Saving the planet, guarding magic and amazing anatomy - book reviews

Guardians of the Planet: How to be an Eco-Heroby Clive Gifford and Jonathan Woodward
Guardians of the Planet: How to be an Eco-Heroby Clive Gifford and Jonathan Woodward

Learn how to be a real-life eco warrior, step into a world of full of magic and wonder, discover what the inside of your body looks like, and come face-to-face with some of our planet’s most spectacular birds in a magnificent mixed bag of children’s books.

Age 8 plus:

Guardians of the Planet: How to be an Eco-Hero by Clive Gifford and Jonathan Woodward

In the wake of a remarkable worldwide protest in which children took to the streets to demand climate change action, here’s the perfect practical guide to help young eco warriors put their ideas into practice.

Earth is most definitely in trouble and everyone knows it’s time for real and sustained action. Although saving the planet will be hard, there are hundreds of things that we can do to make a huge difference and a new generation of environmentally aware children are ready for the challenge.

Guardians of the Planet: How to be an Eco-Hero contains everything you need to become a guardian of the planet, a home hero, a wildlife warden, a friend of the forests and much more. From composting food, reusing clothes and reducing plastic waste to cleaning up beaches, tackling water waste and giving wildlife a helping hand, this inspirational and timely book comes packed with facts, activities and tips.

Guided by a team of friendly Guardian Masters who put the issues in an everyday context, children will be encouraged to engage with environmental problems and inspired to take care of our wonderful planet.

Clive Gifford, an award-winning author with a lifelong interest in geopolitics, ecology and the environment, provides the fascinating facts and figures, all brought to life with the beautifully detailed and colourful illustrations of wildlife and natural history artist Jonathan Woodward.

Developed in partnership with ClientEarth, an organisation that uses environmental law to protect oceans, forests and other habitats from destructive corporate interest, this beautifully created and thoughtful book has a foreword by musician and record producer Brian Eno, a ClientEarth trustee, and is printed on paper made from wood sourced in Forest Stewardship Council certified forests.

The ideal gift for budding environmental activists, eager to show grown-ups how it’s done!

(Buster Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus:

Rise Up: Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories by Amanda Li and Amy Blackwell

And if children need inspiration on how to triumph against the odds, publishers Buster Books are ready to help them Rise Up and take the challenge.

Rise Up: Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories comes packed with the empowering tales of twenty-nine amazing youngsters from around the world who have achieved what many would think is unimaginable, whether that’s surviving a plane crash in the jungle or winning the Nobel Peace Prize at the tender age of sixteen.

Written by Amanda Li, who specialises in creating non-fiction for children and teenagers, and illustrated by Amy Blackwell, these are stirring stories of triumphing over illness and injury, completing incredible journeys, overcoming bullying, developing outstanding talents in art and sport, and inventing things that change the world.

These incredible stories of heroes and heroines like climate activist Greta Thunberg, Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi, anti-plastic pioneer Boyan Slat and blind French schoolboy Louis Braille who developed a reading code, are brought to life with an exciting and engaging text, and combined with Blackwell’s visually stunning illustrations.

Brimming with remarkable true-life tales of ingenuity, courage, resourcefulness and commitment, Rise Up is an enthralling springboard for ambitious children, a confidence-booster for more nervous youngsters, and a powerful reminder that no matter who you are, you can rise to the challenge.

(Buster Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Guardians of Magic by Chris Riddell

Step into a dazzling world of fairy tale wonders, intriguing mysteries, lovable heroes, unforgettable villains and skies filled with cloud horses as author and illustrator extraordinaire Chris Riddell works his special magic on a thrilling new children’s series.

Guardians of Magic is the first book in The Cloud Horse Chronicles, a sumptuously presented and action-packed adventure series which sees former Children’s Laureate and Costa award winner Riddell at his imaginative best as three ordinary children discover that they have extraordinary gifts.

The Kingdom of Thrynne is a place where fairy tales don’t behave and magic can be found in unexpected places. For as long as anyone can remember, children have made a wish on a cloud horse, never quite believing that their wishes will come true.

But magic also brings danger to three very different teenagers with special skills – apprentice baker Zam Zephyr, musician Phoebe Limetree, and orphaned daughter of a giant slayer, Bathsheba Greengrass – because it is forbidden.

The reason is that times are changing. The future of magic is under threat from three powerful enemies… the King Rat, the Clockmaker and the Professional Princess are working together to harness the sacred magic for their own desires. If their evil plan succeeds, the magic of nature and its most powerful source, the Forever Tree, will be destroyed.

Unless the three brave children can fight back and believe in the impossible, soon magic and the cloud horses that nestle in the branches of the giant Forever Tree will be gone forever.

Set against fantastical landscapes, and featuring witty and inventive twists on traditional fairy tales, Guardians of Magic stars an engaging cast of new and familiar characters battling evil and taking on enemies with youthful wisdom, energy and determination.

