Book reviews: Thrills, spills, sleuths and ponies mark a new year of reading

A Pony Called Secret: A New Beginning by Olivia Tuffin
A Pony Called Secret: A New Beginning by Olivia Tuffin

It’s time to turn over a new leaf and banish the January blues as an array of exciting children’s books hits the shelves.

Meet a spirited pony with a mind of his own, a daring young detective with a murder case to solve, a stoat on a New York adventure… and dive into the ocean to discover a giant squid as long as a bus!

Age 8 plus:

A Pony Called Secret: A New Beginning by Olivia Tuffin

Saddle up and head for the gallops with a fabulous new drama-filled adventure from Olivia Tuffin, the queen of pony club storytelling.

Tuffin, who lives on a farm in Dorset, admits that she never outgrew the pony-mad stage and her fabulous horse-themed tales, which include the much-loved The Palomino Pony series, are inspired by the antics of her own animals.

In this exciting new pony adventure, we meet thirteen-year-old Alice Smalley who lives at Park Farm where her mum has a successful horse show team. Alice adores Secret, her spirited young red roan pony, but she is worried that she will never be able to ride him.

Naturally, Alice loves all the horses at the farm but Secret has a special place in her heart. The bond between them is unbreakable even though Secret is stubborn and headstrong, and training him is proving harder than Alice thought possible.

Then Alice meets free-spirited Finn; he is a fearless rider and has an amazing way with horses. But Finn seems moody, rude and arrogant, and Alice doesn’t know if they can ever be friends. Can she create the perfect partnership with Secret, or does she need Finn’s help? One thing is for certain… there is a long way to go before Alice’s showjumping dreams can become a reality.

Tuffin creates an exciting and credible pony-centred world full of thrills, spills, mystery and a sprinkling of youthful romance in a story that will delight all high-riding youngsters.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Nancy Parker’s Chilling Conclusions by Julia Lee

In the year that marks the centenary of the first British women to get the vote, how timely to embark on another cerebral mystery with everyone’s favourite housemaid-cum-detective Nancy Parker.

Julia Lee’s beautifully imaginative and inspirational mystery series starring a plucky 1920s teenager with the brain of a master sleuth returns for a third adventure in the heart of the snow-filled countryside.

Nancy Parker has a new job. She is accompanying her old school teacher Miss Araminta Lamb as a lady’s maid to the grand and mysterious Midwinter Manor, the home of Miss Lamb’s fiancé’s grandmother, Lady Sleete. Nancy’s dream job is to be a detective but in the meantime acting as a lady’s maid rather than a housemaid could turn out to be ‘a right lark.’

When they arrive at Midwinter Manor, the house is full of guests and with each person proving eccentric and intriguing in their own way, it’s set to be an interesting few days. But things turn from interesting to downright deadly when Nancy discovers a body in the library. With a house full of the strangest guests, who could possibly be the murderer?

Partly narrated through Nancy’s illustrated journal and set against a fascinating backdrop of social change, our dexterous detective is the perfect heroine for these clever, entertaining mysteries. Intelligent, determined and ambitious, Nancy happily embraces the changes in society and proves that girls are more than a match for the boys.

Packed with intrigue and danger, clues and calamities, Nancy’s adventures are set to run and run!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Travels of Ermine: Trouble in New York by Jennifer Gray and Elisa Paganelli

The new year brings a new star… the fabulously funny and furry Ermine, a stoat with a hat and an urge to travel!

The adorable Ermine is the creation of Jennifer Gray, an award-winning author who has her finger firmly on the pulse of young readers who love both animals and adventure, and this first book of a super new series is positively fizzing with action and comedy.

Ermine the Determined is from Balaclavia where she was adopted by the kindly Duchess. She may be small but Ermine is on a BIG journey around the world to complete her education. Armed with a scrapbook, passport, tool kit and feathered hat, this brave little stoat is determined to see the most famous sights, from New York to Sydney and beyond.

