Rainforest thriller, a scribble witch and eco warriors by Various authors - book reviews -


Enjoy an all-action thriller from master storyteller Wilbur Smith, discover a bewitching new middle-grade series, share laughs with a monstrously mucky schoolboy, and head to the seaside with a very clever ladybird in a sparkling selection of spring children’s books.

Enjoy an all-action thriller from master storyteller Wilbur Smith, discover a bewitching new middle-grade series, share laughs with a monstrously mucky schoolboy, and head to the seaside with a very clever ladybird in a sparkling selection of spring children’s books.

Age 10 plus:


Wilbur Smith with Chris Wakling

Head off to the rainforest with a daring teenage boy as the master of adventure, Wilbur Smith, delivers his first all-action series for middle-grade readers.

Cloudburst is the first thrilling book in the Jack Courtney Adventure series and stars the youngest member of the world-famous Courtney family which has been at the centre of 87-year-old Smith’s novels since 1964, chronicling their lives from the 1660s through to the 20th century.

The series, co-written with author Chris Wakling, was inspired after Smith saw the action being taken by young people in the battle against climate change and this first, fantastic rainforest adventure asks questions about conservation as well as addressing the timeless themes of love, betrayal and family which are the hallmarks of his novels.

Fourteen-year-old Jack Courtney has lived in the UK his whole life. But this summer his parents are travelling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for an environmental conference on gorillas, and they have promised to take Jack and his friends with them.

When his parents go missing in the rainforest, abducted by mercenaries, nobody seems to have any answers. Jack is pretty sure that it has got something to do with the nearby tantalum mines, but he needs to prove it.

Along with his friends Amelia and Xander, Jack must brave the jungle to save his parents. Standing in his way is a member of his own family… Caleb Courtney. There are western gorillas, forest elephants and hippos. But there are also bandits, mercenaries and poachers. The three friends will need their wits about them if they are not only to save Jack's parents, but their own lives too.

Smith and Wakling are on top form as they bring young readers an exciting and powerful story brimming with fast-paced action, unexpected twists and turns, an extraordinary backdrop and a cast of inspirational characters.

A Wilbur Smith classic for a new generation…

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 10 plus:


Nicola Skinner

Many of the new crop of children’s books like to convey important messages to young children… but few can achieve the sheer originality and entertainment value of Nicola Skinner’s glorious debut novel, Bloom.

Climate change and preserving the green spaces on our precious planet are always high on the list of contemporary concerns and Skinner has these topics well and truly nailed in a fun-filled adventure story that can only be described as blooming wonderful!

Harsh realities and out-of-this world magic, darkness and light, laughter and tears jostle comfortably together in this perfectly imagined tale of a girl who sows the seeds of a better future in the most surprising and unexpected way.

Sorrel Fallowfield lives at Cheery Cottage with her single mum but in all honesty, their home is anything but cheery. In fact, it exudes a gloomy glumness, a grumpy grimness and a grimy greyness that seeps into everything… even mum.

Sorrel can’t fix all the things in the house that are broken so instead, she has decided to be ‘good at being good’ to make her mum smile and to make the broken feeling leave her mum, even if it’s only for a while.

And Sorrel is so good at being good that teachers come to her when they need help remembering the school rules… and there are lots of them at Grittysnit School. Luckily, Sorrel doesn’t have any trouble following them, until the day she discovers a faded packet of Surprising Seeds buried under a tree in her back yard.

Now she’s hearing voices, seeing things, experiencing an almost unstoppable urge to plant the seeds in some very unusual places… and completely failing to win her school’s competition to find The Most Obedient Child of the School. And all that’s before flowers start growing out of her head…

Skinner, who was inspired to write this charming book after a visit to an overgrown country garden, delivers an enchanting, lyrical story starring a lovable young girl with a funny, feisty narrative voice that cannot fail to win hearts and minds.