Highly illustrated throughout in Riddell’s unique, rich and intricately detailed style in a blue-toned palette, and with a special fold-out, full-colour guide to the giants in the book, this this is the sort of adventure that allows youngsters to step into an amazing, superbly imagined fantasy world.

The perfect gift for all adventure-seekers!

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

Age 8 plus:

Anatomicum by Jennifer Z Paxton and Katy Wiedemann

If you’ve ever wondered what the inside of your body looks like, then open the pages of this exciting, giant-sized book and take an extraordinary anatomical tour!

Welcome to the Anatomicum… the latest, innovative title in the Welcome To The Museum series from the Big Picture Press, an original concept which offers fascinating guided tours in museums that are always open to explore.

The series also includes the hugely successful Historium, a collection of objects from ancient civilisations, Animalium, a detailed exploration of more than 160 animal specimens, Botanicum, a super-sized book of stunning botanical delights, and the dangerously entertaining Dinosaurium.

The books enable readers to wander the galleries from the comfort of home and discover a collection of curated exhibits on every page, all accompanied by informative text.

Published in association with the Wellcome Foundation, Anatomicum is an anatomy lesson with a difference, allowing youngsters to turn the pages and watch their heart beating, witness their skin cells growing, look at their vocal cords, discover the muscles we use to show emotion, and even pinpoint the delicate part of the brain where a thought takes shape.

With richly detailed, eye-catching artwork by Katy Wiedemann and an expert text by professor Dr Jennifer Z Paxton, this beautiful book is a feast of anatomical knowledge and visual enlightenment, and ideal for use at school or home.

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £25)

Age 7 plus:

Atlas of Amazing Birds by Matt Sewell

Best-selling wildlife author, illustrator and avid ornithologist Matt Sewell, who has been described as the Banksy of the bird world, takes flight once again as readers young and old come face-to-face with some of our planet’s most amazing birds.

Packed with Sewell’s eye-catching, watercolour illustrations, his irresistible wit and charm, and interesting facts and figures, this big, beautiful book includes the author’s personal selection of birds from around the world, all brought to life in his dazzling style, and accompanied by maps of every continent.

Travel the world to see magnificent eagles, resilient penguins, tiny hummingbirds, towering ostriches and incredible peacocks. From British garden birds to African water birds, rainforest birds of paradise to American roadrunners, these are colourful, clever, song-filled, strange and stunning creatures to amaze and celebrate.

Did you know that the bald eagle holds the record for the world’s biggest nest, weighing in at more than two tons, that when the elf owl gets into trouble, it plays dead rather than fighting and that the Adelie penguin can hold its breath for six minutes and leap up to three metres out of the water?

Every bird chosen to appear in this book is amazing in its own individual way… birds that migrate thousands of miles, have strange and showy mating rituals, survive in extreme environments, are brilliant builders, or are super-fast, super-brave or super-big!

Budding ornithologists, and bird lovers of every generation, can discover many more fascinating facts in this superbly produced and presented book… perfect as a gift and ideal as a teaching tool.

(Pavilion Children’s Books, hardback, £16.99)

Age 7 plus:

Beatrix the Bold and the Riddletown Dragon by Simon Mockler and Cherie Zamazing

If anarchy, queens and a big dose of deadly peril float your boat, then set sail with Beatrix the Bold!

Expect villains galore, madcap antics, and lots of laugh-out-loud moments as the second book in Simon Mockler’s gloriously funny Beatrix the Bold series hits the ground running alongside a captivating, quick-thinking royal rogue.

Beatrix the Bold is queen of a distant land. She is also a very bold queen, good at telling jokes, dancing and throwing knives. Beatrix might be only ten years old but that’s never stopped her from doing anything, and it’s not going to stop her now.

She has already averted her own kidnapping and fought off an Evil Army. Now she needs to find her long-lost parents, and fend off her villainous aunt Esmerelda. She just has to cross a vast kingdom to get there and save a bunch of children from deadly peril while confronting a terrifying dragon…

Not easy, right? But when you’re Beatrix the Bold and you've got Oi the Boy, Dog the Dog and Wilfred the Wise by your side, you can do anything…

Vividly illustrated by Cherie Zamazing, these magical, old-fashioned stories are proving to be perfect for both young mischief-makers and action fans with their charismatic cast of wizards, queens and curious creatures, lashings of knockabout comedy, and a big-hearted, fearless heroine.

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Skeleton Keys: the Unimaginary Friend by Guy Bass and Peter Williamson

Meet a lovable skeleton with fantabulant fingers… and the gift to make you laugh!

Guy Bass, an author who knows how to evoke humour and pathos in equal measure, uses the power of his own imagination to conjure up a reassuring story about a lonely boy who discovers that the strangest and most wonderful things can happen when imaginations run wild.

