A ninja cat, a daring slug and curious questions by various authors - book reviews -

Toto the Ninja Cat and the Superstar Catastrophe
Toto the Ninja Cat and the Superstar Catastrophe

Meet a courageous crime-fighting feline, step into a madcap world of slugs and fairies, cuddle up with the tale of a Siberian tiger, and find answer to some of the most curious questions in a sparkling round-up of autumn children’s books.

Age 6 plus:

Toto the Ninja Cat and the Superstar Catastrophe

Dermot O’Leary and Nick East

Head off for music and mayhem with a magical moggie who sleeps all day and fights crime at night!

Popular TV broadcaster Dermot O’Leary returns with his amazing ninja cat, Toto, for another gigglesome, gob-smacking adventure starring the feline heroine who was inspired by two stray cats rescued from an olive grove in Italy by O’Leary and his wife.

‘One of them, Toto,’ he reveals, ‘has been blind from birth, but we quickly realised she had ninja-like reactions. Like a lot of cat owners (or cat servants), we like to imagine our pets having secret lives when we’re out or asleep. So before I knew it I was writing about Toto and her brother Silver’s nocturnal adventures around London.’

Following on from Toto’s earlier, hit adventures, The Great Snake Escape and The Incredible Cheese Heist, O’Leary and illustrator Nick East are back with another terrific tale starring the fearless feline and her long-suffering brother Silver.

The cats live in a townhouse in London. Toto is almost totally blind, and learned to trust her senses from a ninja cat-master who taught her back in Italy where they were born. By day, Toto and Silver seem to be ordinary cats, but by night, they love to have adventures!

After months of keeping London safe from notorious animal bad guys, Toto is going on a well-earned holiday to the world’s most famous music festival… Catstonbury! But a villain has a dastardly plan to hypnotise the crowd when a world-famous band is on stage, turning them into evil minions.

How can Toto possibly prevent a disaster when everyone thinks the band is the cat’s pyjamas? It will take all Toto’s ninja skills – and some help from a friendly otter – to stop a real CATastrophe occurring!

With lots of laugh-out-loud moments, reassuring and gentle themes of friendship, inclusivity and winning in the face of adversity, and East’s gallery of hilarious black and white illustrations, this is ideal for newly confident readers to curl up with or reading aloud with parents.

Animal magic for all the family!

(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Chronicles of Don’t Be So Ridiculous Valley

Mike Batt

Most adults will remember the hit TV children’s series, The Wombles, starring a collection of furry creatures who help the environment by collecting and recycling rubbish in creative ways.

The antics of the Wombles were based on the books of Elisabeth Beresford but equally memorable was the theme tune for the series, written by songwriter and record producer Mike Batt.

Batt’s hits include the chart-topping Bright Eyes and he has also conducted many of the world’s great orchestras, including the London Symphony… but now this irrepressible singer-songwriter has turned his talents to a quirky, off-the-wall book for children (and adults who would still like to be children!).

The Chronicles of Don’t Be So Ridiculous Valley, lavishly illustrated by John Gosler and others, is billed as an adventure story for childish grown-ups and grown-up children and stars a host of incredible creatures including ‘a ton of fairies and slugs.’

If only slugs could play the piano, marry fairies and kill things…

Can a slug learn to play the piano, even though he has no hands? Can a slug defeat an army of nasty, evil Christmas-hating slug-squashing Pigfrogs? Can he trick a beautiful fairy into fancying him for long enough to marry him and live happily ever after? Probably not, but if you don’t try…

Batt invites youngsters to step into the crazy world of Don’t Be So Ridiculous Valley (which is actually a hill) and to Woodland Land, the home of two married fairy helicopter pilots, Nigel and Dotty Farnsbarnes… and enjoy a rollercoaster ride of enchantment, slapstick fun and laugh-out-loud comedy.

(London Street Books in association with Mango Books, hardback, £20)

Age 5 plus:

Curious Questions & Answers

Every child has a hundred questions to ask… so here’s a selection of books that provides answers to some of their most curious and surprising challenges!

Miles Kelly, which aims to provide books that inspire, inform and excite the children of today, as well as future generations, lets youngsters explore all that is strange, wonderful and downright weird about their bodies, about our oceans, about saving the earth and about those long-ago, scary dinosaurs.

The entertaining Q&A format in Curious Questions & Answers About My Body (written by Anne Rooney and illustrated by Ana Gomez), Curious Questions & Answers About Our Oceans (Camilla de la Bédoyère and Tim Budgen), Curious Questions & Answers About Saving the Earth (Camilla de la Bédoyère and Richard Watson) and Curious Questions & Answers About Dinosaurs (Camilla de la Bédoyère and Leire Martin) makes them ideal for both eager learners and reluctant readers.

Youngsters will love finding out why cells are so special, how blood circulates, and what happens inside your intestines, discovering which fish has picnics on the seabed, why whales spout water, and why the sea is blue, learn why trains are a greener way to travel, why plants make perfect presents, what a carbon footprint is, when the dinosaurs lived, which was the scariest dinosaur, and which dinosaur liked stinky smells.

