Book reviews: Knowledge, monsters and urban jungles

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Dazzling books to educate, enlighten and entertain are lighting up children’s autumn reading as the dark nights close in.

From a spectacular new encyclopedia that brings the world to your fingertips to a carnival of monsters and the strange animals lurking in our cities, there are books for inquisitive young minds of every age.

Age seven plus: by DK Children’s Encyclopedia

As thoughts start turning to Christmas, here’s a spectacular book that could be at the top of wish lists for years to come.

DK (Dorling Kindersley), a publisher which has become a byword in beautifully designed and illustrated children’s books, doesn’t do anything by halves. This magnificent, definitive encyclopedia, which comes in a gold embossed case and bills itself as ‘The Book that Explains Everything,’ brings alive the world and all its wonders in stunning style.

Boasting a staggering 250 topics, nine subjects, 1,500 facts, 1,800 index entries, 304 pages, 1,200 cross references and 120,000 words, there could be no better gift for inquisitive young minds.

This is the ultimate illustrated children’s encyclopedia of knowledge, brimming with information and amazing images on key topics, from the Stone Age to Space Travel, Pirates to Pollution, and Machines to Musical Instruments, all arranged from A to Z and covering colour coded subject areas including art, people, history, earth, nature, science, technology, space and the human body.

Children can dive straight in, working from the front to the back, or jump to a page that catches their eye to discover all about the world around them.

If youngsters are not sure where to go next, handy ‘See also’ boxes suggest related topics, allowing them to make links across topics and subject areas and create their own journey through the encyclopedia. There are also comprehensive content and index pages and a glossary which lists some of the more difficult words with an explanation.

Double-page ‘story’ spreads investigate broader topics, such as War, Festivals and Invention, exploring a subject in a cross-curricular way, making big topics more accessible and enabling children to start thinking about things from many different angles.

Inspiring and informative, this classic encyclopedia is guaranteed to absorb and engage children for hours and will be invaluable to parents or teachers finding it difficult knowing where to look for homework help.

Accessible, easy-to-use, imaginatively designed and presented, and perfectly pitched for seven to nine-year-olds, this dynamic book of knowledge is both a teaching tool and a joy to read.

(DK, hardback, £25)

Age 10 plus:

Carnival of Monsters: S.C.R.E.A.M. by Andrew Beasley

Is there a monster on the loose in London… and if there is, who is going to catch him?

Welcome back to the exciting and dangerous dystopian world conjured up by Andrew Beasley, a primary school teacher and author whose Victorian-themed, all-action adventure books are simply out of this world.

Carnival of Monsters is the second book in his thrilling and imaginative S.C.R.E.A.M. series which is sending tingles down the spines of young readers. These funny, fast-paced and drama-filled paranormal crime capers are seducing children with their fascinating historical detail, monster-sized belly laughs and a super clever, super sarcastic detective duo.

Roll up, roll up – if you dare – to Doctor Vindicta’s carnival! Gasp at the dancing ghosts, grimace at the creepy clowns and giggle in the hall of mirrors. It all appears to be harmless fun and frights until a young boy disappears. The police believe he has run away but his sister swears he was snatched by a monster. Only the cleverest detectives can catch a demon… and they are Billy Flint and Charlotte ‘Charley’ Steel aka S.C.R.E.A.M.

The dynamic duo from opposites sides of the tracks are top-secret investigators with the Supernatural Crimes, Rescues, Emergencies and Mysteries squad who operate out of a crypt deep beneath Westminster Abbey in London. Are they brave enough and strong enough to down a demon?

Billy and wheelchair-bound Charley are the perfect pairing; one is a scientific genius with a flair for deductive reasoning, and the other is ‘sensitive to the spirit realm.’ Together they make a formidable team who can outwit most adults… and any villain!

Beasley’s aim was to mix all his favourite ingredients… adventures, detective stories, monsters and humour. But this master storyteller has also added a few exciting extras like thrills, chills and devilishly clever children.

Dark but not too scary, and packed with laugh-out-loud humour, daring feats and deadly demons, this exhilarating paranormal series just gets better and better!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Dork Diaries: Crush Catastrophe by Rachel Renée Russell

Nikki Maxwell, Queen of the Dorks, is back in the twelfth instalment of the blockbuster bestselling Dork Diaries series.

Nikki and her BFFs Zoey and Chloe are the giggling, gossiping stars of Rachel Renée Russell’s much-loved Dork Diaries series which chronicles the daily dramas of the 14-year-old’s life in (and outside!) school.

Russell, a US lawyer who prefers writing children’s books to legal briefs, also illustrates the fabulous Dork Diaries, filling Nikki’s entertaining meanderings with drawings, doodles and comic strips.

This perfectly pitched series was inspired by Russell’s own middle school experiences as well as those of her two daughters, Erin and Nikki. Elder daughter Erin helps with writing and Nikki helps with the illustrations.

In Nikki Maxwell’s newest diary, it’s the countdown to the end of the school year and Nikki is juggling some big questions about how she will spend her summer. She is also facing an unexpected crush catastrophe… there’s a new kid interested in Nikki but the last thing she wants to do is accidentally hurt Brandon. It all comes down to the very big decision Nikki has to make, and drama like she has never faced before!