Skeleton Keys: the Unimaginary Friend is the first book of a playful but thoughtful new series which arrives brimming with super-spooky stories, wonderful words, lots of goodies and baddies, an unexpectedly endearing hero, and plenty of empowering concepts for young readers.

The star of the show is Skeleton Keys whose fantabulant fingers (which look remarkably like keys!) can open doors to hidden worlds and secret places… doors to the limitless realm of all imagination. We join him for the curious tale of Ben Bunsen, whose only friend is a figment of his imagination... until now.

Ben can’t believe it when his imaginary friend the Gorblimey becomes unimaginary. The Gorblimey is loyal and kind… and real! But Skeleton Keys is far from convinced by the Gorblimey’s friendly ways. He’s got the twitch, which is (almost) never wrong, and it’s telling him the Gorblimey is dangerous and needs banishing to the endless void of Oblivion.

As Ben battles to save his new friend, the Gorblimey is soon the least of Skeleton Keys’ worries. It seems that there’s more than one unimaginary in town. And this one is out for revenge…

Pete Williamson’s atmospheric, black and white illustrations bring to life all the chaos, comedy and subtle emotions of Bass’s bittersweet adventure which cleverly explores hidden corners of every child’s fears and foibles.

Unique and beautifully conceived, this is Bass and Williamson at their award-winning best.

(Stripes, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Sophie Takes to the Sky by Katherine Woodfine and Briony May Smith

The incredible, real-life story of Sophie Blanchard, the world’s first female hot-air balloonist, is the inspiration behind a thrilling, action-packed story from bestselling Lancaster author Katherine Woodfine.

Sophie Takes to the Sky, a touching tale for young readers about learning to overcome anxiety and follow your dreams, is the latest super-readable Little Gem from innovative publisher Barrington Stoke… and it’s a real historical gem!

The Little Gems series brings together leading authors and illustrators, and a host of clever design and finishing techniques, to create easy-to-read books in a chunky format ideal for little hands, and with some extra reading, jokes and activity fun hiding inside the jacket.

Scaredy-Cat Sophie is afraid of everything! So when a balloonist comes to the town fair, Sophie is left behind while everyone else goes to watch him fly in his marvellous balloon. She's far too frightened of the crowds, the commotion and even riding in a horse-drawn carriage. But Sophie longs to watch the hot-air balloon sail across the blue sky. If she could just be brave enough to face her fears, who knows where her journey might take her…

Whether your child is a new, struggling, reluctant or dyslexic reader, this wonderful Little Gem story celebrating an amazing girl from a small French village is both entertaining and empowering. Briony May Smith’s gallery of colourful and atmospheric illustrations are the perfect foil for a story full of adventure, discovery and daring.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Dracula Spectacular by Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle

What does a vampire do when he’d rather make friends than scare people?

Author Lucy Rowland and illustrator Ben Mantle, the creative duo behind wonderfully clever picture book Little Red Reading Hood, combine their talents again on a playful, heart-warming story about learning to be brave, kind and above all, proud to be yourself.

The Dracula family live in a house in the park that’s creepy and crooked and dusty and dark. It might be dreary and dreadful but for Mr and Mrs Dracula, it’s a wonderful life. So how come they have a son who’s happy and smiling, and not in the least bit evil? It’s tough being a vampire when you’re more giggles and glitter than beastly and bitter. Will Dracula Boy dare to follow his heart and live life in technicolour with his new friend Rose?

Full of spooks, sparkles and sound common sense, Dracula Spectacular is a gorgeous picture book, written in bouncy, addictive rhyme by Rowland and richly illustrated with an abundance of wit and warmth by Mantle. Fun and joyful, Dracula Boy’s colourful journey of self-discovery is destined to be a favourite with all the family!

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

Age 3 plus:

Kindness Grows by Britta Teckentrup

Kindness makes the world a better place in a charming and empowering picture book from the award-winning Britta Teckentrup.

With topical themes of love, support, kindness and friendship, this beautiful, colourful, peep-through picture book uses Teckentrup’s signature collage imagery to celebrate care and co-operation.

‘It all starts with a crack that we can hardly see, It happens when we shout or if we disagree. But with every kindness that we care to show, Something good and magical then begins to grow.’ Angry words cause a crack to open up, but find out what happens when kindness begins to blossom!

Through a simple, rhyming text and a dual image of negatives and positives, all enhanced by intricate peep-throughs and a growing tree, Teckentrup conveys dynamic messages to young readers about working together to heal rifts rather than letting them grow.

Thoughtful, clever and full of compassion, this is a stunning reminder of the power of unity.

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

On Sleepy Hill by Patricia Hegarty and Xuan Le

Join a host of creatures great and small as together they create a night to remember!

If you’re looking for the perfect bedtime story, open the pages of this peep-through, multi-layered, mesmerising picture book and watch sleepy eyelids start to close.

