Buried secrets, a weird world and icy adventures by various authors – children’s book reviews –

Secret FACTopia! Follow the Trail of 400 Hidden Facts by Paige Towler and Andy SmithSecret FACTopia! Follow the Trail of 400 Hidden Facts by Paige Towler and Andy Smith
Secret FACTopia! Follow the Trail of 400 Hidden Facts by Paige Towler and Andy Smith
Enjoy a dazzling array of curious ‘discoveries,’ marvel at a wild world brought to life with dazzling colour and imagination, follow a group of intrepid young Australians on a polar expedition to Antarctica over 100 years ago, and meet a young boy who must battle against the power of angry gods in a sparkling selection of July children’s books.

Age 8 plus:

Secret FACTopia! Follow the Trail of 400 Hidden Facts

Paige Towler and Andy Smith

Did you know that police in Iran once arrested a group of squirrels because they thought that they were spies? If you think that sounds too bizarre to be true, then ‘steal’ your way through this amazing trail of 400 hidden facts which lie buried in the worlds of detectives, poisons, lost cities, spy gadgets and plenty more.

Written by American author, poet and editor Paige Towler and the Britannica Group, and brought to life by amazing photographs and award-winning Andy Smith’s witty and wonderful illustrations – Secret FACTopia! is the seventh title in the dynamic and bestselling FACTopia! series created by the inventive boffins at Britannica Books.

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And as with the other titles in the series, Secret FACTopia! is verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica and doesn’t offer just one trail through a multitude of facts. Each of the 400 mysterious facts is connected in surprising and sneaky ways and an ingenious web of information lets you leapfrog from topic to topic.

With entertainment guaranteed all the way, young readers discover everything from secret recipes and escape artists to hidden treasure and invisibility cloaks. Marvel at how in the first half of the 20th century, women across Europe acted as spies by hiding codes in their knitting, meet an underwear-stealing cat, find out about sharks that glow, uncover a toilet in disguise and learn about the biggest ever game of hide-and-seek. And the facts aren’t the only secrets in this book because hidden among the illustrations are ten mice just waiting to be found!

Filled with Smith’s lavish artwork, this enthralling and hilarious book is a joy ride from start to finish and youngsters will be eager to share their dazzling array of curious ‘discoveries’ with their friends and family. And that’s a fact!

(Britannica Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 7 plus:

Oddney’s Otherland: Chronicles from Beneath the Shed: In Search of The Two-Headed Firedrake

Sarah Matthews and Rodney Matthews

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What would you do if you found a tunnel beneath your shed and what if you knew it led to a whole other world? Get lost in a deliciously daffy ‘otherland’ and marvel at a world brought to life with dazzling colour and imagination in a spectacular fantasy adventure from talented husband and wife team, acclaimed fantasy album artist Rodney Matthews and debut children’s author Sarah Matthews.

This beautifully created hardback book – with a foreword by writer and comedian John Cleese – is packed with thrills and comedy and features an explorer on an epic quest to find a two-headed firedrake dragon in the ‘Otherworld’ under his shed.

Move over retirement, for naturalist Professor Oddney has discovered his Uncle Cuthbert’s old journal and a mysterious tunnel beneath his shed which he feels compelled to investigate. Joined by his trusty sidekick, Magnus the talking magpie, the pair soon find themselves on a daring quest and a wonderfully absurd journey to a weird and fiery hidden world called Otherland. And it’s there they must find the mighty beast known as The Two-Headed Firedrake. But it’s a place that is also inhabited by Grumpy Meadow Gnomes, Bloated Hobgoblins, the Rhubarbarian, Great Leaping Buttock-Biters and the despicable Dragoner. And as they navigate this strange new land, they must find out who to trust... and who might help them in their quest.

With a wild and whimsical story – packed with soaraway imagination, madcap antics and buttock-snapping inhabitants, and exploring themes of kindness and friendship – all brought to life by Rodney Matthews’ lavish and atmospheric illustrations, this is a book to love and treasure.

(Rodney Matthews Studios, hardback, £16.99)

Age 10 plus:

Mawson in Antarctica: To the Ends of the Earth

Joanna Grochowicz

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Discover the incredible story of the young Australians who diced with death when they took part in a wind, ice and snow-lashed polar expedition on the freezing edges of Antarctica over 100 years ago.

Polar historian and author Joanna Grochowicz digs out the true story of the famous expedition led by geologist Sir Douglas Mawson whose Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14 included mainly young men in their early to mid-20s and involved battling the elements in minus 17 degree temperatures.

Hunkering down in the windiest place on Earth, eighteen young Australians eagerly await a chance to prove themselves as polar explorers and scientists. The spring sledging season will bring adventure, danger, and the discovery of new lands under the command of Douglas Mawson who had visited Antarctica once before and had declared he would never go back. But tragedy also lies in wait. Mawson’s tale is legendary, an epic struggle between one man’s self-belief and the worst conditions the hostile polar environment can throw at him. His journey represents not only a feat of physical endurance but also a triumph of the human spirit’s ability to conjure hope when luck has all but run out.