Friendship, fun and boyfriend gossip… what more could a teen girl want?

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus:

Urban Jungle by Vicky Woodgate

Flamingos, a short-snouted seahorse and a great white pelican… could it be true that they have all been spotted in London?

And did you know that there are flying squirrels in the heart of New York City, or that wild boar roam the streets of Berlin?

Animal-loving youngsters won’t believe their eyes when they take an exciting trip around the world’s major cities to discover some of the amazing creatures hidden amongst the streets and parks.

Vicky Woodgate, an author and illustrator with a passion for wildlife, travelling, writing and drawing maps, takes us all on a whirlwind tour of the urban jungle in this giant-sized, colour-packed book of maps exploring the surprising and incredible animals to be found in 38 cities around the world.

Children will love the journey into the wild side of cities in this stunning collection of urban maps, all stylishly portrayed by debut author Woodgate’s vibrant and dynamic artwork.

From bats in air-conditioning vents and snakes in sewers to London’s parakeets and Mumbai’s leopards, each city is a colourful mix of everyday sightings and amazing one-off stories. Perfect for dipping in and out of at leisure, this is an entertaining and eye-catching book that has been fact-checked by an expert from each area covered to ensure that it is both fun and informative.

With fascinating facts and colourful creatures on every page, this is an exciting journey of animal discovery deep inside the world’s busiest cities.

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £20)

Age 7 plus:

Harper and the Fire Star by Cerrie Burnell, Illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

Everyone’s irresistible heroine Harper returns in the fourth book of an inspirational series of friendship, fairy tales and adventure created by popular CBeebies television presenter Cerrie Burnell.

Harper and the Fire Star is another beautifully written, lyrical tale featuring a cast of funny and lovable characters, all stunningly brought to life by talented illustrator Laura Ellen Anderson.

Harper has a rare musical gift… she hears songs on the wind, rhythms on the rain and hope in the beat of a butterfly’s wings. She can play every instrument she picks up without learning a single note and she lives in the City of Clouds. Harper, who can float through the air thanks to her magic Scarlet Umbrella, and her friends want to help the Wild Conductor win back his place in the magical Circus of Dreams. They put on a wondrous show, but instead of the Wild Conductor, the ringmaster selects the musically gifted Harper. Once inside the circus, Harper begins to solve a mystery involving Fire Star, a girl who shines like a star whenever she hears music...

Imaginative and beautifully written, the Harper books provide a magical experience for younger readers. The fantastic illustrations are full of vitality and character, and Harper is an inspirational heroine for children from all walks of life. Her magic, her adventures, her diverse friends and their ambition to always help others always send out important messages to children.

A timeless, beautifully imagined tale, perfect for children who love adventure and friendships…

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Ludwig the Sea Dog by Henning Lohlein

Living inside the pages of a book can get in the way of diving into an all-action adventure – so how will Ludwig the dog escape from his paper prison?

The answer could be a pair of swimming trunks, a fairy queen, a thrilling new chapter in Ludwig’s life… and an ingenious pair of 3D glasses so youngsters can join in the fun!

German-born Henning Lohlein takes storytelling to a new dimension as 2D becomes a thrilling 3D adventure with clever canine Ludwig and his page-turning pals whose madcap adventures spring to crazy life with a pair of very special underwater goggles.

This is Lohlein’s second spectacular adventure starring lovable Ludwig and his friends who live in a world of amazing books and is guaranteed to win the hearts of fans new and old.

When a postcard arrives one day from Ludwig’s friend, Peter the penguin, we discover that his submarine has broken down and he needs Ludwig’s help – but Peter’s submarine lies under the sea and the closest Ludwig has ever been to water was when he played on a picture of a pond. How can a dog who lives in a book explore the underwater world? Maybe with a bit of fairy tale magic and some help from his friends!

Young imaginations will take a take a thrilling dive into the deep with this super, sea-themed book and its exciting goggle-eyed gallery of astonishing 3D images. See the world through rose-tinted specs, thrill to a spectacular double-page spread featuring a magical 3D ocean full of fish and marvel at sea life as it has never been viewed before!

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Great Gran Plan by Elli Woollard and Steven Lenton

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Well, it’s certainly not this little pig!

Exciting new picture book partnership – author Elli Woollard and illustrator Steven Lenton – set out on a fun flight of fancy in this gorgeous picture book which turns two classic adventures on their fairy tale heads.

Get ready for a devilishly clever twist on the much-loved Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs as a cast of beastly wolves, plucky pigs and truly great grandmas steal the show.

The pig lives in a house in the middle of the wild wood but not far away there’s a big bad wolf. What’s more, he’s hungry and wants a little pig for dinner. Fortunately, this is a clever little pig and he has a plan to outsmart the wolf. A house made of bricks is hard to blow down so instead of gobbling Pig, the cunning Wolf moves to plan B… gobbling Red Riding Hood’s poor defenceless grandma! But his despicable plan is soon uncovered and Pig decides to rescue Gran. Will this plucky little pig make it in time?