First stop is a mission to explore New York! Ermine can’t wait to visit Central Park Zoo, ride in a yellow taxi, and zoom to the top of the Rockefeller building but when her suitcase is switched, Ermine soon finds she has some robbers hot on her tail...

Funny, frantic and brimming with fabulously quirky characters – all brought to life by Elisa Paganelli’s bold, busy and exuberant black and white illustrations – Ermine’s daring escapades are ideal for sharing or for children embarking on chapter books.

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Dr KittyCat is Ready to Rescue: Logan the Puppy by Jane Clarke

Cool, calm Dr KittyCat, the meowing medic, and her trusty helper Peanut, a quick-thinking paramedic mouse, are heading off on another emergency call-out to rescue a furry friend in need.

The two caring and adorably cute little creatures are the stars of Jane Clarke’s original, warm-hearted and entertaining series which follows their adventures as they chase round the countryside to dispense help and advice to animal patients.

Logan the Puppy is the seventh heartwarming medical drama set in Thistletown, a community of cute small animals.

When Logan visits the town’s new swimming pool, he falls on his way in and badly grazes his shoulder. He doesn’t want to tell anyone because he really, really wants to go swimming. But it's extremely sore now, there’s blood on the changing room floor and Logan is feeling very sorry for himself. Dr KittyCat and Peanut the mouse must hurry to his side and with some expert furry first aid, make sure that Logan will soon able to take another dip!

Full of fascinating first aid facts, all verified by a qualified paramedic, these gentle stories have instant appeal to budding little doctors and nurses who love animal stories.

These gorgeous, glossy, eye-catching books are packed with two-tone illustrations which mix photography and hand-drawn elements and compelling first aid details to create a delightfully surreal but reassuring medical world.

Ideal for the five to seven age group, and with some real-life medical tips in the back of the book, this is a canny cat and mouse team for whom medicine is not just a game!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

Hidden World: Ocean by Libby Walden and Stephanie Fizer Coleman

Did you know that the largest giant squid ever found was 18 metres long, the same length as a bus? Or that there are more than 3,000 different species of sea slug?

This chunky, lift-the-flaps book – another sure-fire winner from Little Tiger imprint 360 Degrees – is jam-packed with interesting facts and brilliant illustrations, and makes a wonderful first non-fiction book for inquisitive young readers.

With the ever-increasing dangers of global warming and fears over the safety of our planet’s dynamic ecosystems, this novelty book allows little ones to learn about the hidden world of the ocean and can be used as a way to start conversations about protecting, preserving and appreciating the ocean environment.

Featuring a variety of themed spreads, including Giants, Colourful Creatures, the Ocean Floor and Coral Reef, each section has six flaps which open to reveal sumptuous illustrations and fun, bite-sized facts about the secrets of the deep sea.

This cleverly created, fully accessible, multi-flap book is perfect for igniting a passion for the wonders that lie beneath the waves, a love of natural discovery and to inspire your own little explorers to learn more about sea life.

Gorgeous illustrations combined with easy-to-understand facts and hands-on discoveries make this learning adventure an unmissable underwater odyssey…

(360 Degrees, board book, £9.99)

Age 3 plus:

Blue Monster Wants It All! by Jeanne Willis and Jenni Desmond

Having everything you want isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be… just ask this little blue monster!

Jeanne Willis and Jenni Desmond, the top team that created the award-winning picture book The First Slodge, go for broke in this clever, cautionary tale about a spoilt little monster who learns the hard way that money can’t buy you happiness.

What do you get for the monster who has everything? Blue Monster loves new things, so much so that he soon tires of his old mum, old dad and old baby sister and sets of with a bag of money from his old granny to start a new life. Before long, the monster who hates anything old hat has bought a fancy new hat, a shiny submarine, a fabulous funfair and a paradise island all of his own. But Blue Monster is still not happy! So just what will it take for him to realise there are some things that money can’t buy?

This brilliant book is a fun, original and dynamic way to introduce little ones to the dangers of materialism and to help them understand the priceless value of family love and affection.