With graphic descriptions of Antarctica, Grochowicz’s fast-paced and exquisitely written story reveals in fascinating detail the human aspirations and tragedies that have shaped our understanding of the polar regions.

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Drawing on diaries, letters and expedition narratives from archives and personal collections around the world, her portrayal of historical figures and the interplay of personalities lend her work a grittiness and authenticity that is not often present in historical writing for children and young adults.

(Allen & Unwin Children’s Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Boy to Beat the Gods

Ashley Thorpe

A young boy must battle against the power of angry gods in a thrilling debut novel from Ashley Thorpe, a Black British author who works as an editor for Storymix, helping other writers to create epic stories. And this action-packed, high-stakes, fantasy adventure is certainly epic as it harnesses the incredible pantheon of Orishas, the divine spirits which play a key role in the Yoruba mythology of West Africa and are part of Thorpe’s ancestry. Kayode dreams of eating the forbidden fruit of the Orishas in order to gain their power and stop these merciless beings who terrorise his people. So when a fruit mysteriously appears in his path after the Orishas snatch his sister, he leaps on it. Surging with new and difficult-to-control powers, he joins forces with a shapeshifting trickster god and a vengeful princess to save his sister and put an end to the mighty Orishas. But each has more fearful powers than the last... and Kayode's stolen half-god strength won’t last forever. Youngsters will be willing on plucky Kayode as he battles against the odds in a heart-thumping quest full of magical world-building, fast and furious adventures and spine-tingling danger. Epic fun from start to finish!

(Usborne, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Bunny vs Monkey: The Impossible Pig

Jamie Smart

Hold on to your hats and watch out for trouble… Bunny and Monkey are back in their exhilarating remastered series which delivers all the comedy and chaos of the daffy duo’s helter-skelter world! This outrageously funny eighth book in the super-popular series introduces youngsters to the hilarious, all-powerful pig, and features 230 pages of fast and furry-ous exuberant fun and a draw-it-yourself activity.

Bunny and Monkey are part of the Phoenix Presents series, published by David Fickling Books in partnership with The Phoenix comic, which is going from strength to strength, and much of that success is due to the genius of the extraordinarily talented illustrator Jamie Smart whose comic-strip Bunny vs Monkey books are causing giant laughter waves.

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So welcome back to the Woods where chaos reigns supreme once more! There is uproar everywhere because Pig has vanished. What could have happened to him? And who is this familiar-looking bearded figure sitting on a cloud? Could they be connected?

Laugh-out-loud comical and ingeniously addictive, these manic, high-energy stories were just made for fidgety readers who like their books to come with plenty of comic-strip pictures and loads of snorts and sniggers. Madcap antics for a new generation of action kids!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Lola and Larch Save the Sunshine Spell

Sinéad O’Hart and Rachel Seago

If you’re looking for an entertaining starter chapter-book series to keep new readers engaged then these delightful, illustrated adventures from Irish master storyteller Sinéad O’Hart and artist Rachel Seago are guaranteed to hit the mark. With family, friendship and naughty fairies taking centre stage, there’s fun guaranteed on every outing with long-suffering Lola and her feisty fairy Larch who disguises herself as a rabbit. In their second adventure, Granny’s garden is growing out of control and Larch is sure a bad fairy is behind this agricultural anarchy! Evil Euphorbia Spurge has sent bad magic across the forest and it’s turning all the plants wild! Lola’s granny is thrilled because her garden is looking lush, but Larch is sure she saw a courgette wave and smile at her... and they are not supposed to do that, are they? It’s time for Lola and Larch to head into the forest and grapple with a green-fingered fiend! With magic and mayhem at every turn of the page, a big serving of fun, the cosy warmth of friendship, and Seago’s action-packed illustrations, these enchanting stories are casting a spell over young readers.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Wildsmith: The Hidden Sea

Liz Flanagan and Joe Todd-Stanton

Feel the magic, get lost in a fantastical world, and enjoy turning the pages of the third book of the enchanting Wildsmith series from Yorkshire author and teacher Liz Flanagan who puts wildlife conservation at the heart of her stories. Best known for her popular Dragon Daughter books, Flanagan has teamed up with award-winning illustrator Joe Todd-Stanton to deliver thrilling and imaginative fantasy adventures that combine the favourite, child-friendly ingredients of magical creatures, family, friendship and fun. Rowan, whom we first met when she discovered the secret of her identity, has started to embrace her gifts as a magical wildsmith which enable her to heal and speak to animals. But when she finds herself alone and far from home, this time Rowan is the one who needs to be rescued! She travels deep into enemy territory and makes some surprising discoveries, coming face to face with great danger. With the help of new friends – and old ones – will she ever make it home again? Young readers cannot help but fall under the spell of these sparkling adventures which feature Todd-Stanton’s dream-like illustrations, the excitement and joy of fostering animals, and a magical cast of characters that includes baby dragons and white winged stallions known as pegasi. A totally wild all-round winner!

