Wild walks, sea ghosts and red hot comedy by various authors - book reviews -

Take a journey into the great outdoors with a young conservationist, discover a family living on the edge, and set your summer alight with a fire boy’s comedy capers in a summer-soaked collection of new children’s books.

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 3:45 pm
Wild Child: A Journey Through Nature
Wild Child: A Journey Through Nature

Age 7 plus:

Wild Child: A Journey Through Nature

Dara McAnulty and Barry Falls

Summer’s here, the school holidays have begun so there could be no better time to take a wild, wandering and fascinating journey into the great outdoors.

And with award-winning young activist and conservationist Dara McAnulty as your guide, this wonderful gift book – brimming with amazing facts and fabulous illustrations by award-winning artist Barry Falls – is the perfect walking companion.

Wonderfully family-friendly and full of poetic prose, facts, activities and just some of our incredible wildlife, Wild Child: A Journey Through Nature encourages us all to get outside and start exploring.

This fully colour illustrated book opens in the author’s own back garden and takes us into the hills, woods and ponds, pointing out his own favourite animals and flora and fauna, all elements that fascinated him when he was a child.

Divided into five sections, the book becomes a beautiful, multi-sensory journey as we look out of the window, venture out into the garden, walk in the woods, investigate heathland, and wander on the river bank.

McAnulty pauses to tell you about each habitat and how to explore it, and provides fantastic facts about the native birds, animals and plants you will find there… including wrens, blackbirds, butterflies, tadpoles, bluebells, bees, hen harriers, otters, dandelions, oak trees and many more.

Each section also contains a discovery section where you will have a closer look at natural phenomenon such as metamorphoses and migration, learn about categorisation in the animal kingdom, or become an expert on the collective nouns for birds.

And each section finishes with an activity to do when you get home… plant wild flowers, make a bird feeder, try pond dipping, make a journey stick and build a terrarium.

McAnulty’s love for nature and his passion for conservation shine through on every page, inspiring youngsters to experience for themselves the joy of connecting with the natural world and to do their bit to help save our precious planet.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 9 plus:

The House on the Edge

Alex Cotter

Some writers hit the spot perfectly when it comes to middle grade fiction… and debut novelist Alex Cotter scores a bullseye with her captivating and unputdownable debut.

On one level a tense and exciting thriller about a house perched precariously on the edge of a cliff, and on another level, a moving and timely exploration of a family teetering on the edge of breakdown, The House on the Edge is a masterclass in clever storytelling.

At its heart are universal, heartfelt themes of home, family and friendship, with the added enthralling extras of shipwrecks, sea ghosts, hidden treasure, and dark mysteries and secrets from the past.

Where has Faith’s dad gone and why has he left his family living in The Lookout, an old house built by one of the family’s ancestor but now perched on a crumbling cliff top?

A crack has appeared in the cliff and Faith watches anxiously as it gets bigger and bigger each day. Meanwhile, her mum spends a lot of time crying in the bathroom and her younger brother Noah is obsessed with the sea ghosts which he claims live in the basement.

So Faith is in charge, of both her mum – who hasn’t been the same since dad upped and left months ago – and Noah who lives mainly in his own head.

But when Noah disappears as well, Faith starts to believe in the ghosts too. Can she find Noah and bring her father back before everything she cares about falls into the pitiless sea below?

With the charismatic and caring Faith as our narrator, this wonderful, twisting, turning story of folklore, family struggle, heartbreak and intriguing mystery unfolds in the most revealing and delightful way.

A brilliant debut from an exciting new voice in children’s fiction…

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Mystery of the Night Watchers

A.M. Howell and Saara Soderlund

Buried secrets and dark lies lie at the heart of a thrilling and atmospheric new middle grade novel from an author who is turning history and mystery into a winning storytelling formula.

Hot on the heels of her award-winning adventures, The Garden of Lost Secrets and The House of One Hundred Clocks, A.M. Howell delivers a gripping new historical odyssey set against the evocative backdrop of the Edwardian era.

In May 1910, as the blazing Halley’s comet draws close to Earth, speculation is rife and rumours abound as to what the effects of it will be. Scientists give contrary opinions and newspaper headlines talk of a comet collision.

Meanwhile, Nancy is uprooted from her home in Leeds and her beloved stepfather to start a new life in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk with a grandfather she has never met and who she had always believed was dead.

Her mother says her grandfather is unwell and, as a keen astronomer, he needs assistance viewing Halley’s comet. But life there is far from what Nancy might have expected. With every curtain drawn shut, Nancy is forbidden from leaving her grandfather’s house… no one must know that either Nancy or her mother are there.

Yet, when Nancy discovers the house’s secret observatory, she watches her mother and grandfather creep out every night... where are they going, and why can’t any of them be seen?

As the mysteries pile up, Nancy has to bring dark secrets from the past to light… even if doing so will put her own life at risk.

Inspired by real historical events, fired by the power of the author’s imagination, and with illustrations by Saara Soderlund, Mystery of the Night Watchers delivers all those favourite children’s book ingredients… adventure, mystery, drama, friendship, and some spine-tingling danger.