Jenni Desmond’s fantastic gallery of illustrations, which range from high energy to soulfully evocative, are paired with a delightfully mischievous story from Jeanne Willis to create an entertaining and educational picture book which celebrates the joys of family and friendship.

A classy and classic story that is perfect for school, nursery or home.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Firefly Home by Jane Clarke and Britta Teckentrup

Give your little ones a glowing start to the new year with this sparkling picture book from a top author and illustrator team.

Much-loved author Jane Clarke and the multi-talented illustrator Britta Teckentrup bring their special magic to the enchanting interactive story of a firefly that is looking for the lost lights of home.

There’s no place like home but poor Florence Firefly is lost and there are so many bright lights shining in the night sky that she doesn’t know which way to go. She will need some help to find her way back home through bright lights of the city, the beams of a lighthouse and the shining of the moon.

Children are guaranteed to light up on every page as they help Florence on her night time journey by encouraging her to fly faster, pointing out which direction she takes and making a wish on the shooting stars.

Brimming with Teckentrup’s gorgeous, colourful illustrations and with a simple text from Clarke that will keep youngsters engaged to the last page, this wonderful book is the perfect bedtime wind-down.

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Dog in Boots by Paula Metcalf

Little dog lovers are guaranteed to go barking mad with joy when they get their hands on this enchanting tall story about an adorable love-sick hound.

Dog in Boots is another classic picture book from talented author and illustrator Paula Metcalf who has fun here with a short-legged dog who has high hopes of wooing the peachy pooch who has moved in next door.

Philip the dachshund is in love with Penelope. She has kind eyes, a waggy tail, and the most beautiful smile. But there is a slight problem. While Penelope is very tall, Philip definitely isn’t… in fact, his legs are so short that his ears sweep the floor when he walks. Philip is too tiny to kiss Penelope, even on tiptoes! He needs a plan to make himself tall... but maybe he just needs be himself!

With flaps to lift and some rather muddled up messages, there will be giggles galore as youngsters watch Philip and his four-legged friend Ralph conjure up some madcap schemes to make Penelope fall in love.

Enchantingly funny and uplifting, and with subtle messages about the importance of being yourself, this is a clever and uplifting canine caper with boot loads of child appeal!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

I Love You Little One by Holly Surplice

Get ready to have your heart well and truly warmed with a beautiful new board book from talented author and illustrator Holly Surplice.

The special bond between mother and child is celebrated in classic style in this rhyming and exquisitely illustrated tale starring two adorable guinea pigs.

Mummy guinea pig loves her little one so much more than she can say so instead she puts her words into action. As they spend a fun-filled day together – painting, reading, baking and sharing a very special picnic – she finds lots of different ways to show her unbreakable and unquestioning love.

Surplice, whose childhood living on a farm continues to feed her work as an artist and illustrator today, has created a book that every family will treasure, filled with colour, emotion, poetic resonance and that precious thing called love.

(Nosy Crow, board book, £6.99)

Age birth plus:

Look, There’s a Helicopter! and Look, There’s a Tractor! Illustrated by Esther Aarts

Whether it’s adventures with the farmer and his animals or high in the sky with a helicopter, these two fun-filled, interactive board books from Nosy Crow are a voyage of discovery for inquisitive babies and toddlers.

The work of Esther Aarts, a Dutch illustrator whose beautiful pictures have appeared in international newspapers, magazines and on greeting cards and T-shirts, Look, There’s a Helicopter! and Look, There’s a Tractor! make exploration a hands-on adventure.

With their peekaboo cut-outs, the books let little ones find the holes with their fingers as you read the story, and then enjoy watching as they peep through and turn the page to see what the holes become.

Join the farmer and his dog on the hunt for a lost chicken, or head for the clouds with a helicopter pilot and her pigeon as they search for a ship and its crew that is sinking on the sea!

Perfect for sharing and with a gentle rhyming text encouraging children to say what they can spy in every scene, the books offer a ‘hole’ lot of fun… and the chance to explore our exciting world time and time again.

(Nosy Crow, board books, £6.99 each)