Sorrel’s amazing story is wacky and wonderfully weird but out of it grow subtle reminders about caring for the environment, guarding our wild places, and standing up to authority, however hard that might seem when you are a child.

Exquisitely written and powerfully imagined, Bloom will add meaning and colour to any child’s life…

(HarperCollins Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Scribble Witch: Notes in Class

Inky Willis

Are you looking for a really funny, really clever book to keep your youngsters giggling from first page to last?

Well, search no more, here’s the answer… a marvellous and magical new series starring a girl and her secret scribble witch from exciting new author and illustrator Inky Willis.

With her vibrant, unique voice, and amazing illustrations to match, Willis brings us a wonderful style of storytelling featuring a variety of narrative devices – including notes, speech bubbles, outrageous spellings and lots of doodles – which are guaranteed to engage the most reluctant young readers.

When Molly Mills’ best friend Chloe announces that she is moving to a new school, a blue Wednesday becomes the Worst Wednesday Ever. That is until some unexpected magic brightens up Molly’s day. Notes, a tiny paper witch who has been lurking in a pen pot, springs to life… and into action!

Some of the things Notes does are absolutely NOT helpful and get Molly into trouble with her grouchbag teacher Mr Stilton who likes stinky coffee and spelling tests. But it’s surprising what one tiny witch, armed with nothing more than a pencil, can achieve before the bell for home time rings...

The hilarious double-act of Molly and Notes – ably assisted by charming Chloe and stinky Mr Stilton – is set to become a firm favourite with mischievous children who cannot help but fall for this enchanting blend of magic and mayhem!

(Hodder Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Autism and Me

Haia Ironside and Ellie O’Shea

As families, organisations and caregivers get ready to mark World Autism Awareness Day on Thursday April 2, here’s the perfect book to explain just what it means to be autistic.

Autism and Me is the latest title in the Mindful Kids series published by Studio Press which has proved invaluable to young people in our busy, pressured world where feelings of anxiety, stress and anger have become increasingly prevalent.

Written for young people with autism – but also a useful learning tool for people of any age who are interested in learning and understanding autism – readers are encouraged to express their emotions through creative activities.

There are pages to colour, games to play and lots of ideas to think and talk about. Some ideas might also be useful to practise outside of the book in real life, everyday situations. Readers can also share this book with others, especially as some of the questions such as ‘What is autism?’ are just too big to be answered alone.

As well as a useful glossary, there is a section for parents and caregivers with expert tips and suggested resources for finding further information.

Written by Haia Ironside, who has a Masters degree in Autism Studies and extensive experience working with autistic children, Autism and Me is designed to be accessible to autistic people with an uncluttered, clean and friendly layout.

The bright, colourful format also features the charming illustrations of Ellie O’Shea, which will keep young readers entertained and focused as they work through the book.

A helping hand in the campaign to understand autism…

(Studio Press, paperback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Eco Rangers: Wildfire Rescue

Candice Lemon-Scott and Aśka

Do you fancy exciting adventures with two young animal fans who meet amazing animals, solve mysteries, and get down to earth with nature?

Meet Ebony and Jay, two dynamic eco rangers with a love for wildlife and a nose for trouble, in an action-packed series starring two best friends who rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured wildlife, and help out at their local conservation centre.

Fun and feisty, the two youngsters love helping others and looking after the environment , and in each story, they meet new animal friends, solve mysteries and learn more about nature.

Eco Rangers is the imaginative creation of writer Candice Lemon-Scott, an Australian author and trained wildlife carer whose quirky style, fast-paced narrative and originality has a special appeal for reluctant readers.

In their new adventure – a topical story about the dangers of bushfires – there has been a devastating wild fire in the bushland and Eco Rangers Ebony and Jay are doing their best to find injured animals. As they rescue a cute little possum with burned paws, they also discover that some people have been camping in the area devastated by the fire. What were they doing there? This is a mystery only the Eco Rangers can solve!

