’s a surprise at the end of the garden… a secret passage to another world, a magical island full of fairy unicorns! And not only that, she has a best friend there, Astra, the sparkling fairy unicorn.

The two friends can’t wait for the Midsummer Festival on Unicorn Island but there’s something wrong. The island is growing hotter by the minute and the flowers are all wilting. Has Shadow, the evil fairy pony, stolen all the clouds?

This is a magical opening story to the new series. Zanna Davidson has created an amazing ‘other’ world with enchanting characters and an inspirational landscape, all brought to life with Nuno Alexandre Vieira’s gorgeous illustrations.

Imaginative and exciting, these beautiful books are set to become a firm favourite with young readers.

(Usborne, hardback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Sticker Picture Atlas of Europe by Jonathan Melmoth and Brian Fitzgerald

Explore the continent of Europe with this exciting and inventive picture atlas.

Youngsters will love setting out on a colourful, interactive tour of the many fascinating countries of Europe. Packed with fantastic colour illustrations and over 350 stickers to help bring each nation to life, the atlas looks at different cultures, traditions and history along the way.

Visit the 47 countries that make up Europe, meet a handful of the 750 million people who live there, learn lots of interesting facts as well as the capital cities, languages and the names of some of the chief mountains, rivers and lakes.

With a quiz to test your new-found knowledge and internet links to carefully selected websites, this is a fun, entertaining and interactive way to take a home-based tour of Europe!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Cricket Sticker Book by Emily Bone and Paul Nicholls

It’s never too early to be bowled over by the wonderful summer sport of cricket!

This amazing sticker book, packed with fun, facts and activities, teaches children the rudimentary rules of the game and then offers them the chance to dress the bowler, batsman, wicket keeper and fielders in their cricket gear and then put them into position for their very own match.

Discover how cricketers train hard in the nets, learn how to organise the players on the pitch, place the team in the perfect position to score a century, and then help set the table for a delicious tea of sandwiches and cake when the game has finished.

There over 450 lively and colourful stickers, including players, spectators and coaches, which will inspire both girls and boys to learn to love and play cricket, and provide a good starting point to learning the rules of the game.

Howzat for the perfect cricketing gift?

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Mythical Creatures Sticker Book by Kirsteen Robson and Seb Burnett

Unicorns, banshees, goblins and mermaids… get stuck into some mythical madness!

Open this fantastical book and take a helter skelter journey through folklore, fable and legend to meet a cast of outlandish creatures and monsters, and then help them to caper, career and cavort through a wonderland of snow and ice, submerged cities, scummy swamps and dusty deserts.

Learn about well-known characters such as Cerberus, the monstrous multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld, and Cyclops, a mythological race of giants, each with a single eye in the centre of its forehead.

The Mythical Creatures Sticker Book, brimming with over 300 marvellously madcap stickers, lets youngsters do a bit of interactive time travelling to lands of strangely named creatures like wendigos, amaroks, barbegazis, akhluts and the extraordinary yuki-onna!

So brace yourself for seal-skimmed selkies, the tentacled Kraken and the green-gilled Adaro, then remove the stickers and make your own monster magic!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 4 plus:

Farmyard Tales: Dolly and the Train by Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright

Learning to read can be hard work… so climb aboard the train with Poppy and Sam, and make the going easy!

Usborne’s First Reading series, featuring the Farmyard Tales adventures, has been written especially for youngsters just beginning to read. The fun adventures of farmer’s children, Poppy and Sam, combine entertaining stories with a simple text to inspire and delight early years readers.

The Level 2 books are packed with enchanting illustrations by Stephen Cartwright and each includes simple and enjoyable puzzles to check comprehension and word contexts at the end of the story.

In this new adventure, we join Poppy and Sam of Apple Tree Farm as they set off for a school trip and picnic on a steam train. But when the engine breaks down, it’s up to Dolly the farm horse to save the day!

This sturdy hardback book comes with a ribbon bookmark and there’s the added fun of finding the hidden duck on every double page.

Fun, laughter and learning in one beautiful little book.

(Usborne, hardback, £5.99)