As the sun goes down on Sleepy Hill all the animals are settling down for the night. Baby rabbit hops back to her burrow, baby bear cubs enjoy one last play in the cooling air, and the deer are heading home.

With clever layered pages and intricate peep-throughs, this beautiful bedtime book builds and reveals breathtaking scenes of animal families that change with every turn of the page.

The amazing depth of the landscape and Xuan Le’s warm, richly detailed and imaginative page spreads provide a magical reading experience while Patricia Hegarty’s gentle rhythmic story is a voyage of bedtime discovery for little ones winding down at the end of their own busy day.

A dream read to end the day!

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

A Gallery of Cats by Ruth Brown

Author and illustrator Ruth Brown puts cats in the frame as she introduces young readers to some of the world’s greatest artists.

This imaginative, inspiring and exquisitely illustrated picture book is itself a masterpiece as the award-winning Brown brings to life a gallery of famous paintings, each with its own funny, feline twist.

No visit to an art gallery can rival this one. Tom visits a very special exhibition where each picture features a cat. One by one, the cats all leap out of the paintings and follow him, until a very large and scary cat makes them rush back to the safety of their frames. But these aren’t just any cats or any pictures!

Young children will love discovering the interesting variety of well-known paintings as they travel through the gallery with Tom, watching the increasing number of cats following him around, and matching the cats with the pictures.

Brown’s playful and inventive illustrations are combined with textual jokes making the book a visual and verbal journey full of great art and fun discoveries for all the family to enjoy.

From Jackson Pollock, Gustav Klimt, Frida Kahlo and Vincent van Gogh to René Magritte, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edvard Munch, William Morris and Henri Rousseau, the world’s greatest painters provide a rich canvas for children to learn the joys of art.

(Scallywag Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Wonder Machine by Barry Timms and Laura Brenlla

Sometimes friendship brings more happiness than having it all…

Much-loved picture book duo Barry Timms and Laura Brenlla work their special magic on this enchanting and warm-hearted story starring an adorable inventor wolf who discovers that the closeness of people beats the wonders of her science.

Haven’t you heard? Wolf, the world’s greatest inventor, is building a new machine. The wolf who has built machines to wash her hair, make her bed and pick apples from her orchard, is now working on a very special machine… a Wonder Machine that will make dreams come true. ‘My greatest invention ever!’ cheers Wolf. But what will happen when at last she turns the handle?

Packed full of intriguing flaps to lift and delightful peep-through holes, The Wonder Machine is a dazzling blend of inventive paper engineering, Timms’ beautiful, inspirational storytelling about the joys of sharing your talents, and Brenlla’s enchanting and intricately detailed artwork.

A work of wonder!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

I Am Love: A Book of Compassion by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

Sometimes the simplest of stories carry the most resonant messages…

A group of children discover the transformative power of love and compassion in this beautiful book – grounded in the concepts of mindfulness – in this beautiful picture book from author Susan Verde and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds.

I Am Love is the fourth book in their bestselling wellness series which includes I Am Human, which was an instant bestseller, I Am Peace, and I Am Yoga, and this time offers a celebration of love and connection for young readers.

Beautifully illustrated and full of inspirational messages, the book asks readers to look inward when they feel angry, afraid or sad. When a storm is brewing inside us and the skies grow dark, the transformative power of love lets the light back in. Love, the book tells us, means showing kindness, living with gratitude, and taking care of our minds and bodies by practising self-love. Letting our hearts lead the way can move us closer to a better world.

Grounded in mindfulness and wellness, and with yoga poses and guided meditation included, this is a lesson in love for every generation.

(Abrams Books for Young Readers, hardback, £10.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Way Home for Wolf by Rachel Bright and Jim Field

Show me the way to go home!

The words of the old song ring loud and true in this warm, feelgood picture book story of a little wolf cub lost in the cold and ice of the Arctic but too proud to shout for much-needed help.

Author and wordsmith Rachel Bright provides the gorgeous lyrical rhyming text, and illustrator and animator Jim Field brings the story to life with a gallery of beautiful pictures in a striking palette of blue and grey tinged with gold, green and burnt amber.

Star of the show is Wilf who thinks he is as strong and independent as a wolf cub can be. He doesn’t need help from his friends and family because whatever challenge lies ahead, he can do it all by himself. But when Wilf finds himself lost and alone in the snow and chill of an Arctic night, he discovers something important… sometimes we all need the help of friends to keep us safe and show us the way.

Field’s illustrations add depth and drama to Bright’s moving, enchanting story which features a menagerie of amazing creatures, including a sea unicorn, an Arctic fox, a bear-moth and a musk-ox, and holds crucial life messages about friendship, trust and kindness.

The perfect bedtime story for your own little cubs!

(Orchard Books, paperback, £6.99)