Packed with the spirit of adventure and important environmental messages about caring for our endangered world, and with vibrant artwork by children’s book illustrator Aśka, these books are ideal reading for animal lovers and young eco warriors from every corner of the planet.

(New Frontier Publishing, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Dirty Bertie: Trouble!

Alan MacDonald and David Roberts

And now for something truly hair-raising, foul-smelling and revoltingly wonderful… the brilliant new muck-propelled adventure starring the one and only Dirty Bertie!

Dirty Bertie, the cringe-making creation of writer Alan MacDonald and illustrator David Roberts, is the boy with nose-pickingly disgusting habits who just can’t help getting involved in comic chaos, and has proved to be one of the most enduringly popular and entertaining story book anti-heroes for younger readers.

With comic chaos and madcap schemes, these highly-illustrated stories are perfect for new readers. Join Bertie here as he concocts a magic potion for Miss Boot to make her forget the dreaded maths test, finds himself at Know-All Nick’s house for the worst sleepover ever, and unexpectedly wins out over the school bully.

There are three fully illustrated stories in each book and in these latest hilariously horrid adventures, we join bad, bold Bertie as he concocts a magic potion for Miss Boot to make her forget the dreaded maths test, finds himself at Know-All Nick’s house for the worst sleepover ever, and unexpectedly wins out over the school bully.

With each action-packed, fun-filled story split into chapters with wickedly funny illustrations on almost every spread, Dirty Bertie is ideal for reluctant readers in need of some laugh-out-loud antics, confident young readers to enjoy by themselves, or simply to share with (secretly amused!) parents.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Story Puppy

Holly Webb and Sophy Williams

Much-loved author Holly Webb is back to enchant her young readers with the incredible 45th heartwarming adventure in her adorable and hugely popular Animal Stories series which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since the first book hit the shelves in 2006.

Webb is one of the UK’s best-loved children’s authors and has written over 100 books for children, including the Animal Stories, My Naughty Little Puppy and a sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic 1911 book, The Secret Garden.

In this new book we meet Jack who is having a hard time at school because he can’t read as well as the other children. One day, he visits the animal shelter with his sister and notices a nervous puppy called Daisy. He sits next to her while practising his reading. Jack keeps visiting Daisy at the shelter and as she gets more confident, Jack thinks she is ready to be adopted. But when another family takes an interest in Daisy, Jack is worried that he will lose his friend forever...

Sophy Williams provides the gorgeous black and white illustrations for this beautifully created and gentle series which has captured the hearts of every animal-loving child. And don’t forget to look out for the free app on App Store and Google Play. It’s jam-packed with exciting activities from fantastic games and puzzles to creative colouring and sticker fun.

Perfect for children just starting to read alone, youngsters who love to share a book with mum or dad, and any child who can’t resist the sheer magic of animals.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Unicorn Club

Suzy Senior and Leire Martín

Suzy Senior, author of the entertaining picture book Octopants, swims back into view with a new story starring a club just made for unicorns.

Amy is starting a unicorn fan club – with cupcakes and painting and prizes to win. The only problem is that her street is empty and none of her friends have turned up. But, hang on a minute... is that a unicorn up in the treehouse? It’s not just one, it’s a whole herd of them! It’s time for some magic, so come and join in! This galloping, giggling story is perfect for young unicorn fans.

Senior’s bright, beautiful and heartwarming adventures of a little girl who thought her hopes of starting a unicorn club were dashed until the arrival of a host of colourful unicorns is sure to win the hearts of young readers.

Spanish illustrator Leire Martín’s dazzling and multi-coloured illustrations bring energy and charisma to a tale which encapsulates the joy and excitement of meeting new friends and enjoying new experiences.

From the horns of a dilemma to a magical unicorn adventure!

(Little Tiger, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

What the Ladybird Heard at the Seaside

Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

Two of the best-known names in children’s books are on top form in the fabulous follow-up to their hugely successful What the Ladybird Heard, What the Ladybird Heard Next and What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday, joyously child-friendly books which have sold millions of copies worldwide.