History, mystery, science and adventure… the perfect holiday read!

(Usborne, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Pants on Fire

J.M. Joseph

Set your summer reading on fire with the second book in a hilariously hot and flamingly funny series from master of comedy J.M. Joseph.

Pants on Fire is the follow-up to the hugely popular Fire Boy which introduced us to eleven-year-old Aidan Sweeney who received a mysterious package of sweets from South America and found that they gave him amazing superpowers, including igniting his body!

And now Aidan and his pals – Sadie and Hussein – are back with more fire-powered comedy and chaos in a story that features friendship, circus stars, a super villain, and a cat named Lemon.

Eleven-year-old Aidan Sweeney (aka Fire Boy) has finally started to master his fiery super-power (obtained after accidentally eating a sweet filled with the juice of a magical Incan tree) and is thrilling the crowds at the circus.

Aidan can ignite his body at will (though he can’t always control the resulting flames!) and he’s not the only one with magical powers…. Sadie can move objects with her mind and Hussein can control any electronic device.

But with a newspaper investigating Fire Boy’s powers, his beloved circus about to leave him behind in London, and pet cat Lemon being able to turn in to a tiger (thanks to eating one of those magical sweets herself), Aidan still has quite a bit to be dealing with.

Then the news leaks that a supervillain is on the loose, so Aidan, Sadie and Hussein, and the circus all flee to New York City. But will they be able to protect the priceless remaining sweets, stop Lemon from terrorising the local bird population, and stay alive long enough to finish the school year?

Joseph certainly knows how to set young imaginations on fire as he peppers his story with quirky chapter headings, lists and doodles which are guaranteed to keep youngsters glued to the page… and giggling all the way to the fiery finale.

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

Age 8 plus:

The Battle for Roar

Jenny McLachlan and Ben Mantle

Get ready to roar with laughter as top team – author Jenny McLachlan and illustrator Ben Mantle – return with the third and final book in their bestselling children’s fantasy series, The Land of Roar.

This epic, fun-filled trilogy has been billed as the book series that makes you believe in magic and these funny, big-hearted and thrilling stories have certainly captured all the best-loved characteristics of classics like Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon, Michelle Harrison’s A Pinch of Magic, and C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

Stars of the show are, of course, the irrepressible twins Rose and Arthur Trout who we find setting out on a voyage that takes them further than they have ever been before… beyond The End.

It’s another amazing adventure – full of secrets, surprises and fairies with fangs – until a mysterious storm changes everything. Shipwrecked on a strange island, they make a shocking discovery… could this be the end of Roar?

McLachlan dives into the farthest reaches of her imagination for this final fling in the exhilarating and exciting Land of Roar while Mantle works his own special magic on a gallery of extraordinary illustrations.

Adventure and laughter on full throttle!

(Farshore, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Story Soup

Abie Longstaff and Nila Aye

Every child loves an adventure… so why does cooking up your own idea of fun turn out to be a kitchen disaster?

Author Abie Longstaff and illustrator Nila Aye blend their creative talents on a hilarious picture book which stars two youngsters learning that working together – instead of going it alone – is actually the recipe for success.

Ollie and Susie are mixing a story soup in their kitchen. They think it will be easy to brew a story, but every time they throw an item into the soup the story takes an unexpected turn.

Ollie wants a skateboarding story but Susie wants one about a princess… so they end up with a twisting turning tale about a skateboarding princess and a pirate who is a reluctant bad guy.

But what happens when the story soup bubbles out of control? Will Ollie and Susie be able to work together to save the day?

Every ingredient brings a new twist in this hilarious and imaginative tale which comes with important messages about the value of sharing, and is filled with Aye’s bold and colourful illustrations.

Clever, captivating and comical, Story Soup is a tasty treat for your own little adventurers!

(Templar Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Longer the Wait, the Bigger the Hug

Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar

Everyone needs a hug!

Bestselling Irish children’s author Eoin McLaughlin and talented illustrator Polly Dunbar stole everyone’s hearts with McLaughlin’s moving debut picture book, The Hug, which was named a Book of the Year by The Guardian and spoke loudly to youngsters during the worst of the pandemic lockdown last year.

The follow-up While We Can’t Hug was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards and nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, and now the same winning formula of simplicity and tenderness reaches out to youngsters again in a beautiful new picture book.

The Longer the Wait, the Bigger the Hug is a charming and much-needed celebration of friendship and reuniting with loved ones as everyone’s favourite (socially distanced) characters return to help us through another challenging period.

Hedgehog is waiting for his friend Tortoise to wake up from his hibernation. But where is he and when will he wake? Hedgehog’s friends are all very lovely, but they just aren’t as much fun at the beach, or at hide and seek, or at holding hands, or at hugs.

But then Tortoise begins to stir… the one boulder that Hedgehog didn’t think he could lift up has a surprise! Tortoise is back… he’s been dreaming of Hedgehog and the hug that follows is their best yet!

The perfect book hug for children who have been denied the joy of hugging friends and family.

(Faber & Faber, hardback, £12.99)