Book review: Usborne Books welcome in the Year of The Goat

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Let your kids join in the festivities for the Year of the Shãn Yáng (that’s Goat to you and me!) with a brilliant new book that puts Chinese words in the picture.

Usborne, the biggest and most successful independent children’s book publisher in the UK, is helping to celebrate the Chinese New Year this Thursday with an action-packed introductory book to Chinese (Mandarin) words.

But the fun doesn’t stop there this half term… Usborne also has a host of brilliant activity books to beat the boredom, a fantastic new all-colour book featuring the deadliest animals on the planet and some madcap magic from favourite author Pseudonymous Bosch.

Age 5 plus:

First Thousand Words in Chinese Written by Heather Amery and illustrated by Stephen Cartwright

In a word – well, a thousand words – this is probably the best introduction your child can have to the wonderful world of the Mandarin Chinese language.

Usborne’s classic bilingual Chinese (Mandarin)/English word book, illustrated with busy scenes and labelled pictures to help children learn key vocabulary, has been fully updated and revised, with new words added and pictures updated, for a new generation of early learners.

Stephen Cartwright’s lively pictures encourage a direct association of the word with the object, a proven aid to long-term learning while the vocabulary opens up a window onto words used in everyday life.

Written in Mandarin Chinese with a standard ‘pinyin’ pronunciation guide in Roman letters, this superb book includes an English/Chinese word list, and readers can hear how to pronounce every word by listening to a native Chinese speaker on the Usborne Quicklinks website.

Divided into everyday scenes so that each word is easily identifiable, the Chinese vocabulary can help to aid word recognition for adults and children, as well as providing amusement for younger learners.

It’s never too early to start learning a new language…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 10 plus:

Bad Magic by Pseudonymous Bosch

How about something completely different?

It’s always best to expect the unexpected when elusive, bestselling author Pseudonymous Bosch is on the case and Bad Magic, first of the exciting Bad Books mystery-adventure trilogy, delivers a brilliantly clever coming-of-age story.

Clay is a typical boy who is almost, but not quite, a teenager and his life so far has been very, very strange to say the least. His parents are psychologists and made the mistake of being too hands-on with Clay’s older brother Max-Ernest, so Clay has been raised daringly hands-off.

His life changed radically when Max-Ernest, a self-styled magician, did a sudden vanishing act leaving Clay dangerously bereft. Two years later, Clay is interested almost solely in skateboarding and graffiti art. When his teacher asks the class to pen an essay on the role of magic in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Clay gets writer’s block. Magic is a painful subject for Clay since Max-Ernest’s disappearance so his teacher asks him to simply write anything in a journal used in their stage production of the play.

Angry Clay takes the journal home and scrawls ‘Magic Sucks!’ in it but is horrified the next day to see the message and a graffiti-style drawing on the classroom wall, along with his signature. The major problem for Clay is that he didn’t put it there. As punishment, he must attend a summer camp for ‘naughty kids’ at Earth Ranch on Price Island. But Earth Ranch is not what it appears to be, and that’s where the fun, the adventure and the danger begin…

The perfidious and puzzling Pseudonymous Bosch is on top form in this stupendously surreal and marvellously mysterious adventure which features, among many other amazing characters, Spanish-speaking llamas and ultra-intelligent bees.

Throw in a ghost girl, spontaneous combustion, a nod at J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan and the great William Shakespeare, plus some devilishly good plotting, and you have the funniest and craziest reading experience this side of Neverland.

You’d be mad to miss it!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Deadly Animals by Henry Brook

Can you guess which creature is the world’s worst killer… a great white shark, an East African lion, a Nile crocodile?

It’s actually none of these formidable beasts – the answer is the tiny malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquito which kills an estimated 725,000 to 1.8 million people a year.

This is just one of the amazing facts in the pages of Usborne’s must-have new wildlife book, an eye-opening account of the incredible poisons, weapons and super-senses of the world’s natural-born killers.

Part of Usborne’s superb Beginners Plus series for younger readers and ideally suited for fans of CBBC’s Deadly 60 series, Deadly Animals looks these wild killers in the face… and lives to tell the tale!

From big cats and snakes to sharks, crocodiles and some of those surprisingly lethal small creatures, each full-colour, glossy double page spread uncovers a different deadly animal in detail.

Learn why animals attack people, marvel at the lethal power of jaws, claws and paws, shiver at the ability of the constrictor snakes that squeeze the life out of their prey, take cover from the eight-legged horror spiders with their fangs of deadly venom and keep clear of the Amazon golden poison frog that can kill ten people with just a teaspoonful of toxins.

With easy-to-read fact boxes, stunning photographs, maps and illustrations, few children will be able to resist this incredible journey into the dangerously exciting and dark side of nature. And log on to a host of additional information and activities by using Usborne Quicklinks to specially selected websites.

Jaw-openingly good!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

A Drawing a Day Written by Kirsteen Robson and illustrated by Michael Hill

Fed up with colouring books? Need some inspiration to create your own pictures? Here’s the solution… a tear-off activity pad you can use all year round.

All you need is a pen or some crayons to draw something different every day. The 365 pages of activities offer a new drawing idea for each day and there are plenty of step-by-step hints and tips to ensure that you get great results.

Children will love learning to draw everything from an astronaut to an octopus, a fairy tale castle to a monkey in the jungle. There is plenty of room on each page to incorporate your own creations and the finished masterpiece can be torn out to display on fridges and walls.

The ideal companion for rainy days, long journeys and quiet afternoons.

(Usborne, paperback, £9.99)

Age 3 plus:

Lots of Rabbits to Spot Written by Louie Stowell and illustrated by David Semple

There’s so much to talk about when you hop along to the bright and busy kingdom of rabbits.

Usborne’s latest enchanting book in their popular look-and-talk activity series is just picture perfect for inquisitive pre-schoolers.

Every parent knows how little children love a challenge and spotting this riotous bunch of rabbits as they take part in a madcap Bunnyfest will provide hours of constructive fun and excitement.

From snug burrows and woodland markets to camping trips and busy glades, there are hundreds of rabbits to spot in this delightfully quirky, made-for-sharing book. Each colourful scene is packed with rabbits and there are lots of funny details to spot on every page. Four pages of stickers, as well as extra puzzles and games, also add an interactive element to the learning experience.

These beautifully produced look-and-talk books enable little ones to practise essential first skills like matching and visual discrimination, and help to build up their vocabulary.

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)