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

Tiny Dogs: The Lost School Pet

Rose Lihou

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Just because you’re a tiny dog doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy BIG adventures! Join a little girl as she starts a new school in the second book of an enchanting series which has been perfectly created by dog-lover Rose Lihou, a debut children’s author and illustrator. Tiny Dogs stars four delightfully tiny dogs who share fun and adventures with a little girl who is settling into her new life with her mum and grandparents in a small village, far away from the big town that she has always known. Now the big day has arrived and it’s Bea's first day at her new school. She's nervous about making new friends but with the help of Sorrel, Willow, Pepper and Clover, her tiny dog friends who cheer her on, Bea’s confidence blooms. She quickly learns how to make new friends and her first day at school is a breeze... until Bamboo the class hamster goes missing and Bea was the last person to play with him. Join the FIND BAMBOO club and earn your Animal Hero badge with Bea and the tiny dogs as they work together to find Bamboo! With Lihou’s emotive and colourful illustrations, reassuring messages about building confidence, finding your voice, and discovering the joys of friendship and nature, little ones will already be tugging on the lead for the next Tiny Dogs adventure!

(Puffin, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Perla: The Mighty Dog

Isabel Allende and Sandy Rodriguez

Meet a very special dog called Perla! She has two superpowers... she can roar like a lion and she can make people love her! Perla: The Mighty Dog is the first book of a cute canine picture book series from internationally bestselling author Isabel Allende and award winning illustrator Sandy Rodriguez. Allende – the most-read author in the Spanish language throughout the world with 74 million books sold – was inspired to write her debut children’s book by her own much-loved rescue dog. So meet Perla, a small dog with a BIG personality and a very impressive roar. When she is adopted by the Ricos, a Mexican-American family in search of a guard dog, Perla quickly makes friends with seven-year-old Nico Rico – now her human brother – who needs someone to help him deal with the school bullies. Soon Perla has changed the lives of everyone in the Rico family… and found a place in their hearts forever. Children will love sharing magical adventures with feisty dog Perla and her new loving best friend and brother Nico. With messages about family love and fighting back against the bullies, this inspirational story – complete with Rodriguez’s heart-melting illustrations – will have young readers sitting up and begging for more!

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Where’s Gigantosaurus? A Dinosaur Search-and-Find Activity Book

Cyber Group Studios

Join four daring dino friends as they adventure across Cretacia in this bumper prehistoric search-and-find activity book which has over 100 things to spot! These dino darlings are based on the Gigantosaurus TV series which is developed by Paris-based Cyber Group Studios from characters created by Scottish-born author and illustrator Jonny Duddle. Have you seen Rocky, Bill, Mazu and Tiny? Can you find where the MIGHTY Giganto is hiding? This dino-tastic activity book includes 12 renowned locations from the Gigantosaurus TV series, from the den and the jungle to the beach, the secret cave playground and lots more. Enjoy the fun-filled adventures with everyone’s favourite dinos and keep your eyes peeled because there is so much to look for!

(Templar Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Adventure Babies

Rosamund Lloyd and Chris Dickason

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Babies just love having fun... and there are miles of smiles on every page of this delightful board book. Learn to count from one to ten and follow the antics of an adorable group of fearless babies who are hungry for adventure. From skydiving to surfing, and from circus tricks to deep-sea diving and big dipper-riding, these babies are on the move. But after all that fun, they can’t help but fall fast asleep in the clouds! This joyful, chunky board book – colourfully illustrated by Chris Dickason –helps babies to learn to count from one to ten in a lively and engaging way, and features a mix of photos and illustrations to bring the adorable babies to life in extraordinary adventure scenes. And with Rosamund Lloyd’s bouncy rhyme to read aloud, lots to spot on every page, a summary at the back to help little ones remember numbers, and a surprise mirror at the back, this is a book you can count on!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

Age one plus:

Bear's Wash Day

Nicola Kent

Can you help a little Bear do the washing? Follow Bear and his friend Croc around the house as they do the laundry and show your little one all the steps of household chores – loading the washing, pouring the soap and tumble drying – in a charming and engaging way. Full of flaps, wheels and even a slider, this hands-on introduction to busy chores for little paws is the work of award-winning author and illustrator Nicola Kent. So roll up your sleeves, turn on the fun and get your little ones in a spin with with this picture perfect exploration of grown-up tasks for tiny tots!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

Age one plus:

Hide and Seek with the Baby Animals

Molly Littleboy and Gareth Lucas

Little ones will be in a flap when they get their hands on this enchanting board book which features a menagerie of noisy baby animals playing hide and seek! Will their chirps, barks and squeaks give them away? Written by Molly Littleboy and colourfully illustrated by Gareth Lucas, Hide and Seek with the Baby Animals is the latest book in a fun and educational lift-the-flap board book series for young toddlers. Full of fun and rich detail, the story encourages children to search for their favourite pets behind the illustrated felt flaps. With Littleboy’s delightful rhyming text and a host of cheeky baby animals to find, this seek-and-find book is perfect for hands-on entertainment!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

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