Pairing Woollard’s catchy, fun-filled rhymes with Lenton’s bold, busy illustrations – and packaging the book in a beautiful, smooth-touch hardback cover – makes this the perfect story for reading aloud and sharing with your little ones.

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Wildest Cowboy by Garth Jennings and Sara Ogilvie

A madcap train chase, rattlesnake socks and a dancing dog… there’s no shortage of action in this Wild West adventure!

Film director and author Garth Jennings pairs up with award-winning illustrator of The Detective Dog, Sara Ogilvie, for a picture book thriller that is destined to be a sharp shooting star.

Way out in the West there’s a town they call Fear and only the roughest and toughest live there. When cheerful salesman Bingo B Brown rolls his wagon full of Wild West goodies into town, he’s met with a stony silence. This is clearly no place for novelty bow ties and elastic lassos. Not even Bingo’s dancing dog can raise a smile. But this town is not just joyless, it’s dangerous. And as Bingo soon discovers, the people of the town are both scary… and scared. It isn’t long before Bingo and his dog discover why as they come face to face with the Wildest Cowboy in the West!

Jennings, who has directed many music videos and commercials as one third of the production company Hammer and Tongs, sets out all guns blazing in this brilliant rhyming story while Ogilvie brings the fast-paced fun to life with a gallery of bright and busy illustrations.

So saddle up and head to town for a big, beautiful bonanza of bold colours, brilliant storytelling and wacky Wild West adventure!

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

WOW! It’s Night-time by Tim Hopgood

Let your little ones discover just what happens when the sun goes down in this beautiful board book full of fun and mystery.

Popular author and illustrator Tim Hopgood, creator of the bestselling WOW! Said the Owl, takes flight again with his curious little owl in a beautiful board book brimming with the wonders of night-time.

Help toddlers to count from one to ten as they enjoy meeting the big, bright moon, the bats in the sky and the foxes deep in the forest. But where are all the other owls? When the wind blows the leaves from the tree, you'll soon see!

This thoughtfully written and illustrated story is a joy for both parents and children, revealing the night-time world and celebrating the contrast between the inky darkness of the night sky and the gorgeous colours of the owls and their wildlife friends.

A warm and timeless tale, perfectly created for snuggling up at bedtime!

(Macmillan, board book, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Whoosh! Went the Witch by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

No one wants to miss out on the flyaway fun of top team Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s smash hit The Room on the Broom so here’s a board book to delight toddlers.

Watch the faces of your pre-schoolers as they fly through the sky with the witch and her friends, and bring the story to life by pressing a specially designed ‘whoosh’ sound.

Who’s that flying over the treetops? Whoosh, it’s the witch and her cat and a very tall hat. Is there room for anyone else? Little ones will love finding out in this joyously noisy story.

Donaldson’s rhyming story, full of the repetitions that toddlers adore, springs into action with Scheffler’s enchanting illustrations and a sound button that will have readers whooshing through to the last iggety, ziggety, zaggety page!

(Macmillan, board book, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

I Am Bat by Morag Hood

Cherry picking your picture books this autumn could bear fruit with this perfectly batty tale from the super talented Morag Hood.

It seems everyone is a suspect (even the reader!) in this clever, comical adventure which stars a quirky, adorably petulant and over-protective bat trying to hunt down a thief.

I am Bat, I like cherries, I do not like mornings. Do not steal my cherries. Bat’s cherries keep going missing. One by one, the precious red cherries are whisked away by mischievous animal tricksters behind Bat’s back. Bat tries to catch the culprit and rescue those poor cherries, but her attempts are fruitless. Will the cherries ever be restored to their rightful owner?

This bold, colourful and very funny book, stunningly printed with eye-poppingly bright pantone inks is destined to be an instant winner with children and adults alike. Grown-ups and children will love the surreal depictions of everyday settings and situations, often with hilarious results.

Quirky, colourful and joyously entertaining, all the family will be smiling when they share story time with Bat!

(Two Hoots, hardback, £11.99)

Age from birth:

Amazing Baby: Mummy Baby and Lost and Found by Beth Harwood and Emma Dodd

The ever popular Amazing Baby range of board books has been brought bang up to date with a clean, fresh, slide-your-finger design to please today’s generation of toddlers… and their parents.

The Amazing Baby board books are the perfect size for little hands and are created with a durable, glossy finish guaranteed to attract a baby’s attention. The simple, rhyming and reassuring stories are a playful introduction to the everyday sights and sounds in a baby’s world, encouraging active play and providing hands-on entertainment for inquisitive minds.

Mummy Baby reveals a familiar parent animal – cats, dogs, pigs, sheep – on one side, and with a simple slide of the finger baby kittens, puppies, piglets and lambs turn up on the other side. And In Lost and Found, help a baby find his lost teddy, his missing ball and his rubber duck, all revealed by sliding the window in the centre of the page.

Growing up is fun with amazing baby adventures!

(Templar Publishing, board books, £5.99 each)