Lively and humorous illustrations and a playful, informative text reveal the amazing answers to all these incredible questions making this both a quirky and educational series.

(Miles Kelly, hardback, £9.99 each)

Age 6 plus:

Winter Animal Stories: Star

Holly Webb

An enchanting, snow-filled, winter story about a lost tiger cub is set to dazzle youngsters this autumn.

Star is the new and exciting Winter Animal Story from bestselling author Holly Webb and is set against a beautiful Russian backdrop and based on the tale of a real-life Siberian tiger named Zolushka.

When Anna borrows a tiny wooden tiger from her Russian grandmother’s mantelpiece, she instantly knows that it’s special but little does she realise that it is the start of a magical adventure...

That night she sleeps with it on her pillow and, waking the next day, Anna finds herself in a snowy Russian village, where she hears the news that a tiger cub has been spotted in the nearby woods, sending the villagers into a panic.

Anna knows this is why she must be here… the cub needs her help! But is Anna brave enough to set out in search of a tiger in the forest at night?

Filled with Webb’s natural warmth, compassion and storytelling magic, this heart-melting, atmospheric adventure is the perfect antidote to cold winter nights.

(Stripes, hardback, £8.99)

Age 2 plus:

It’s My Sausage

Alex Willmore

A cat-fight over one sausage leaves some funny, fighting felines with a bitter taste in their mouths in a picture book bursting with fun!

Illustrator Alex Willmore turns her talented hand to both drawing and writing in this clever, chaotic adventure which will have little ones giggling and guffawing at every turn of the page.

There are five cats but just one sausage to go round them all! One determined cat is sure that it has the yummy, scrummy sausage in the bag, declaring in a refrain familiar to many parents, it’s mine, mine, mine, mine, mine. But after some pulling, shoving and skulduggery, the tasty sausage ends up in a most unexpected mouth!

Willmore knows how to tickle young funny bones and her action-packed, character-filled story, with a clever twist in its tail, is destined to leave everyone hungry for a second reading.

(Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

A Home for Luna

Stef Gemmill and Mel Armstrong

A shipwrecked cat finds friends among strangers in an enchanting and subtly clever picture book from Stef Gemmill and Mel Armstrong.

When Luna washes up on a strange shore one moonlit night, she is scared and lonely. She left her homeland because of the danger there and soon she discovers there is beauty in her new land of sea and penguins. Along the way, Luna makes unexpected friends but will she ever feel at home in a place so different from the one she remembers?

Gemmill’s tale of a cat fleeing danger reminds us all of the displacement of refugees across the world and their search for a new and safer home while Armstrong’s warm and appealing illustrations capture the welcoming glow of friendship and the comfort of acceptance.

(New Frontier Publishing, hardback, £11.99)

Age 5 plus:

A Sea of Stories (Colour Fiction)

Sylvia Bishop and Paddy Donnelly

When picture books are too babyish and middle grade books too hard, just what can a young in-betweenie read?

The answer is a wonderfully illustrated, full-colour fiction series from the ever-inventive book boffins at Little Tiger Press.

These beautifully produced books, with their sturdy hardbacks, enchanting stories and highly illustrated glossy pages, are ideal for bridging the gap between picture books and chapter books for newly independent young readers.

This inspiring and charming new story about the importance of sharing stories comes from the top team of children’s author Sylvia Bishop and Paddy Donnelly who has over 14 years’ experience as an illustrator and designer.

Whenever Roo visits Grandpa, she loves exploring the seaside cove near his cottage. But on her latest stay, Grandpa explains that he can’t go down there any more… the path is too steep and overgrown for him to manage. Instead Grandpa tells Roo the stories behind the many objects that fill his house. All of Grandpa’s stories feature the cove and Roo realises that now, even though they’re so close to the sea, Grandpa is cut off from it. Is there anything she can do to bring Grandpa to the place he loves the most?

Bishop’s warm, wise and wonderfully imaginative story, featuring the tender, loving relationship between a little girl and her grandfather, is filled with action and adventure, all brought to life by Donnelly’s use of vibrant and colourful illustrations, creating a charming book for all the family to enjoy.

(Stripes, hardback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Little Puggle’s Song

Vikki Connelly and Hélène Magisson

Everyone in Australia knows that echidnas, otherwise known as spiny anteaters, can’t sing… so what is lonely Puggle going to do to try to find a voice?

Puggle lives in the Australian Bush and has always wanted to sing but every time he tries to make sound, nothing comes out. The Little Blue bird’s song is whispery like the wind, the Fancy Crest has a voice that cracks like lightning, and Brown Feather’s laughter gallops through the gum trees. Can Puggle find his voice and join the bush choir?

Author and illustrator team, Vikki Connelly and Hélène Magisson, work a special brand of Aussie magic on this heartwarming and poignant story which is packed with simple, storytelling charm and a gallery of gorgeous illustrations in a palette of exquisite colours.