With a cast of wonderful sea creatures, including a magical mermaid and an adorable sea lion, and plenty of seaside fun, this new ladybird adventure is another raucous, rhyming, ribald feast of fun and sea frolics from the stellar picture book partnership of Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks.

Here we find the clever little ladybird flying off on a trip to the seaside, but those two crafty crooks, Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len, are also back and they are up to their wicked ways again. This time they are planning to steal the mermaid’s long, luscious hair and sell it to a famous star… but fortunately, the quiet, crime-busting, little ladybird and her seaside animal friends have another cunning plan to stop the thieves and save the day!

Youngsters will love joining in the mischief, mayhem and rhymes as the hapless thieves meet an aquatic team that is more than their match.

The book comes complete with a gorgeously glittery eye-catching cover and there’s the added fun of spotting the sparkly ladybird on every page. With slapstick action, sea-filled antics, and a sharp-toothed shark, What the Ladybird Heard at the Seaside is destined to become yet another classic in the Donaldson and Monks collection.

(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Cook With Me: Bunny Makes Breakfast

Kathryn Smith and Sebastien Braun

Are you ready for breakfast?

Here’s the chance to help make your own with a tasty first recipe book for curious little fingers… the first in an inventive new Cook with Me series from Little Tiger Press.

Help Little Bunny make a delicious meal with Big Bunny in a gorgeous board book that features 35 flaps to lift, food to source, and a delicious child-friendly recipe.

Peek inside kitchen cupboards, under bushes and into the henhouse as you help Little Bunny gather ingredients for a delicious surprise breakfast. Then discover the recipe at the back of the book to cook the yummy breakfast yourself.

Little ones are guaranteed a feast of fun as they help Little Bunny to make a delicious breakfast, searching under the flaps for the right ingredients, and at the same time learning about where our food comes from and adopting healthy eating habits. And don’t forget to spot the ladybird on every page.

Read the story, find the ingredients and tuck into a tasty meal!

(Little Tiger, board book, £7.99)

Age one plus:

Poppy and Sam and the Bunny: Finger Puppet Book

Sam Taplin and Simon Taylor-Kielty

Poppy and Sam of Apple Tree Farm are back for a spring adventure which will have little ones hopping with joy!

The Poppy and Sam books, written by the late Stephen Cartwright, have been a family favourite for over 30 years and after relaunch celebrations by children’s publisher Usborne last year, the bright and colourful makeover for these evergreen stories has been winning the hearts of a new generation of children.

In this adorable finger puppet book, we join Poppy and Sam as they follow their new friend the bunny around the farm. Toddlers will love pushing their finger through the hole to bring the bunny to life and make simple actions from sniffing the flowers to nibbling a carrot and snuggling with other bunnies.

Poppy and Sam and the Bunny is full of that special child-appeal which has made the Poppy and Sam stories so popular, and there is still the added fun of finding the hidden Little Yellow Duck on every page.

The new-look selection also includes the original artwork of Stephen Cartwright as well as the gorgeous illustrations of Simon Taylor-Kielty, perfectly created to honour Stephen’s legacy.

Fun, laughter and learning in one beautiful book!

(Usborne, board book, £7.99)

Age one plus:

Where’s My Llama?

Kate McLelland and Becky Davies

Where’s my llama hiding? She was here a moment ago. Can you find her?

Help your curious little ones get interactive with this sturdy touch-and-feel board book which comes loaded with fun, discovery, word recognition development, and lots of visual and tactile appeal.

A tantalising trail of colourful hoofprints will lead children past a touch-and-feel giraffe, a fox with a cute tail, and a long-eared rabbit as we go in search of the woolly llama. With Kate McLelland’s bright, appealing illustrations, discoveries on each spread, and a surprise flap ending, this enchanting series is ideal for young children.

The perfect sharing book for babies and toddlers finding their way in the big, wide world!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £6.99)