Connelly’s thoughtful story encourages youngsters to use their ingenuity and determination when faced with seemingly impossible odds, and teaches us all that sharing and caring are the key to happiness.

(New Frontier Publishing, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Under The Same Sky

Robert Vescio and Nicky Johnston

Here’s a picture book to melt even the hardest hearts…

Two children on opposite sides of the world crave friendship but is it possible to be friends across the miles? Perhaps with a little ingenuity, a friendly carrier pigeon, and some help from a flock of flying friends, anything is possible.

Robert Vescio, an award-winning author who is dedicated to inspiring children with his passion for stories, charms every generation with his simple and beautifully poignant contemplation of friendships against the odds, two children who live a world apart brought together in the most surprising way.

Nicky Johnston’s soulful and enchanting pastel illustrations add extra warmth and emotional depth to this moving story that celebrates the unity of friendship.

(New Frontier Publishing, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf?

Kitty Black and Laura Wood

All wolves are hungry, bad and fierce… aren’t they?

The Quite Nice Wolf doesn’t fit in with the local wolf pack. Wilfred is a wolf but, unlike the rest of his pack, he’s a nice wolf and certainly not scary. But the pack thinks he should start training to become a proper wolf… one that’s big and bad. Can he help the wolf pack with their master plan, or does he have one of his own?

Kitty Black’s wryly funny and wonderfully action-packed picture book adventure has warmhearted messages about not being afraid to be yourself, and that being kind will always win the day over being mean and cruel. Laura Wood’s vibrant, colourful and expressive illustrations bring the action to life and complete a perfect package of reading delight.

(New Frontier Publishing, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Max’s Dinosaur Feet

Lana Spasevski and Penelope Pratley

Enjoy the fun-filled picture book tale of a little boy who just can’t help putting his foot in it!

Max loves playing with his dinosaur feet but mustn’t wake baby Molly. Stomp, Stamp, Smash! Oh dear! Dad’s feet are too noisy as well, and so are Pop’s new ‘walking feet’ and his sister Merida’s dancing feet. How can he and his family keep their feet quiet, and the baby asleep?

Author Lana Spasevski and illustrator Penelope Pratley use their charm, warmth, wit and a gallery captivating, charismatic illustrations to celebrate the arrival of a new baby and the very special bond between family members of all generations.

Beautifully created, and capturing all the spirit, enthusiasm and mischief of youth, and the compromises we all have to make when we share a home, this is a book that little ones will want to read time and time again.

(New Frontier Publishing, hardback, £11.99)

Age from birth:

In the Forest

Nancy Bevington

Little ones love nothing better than a book that puts them at the heart of the story…

So watch their eyes light up as they are set the task of finding a whole host of animals and objects both familiar and unfamiliar in a series of lively board books from Catch a Star, an imprint of New Frontier Publishing.

In On the Farm, At the Beach, In the Forest and Under the Ocean, children can explore a variety of farm and forest animals, sea creatures and all the exciting things to see at the beach, and then turn to the end to find them all again.

Fun, visually stimulating, and ideal for promoting early reading, these beautifully created and engaging books are learning in words and action.

(Catch a Star, board book, £6.99 each)

Age 3 plus:

I Love You Brighter Than The Stars

Owen Hart and Sean Julian

Travel through a starlit night with two brown bears in a warm and heartfelt picture book from talented duo, author Owen Hart and illustrator Sean Julian.

‘When sunlight fades and shadows fall come walk a while with me. We’ll watch the sky as stars appear and count each one we see.’ A parent and child roam across a landscape of mountain peaks, valleys, meadows and streams as they share discovery, inspiring sights, playful moments and a love that shines as brightly as the stars.

A bedtime lullaby, a beautiful rhyming odyssey and a magical night-filled experience, Hart’s moving words and Julian’s breathtaking and emotive illustrations combine perfectly for this radiant celebration of the love between parent and child.

(Little Tiger, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Reading Beauty

Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt

Can a book-reading gal save her galaxy?

Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt, the top author and illustrator team behind the perennially popular Interstellar Cinderella, return with another remake of a popular fairy tale starring a feisty female star determined to give her fun-filled and frantic adventure a hilarious, happy-ever-after ending.

Once upon a planetoid, surrounded by book lovers, a princess called Lex read morning, noon and night beneath the covers of her bed. But when a fairy’s curse – a death-like sleep via a paper cut – threatens to make her kingdom barren of books, it’s up to space princess Lex to break the spell and bring books back to her people.

This irrepressible fairy tale retelling of Sleeping Beauty will charm young readers with its brave heroine, its star-studded setting, its addictive rhyme, and an ending that will leave everyone smiling.

Packed with Hunt’s vibrant and colourful illustrations and with a rhyming text that adds lyrical depth to the light-hearted, action-packed story, and explores important themes like the joys of reading and being helpful to others, this is both entertaining and an invaluable teaching tool.

(Chronicle Books, hardback, £12.99)